Course design for digital environments

Course Details

Course code: EDUA11323

Course leader: Dr Pete Evans

Course delivery: Sep 2020, Jan 2021, Sept 2022, Jan 2024


This 12-week course takes a design-led perspective on the creation of online or digitally-mediated courses in a range of settings – including formal, informal, workplace and other learning contexts. On Course Design for Digital Environments, you will explore how to approach course design in a designerly, well-theorised and critical way. There will be opportunities to:

  • Understand and analyse a range of design approaches and contemporary design challenges.
  • Discuss and question what makes a course, and what makes it 'digital'.
  • Explore your own design needs and aspirations, and those of your learners, colleagues or other participants.

There are many current debates about course design, and a really fascinating range of design contexts and challenges for us to explore and be inspired by. So, this is an interesting time to be considering what is important for online course design.

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; and
  • design and build course components appropriate to your own institutional and educational context.


Block 1: Design thinking (Weeks 1-2)

Our first block introduces and explores the concept of 'design thinking'. What does it mean to think and work in a 'designerly' way, and how can we, as educators, make use of design thinking approaches? What does the contemporary literature on learning design have to offer, and what are its limitations? 

Block 2: Designing for Online Learning (Weeks 3-8)

Block 2 of the course dives into the specifics of designing for different online educational contexts. In the first two weeks, we'll look at theories of learning, exploring our own and others’ assumptions around course design and why these matter. We'll then move on to explore specific challenges that come with designing for online learning, including time, pacing, structure, multimodality, platforms, modes and accessibility. In the last two weeks of the block, we'll explore some current design challenges. You'll choose and analyse an existing course design as your first assignment, due at the end of week 8.

Block 3: Beyond Design (Weeks 9-10) 

The third block of the course asks you to look critically 'beyond design', and consider what the limitations of design thinking and learning design approaches might be, and why these limitations matter. Exploring issues of complexity, code, unbundling, hidden curriculum and educational ecologies, we'll consider some possible approaches to the development of online education in the future.

Block 4: Assignment Preparation (Weeks 11-12) 

The final two weeks of the course will be taken up with final assignment preparation.


There are two elements to the assessment:

  1. Reflection on learning event (20% of your final mark, 1000 words):  In Week 7 you will draft a critical essay discussing the learning event that takes place between Weeks 3-6 and the subsequent design that emerged from that activity.  
  2. Plan, rationale and part-build of a course​ (80% of your final mark, 3000 words): The assessment will comprise three elements: a) a course overview; b) a written rationale for the design approach you have taken; c) a build or part-build of the course in an online 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.

Teaching Methods

Asynchronous discussions, tutorials, design journalling.


Indicative readings are:

Cross, N. (2006) ‘Designerly Ways of Knowing’, in Designerly Ways of Knowing. London: Springer.\

Escobar, A. (2018). 'An Outline of Ontological Design', in Designs for the pluriverse: radical interdependence, autonomy, and the making of worlds. Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 106-134. 

Gough, N. (2013). Towards deconstructive nonalignment: A complexivist view of curriculum, teaching and learning, South African Journal of Higher Education, 27(5), pp.1213-1233.

Hickey, G. (2014) ‘The Importance of Learning Philosophies on Technology Selection in Education’, Journal of Learning Design, 7(3), pp. 16–22.

Gouthro, P. A. (2002) ‘Education for sale: at what cost? Lifelong learning and the marketplace’, International Journal of Lifelong Education, 21(4), pp. 334–346. doi: 10.1080/02601370210140995.

Kali, Y., Goodyear, P. and Markauskaite, L. (2011) ‘Researching design practices and design cognition: contexts, experiences and pedagogical knowledge‐in‐pieces’, Learning, Media and Technology, 36(2), pp. 129–149. 


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 during the course.

There will be synchronous sessions in Collaborate.

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.