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Building a Strong Foundation for Your Course

“In a powerful learning experience, students will be engaged in their own learning, there will be a high energy level associated with it, and the whole process will have an important outcomes or results” (Dee Fink, 2003, pp 8-9)

The aim of every instructor is to strive for such a powerful learning experience. This can only be realized if instructors can “build a strong foundation” from which all subsequent phases ofcourse design can depend on. In his book, Creating Significant Learning Experiences, L. Dee Fink suggests that instructors begin with the identification of relevant situational factors that can influence all other subsequent phases of course design. A thorough analysis of all situational factors will enhance and facilitate the identification of important learning goals, formulation of appropriate feedback and assessment strategies and the selection of effective teaching and learning activities. More importantly all these components must be integrated.

To design a quality course many components must be considered beside the characteristics of the learners. Some instructors consider students usage of technology when designing their courses. Others focus on diversity related issues such as; age of their students, race, gender, socio-economic background, disabilities, religion, sexual orientation, nationality etc.

Dee Fink provides us with a broader perspective. He identifies six “situational factors” as providing a context for course design. (1) The specific context of the teaching and learning situation: This involves knowing the class size, how often the class will meet, is it a graduate or undergraduate course and how the course would be delivered; face-to-face, fully online, blended/hybrid format. (2) The expectations of external groups: This involves examining the society, state and institutional expectations for students completing the course. (3) The nature of the subject: Some courses require mastery of some physical skills while others are mainly cognitive. It is also important to know whether the field of study is stable or not. (4) The characteristics of the learners: Students learning styles, their prior knowledge and experience, whether traditional or non-traditional students are considered, (5) The characteristics of the instructor: The instructor’s knowledge of the subject matter, confidence and experience teaching that course is considered. (6) Any special pedagogical challenges are also determined.

 As you design your course(s) over the summer, please consider all six factors essential to designing a course that will provide students with some kind of lasting change that will be relevant to the student’s life. Dee Fink remarks that some factors may be more important than others for any given course, nevertheless if instructors can evaluate all these factors, together, they should be able to identify the most critical factors for a quality course.

I hope you will find some time to analyze these situational factors and please share the factors you consider essential when you design your course. We would be glad to learn from you.

Join the conversation.


Fink, L. Dee (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass