Course design for digital environments

Course Details

Course code: EDUA11323

Course leader: Dr Christine Sinclair & Dr Phil Sheail

Course delivery: Jan 2019, Jan 2020


The design of courses usually entails lengthy discussions and negotiations. Designers have to consider not only the curriculum and resources, but also the context, the impact of media used, and the underpinning theoretical or ideological position.  Course Design for Digital Environments (CDDE) aims to provide you with the language to do this, help you to critique and choose between the various options, and ultimately design your own online learning events and courses.  This involves a number of individual and group activities, evaluation of existing online courses, scaffolded with engagement in relevant course design themes, including constructive alignment, learning outcomes, usability and accessibility. 

Learning Outcomes

  • understand and apply a range of approaches to the design of online and offline courses;
  • critically evaluate these approaches via an understanding of their philosophical and theoretical bases;
  • select and design media, learning activities and assessment tasks appropriate to each approach;
  • design and build course components appropriate to your own institutional and educational context.


The impact of different theories and values (Weeks 1-3)

The choices we make about course design are strongly informed by our own values and beliefs relating to how teaching should be conducted, how curriculum or content should be structured and the ideological and political implications of our design decisions. The situation is made more complex by our context: our own values may be subordinated to those of an institution, a professional body or a manager. We look at potential theoretical roots of some of the preferences influencing course design.

Decisions in course design (Weeks 4-7)

Starting with a group-based (non-assessed) task to help you to think practically about the theories identified in Weeks 1-3 and their implications, this phase asks you to consider essential elements of a course.  You will need to think about accessibility and usability as well as the environments you will use and their interrelationships. We also consider the role of judgement – how will you assess your students and evaluate your course?  During this time, you can use your Moodle playground to experiment if you want; we’ll also encourage you to find and share ideas about other suitable platforms. For example, you could use an alternative Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) from Blackboard’s Coursesites, or avoid VLEs altogether with an innovative design. 

Design and implementation (Weeks 8-12 assessment phase)

In this final phase, you have the opportunity to try out aspects of course design at different levels: a learning event which might form one component of a course; a (partial) course design that would allow others to see what is intended. By running and reflecting on your own learning event, and attending other people's, you will learn first hand what it means to be involved in course design for digital environments. This knowledge should feed forward into your final design.


There are two elements to the assessment:

Reflective account on designing and running a learning event​ (20% of your final mark):  Weeks 8-10 will involve you individually designing and then conducting a small-scale learning event with a small group of fellow students. At the end of this period, you will write a short piece reflecting on this event, discussing its ethos and rationale, and considering its success or otherwise. (1000 words)

Plan, rationale and part-build of a course​ (80% of your final mark)The main part of the assessment will involve you designing a course for delivery, or part delivery, online. This will require you to: i) write a course descriptor, ii) write a rationale for the design approach you have taken, iii) build or part-build the course in a learning environment of your choice. We will provide a Moodle user playground for you, though you may choose your own institutional environment or devise your own technological solution. The course you design may be something you need to do ‘for real’, or it may be an opportunity to take an experimental, blue skies approach – the only restriction is that design, rationale and built artefact cohere and make sense as a pedagogical environment.  It should not be a course that you have already completed, though a re-design is permissible. (3000 words)

Teaching Methods

Weekly audio or video introductions to readings and activities; joint resource curation through a wiki; group exercises; reflection on current and potential practice; planning, running and experiencing “learning events”, synchronous and asynchronous discussions.


Indicative readings are:

Mayes, T. & de Freitas, S. (2013). Technology-Enhanced Learning: the role of theory.  In H. Beetham & R. Shapre (Eds.). Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. Abingdon, Taylor & Francis.

Rao, K., Edelen-Smith, P and Wialehua, C. (2015) Universal design for online courses: applying principles to pedagogy.  Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, pp. 35-52.

Teräs, H., & Herrington, J. (2014). Neither the frying pan nor the fire: In search of a balanced authentic e-learning design through an educational design research process. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning. 15(2).


You will need access to an internet-enabled computer and browser capable of delivering the VLE Moodle and any other applications you wish to use this during the course

There will be optional sessions in Collaborate and Skype text chat.

You may wish to organise space on your institutional virtual learning environment, if you have one, for your course build (please bear in mind that your tutor will need to access this for assessment purposes).

Course readings will be delivered electronically.