Course Design

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The Centre for Teaching & Learning Innovation (CTLI) plays a crucial role in supporting educators with their program and course design process, ensuring the delivery of an effective and engaging educational experiences. CTLI assists educators in structuring their courses with clear outcomes and a coherent roadmap for alignment with course assessments and resources. The creation of a detailed Learning Plan aids instructors in crafting well-organized and dynamic lessons that promote active student participation. Additionally, CTLI guides faculty in writing course learning outcomes that are measurable, observable, and specific, aligning with vocational learning outcomes and essential employability skills to equip learners for real-world success. Moreover, the integration of Experiential Learning opportunities into the curriculum enriches the learning experience by providing practical, hands-on experiences that bridge the gap between theory and practice. With the invaluable support of CTLI, educators are empowered to create innovative and learner-centered courses that foster critical thinking, skill development, and overall academic excellence.

Topics of Discussion



Course Outlines

A Course Outline is required by Mohawk College's Program Curriculum Policy. It provides an overall synopsis of the course, including learning outcomes, evaluations, what learning resources are required, and any policies students should be aware of.

How it works

As part of Mohawk College's commitment to quality, college policy dictates that each course must have a Course Outline to give it structure.

The course outline is a contract between the college and the student that provides information on the curriculum and learning students will experience in a particular course. It articulates the specific outcomes students will achieve in the course, identifies how those outcomes will be measured and assessed, and includes information about course-specific resources and policies.

Use at Mohawk College

Course Outlines for all courses at Mohawk College are housed in the Course Outline Mapping and Management System (COMMS). Faculty can access COMMS through the MyMohawk Faculty Tab.

The Course Outline must be available to students on the LMS. Educators should advise students to download and retain the Course Outline for every course as a record of their college learning experience. Those who pursue additional post-secondary education in future may be able to get credit for prior learning if they have the correct documentation.

Course Outlines and COMMS

Educators can use the CTLI Accessible Template Accessible Course Outline Template with EL (2022).docx to see detailed instructions on each section of the Course Outline.

Each spring/summer semester, assigned Course Outline writers will update the Course Outlines in the COMMS tool. For guidance using the COMMS tool, see a Guide to using the COMMS Tool (PDF) Navigation Flowchart for Using COMMS - May 1, 2020.pdf or the Guide to using the COMMS Tool - Accessible Version (PDF). List of Steps for Using COMMS - June 19,2019 - Accessible version.pdf

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Learning Plan

A Learning Plan is the critical complement to a Course Outline required by Mohawk College's Program Curriculum Policy. It translates the broad, overall synopsis of the course into manageable weekly or modular chunks. It communicates content/concepts to be covered, expected contributions, and related assessments for each section of the course (week or module)./p>

How it works

As part of Mohawk College's commitment to quality, college policy dictates that each course must have a learning plan to give it structure.

Along with the Course Outline, the Learning Plan forms a contract with the learner as to what they can expect from a course. The learning plan is module-by-module or week-by-week planning, much like a traditional course "syllabus."

The Learning Plan captures how the educator will provide the opportunities for students to learn course content, receive feedback, and demonstrate their learning through assessments. The Learning Plan is a living document - it can be updated during the semester if those changes are shared with students in a transparent manner.

Use at Mohawk College

Learning Plans help both educators and students plan workloads throughout the semester. Most students in the classes have additional responsibilities outside of academics. A significant percentage of students must work in the evenings and at weekends to pay rent and buy food, thus the Learning Plan can assist with their time management.

The Learning Plan must be available to students on the LMS. Educators should advise students to download and retain the Learning Plan for every course as a record of their college learning experience. Those who pursue additional post-secondary education in future may be able to get credit for prior learning if they have the correct documentation.

Creating a Learning Plan

The Learning Plan is one of the templates provided by CTLI. Educators can either create a version in Microsoft Word using the CTLI Accessible Template Accessible Learning Plan Template 2022.docx or create an accessible version directly in MyCanvas. This version requires less work to edit than the paper template. The paper template must be downloaded, changed, and then uploaded again whereas the template file can be edited directly in the learning environment.

To access the Learning Plan template in the MyCanvas Commons, log into MyCanvas, click on the Commons icon from the Global Menu to the left of your screen, (a new window opens) type in "Learning Plan Template" in the search bar, select "Learning Plan Template" then select the "Import/Download" button (on the top right) to import this Learning Plan into your course(s).

What to include in a Learning Plan

A Learning Plan should include the following information:

  • Course Information.
  • Faculty/Instructor Contact Information.
  • Learning Outcomes (use the Course Learning Outcomes from the Course Outline).
  • Assessment Outline.
  • Course-Specific Requirements.
  • Course Schedule (including learning activity details such as required readings/viewings, assessments, due dates and associated learning outcomes).

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Lesson Planning

How is a lesson plan like baking a cake?

Just like a cake recipe, effective lessons include key ingredients and time estimates. A lesson plan is your recipe for success! It is a critical way to ensure you incorporate key ingredients or elements that can help make your class/lesson meaningful for your students every time.

Creating a lesson plan does not need to be complicated or time consuming. It will help you align your lesson with the outcomes you want students to achieve, and it prompts you to think about ways to measure whether students have met those outcomes.

Another benefit of creating a lesson plan is mapping out the timing of the various components or activities of the lesson. Providing adequate time for the different elements of your lesson will make your learning activities more meaningful and enjoyable for students.

Lesson plans are tools for the instructor and don't need to be shared with students or administration. We recommend reflecting on your lesson once it has been delivered and take notes on your lesson plan in order to make improvements for future deliveries.

The BOPPPS Lesson Planning Model

BOPPPS is one of many lesson planning models that instructors use to organize classes, sessions, and workshops.

The BOPPPS acronym represents the key components of an effective, engaging lesson plan: bridge-in, outcomes (or objectives), pre-assessment, participatory/active learning, post-assessment, and summary. BOPPPS lesson plans also prompt instructors to incorporate active learning in a variety of ways into every lesson.

Watch this brief video for a BOPPPS overview:

Below is more information about the steps of BOPPPS in greater detail.


The bridge-in is the hook for your lesson. Grabbing your learners' attention and interest is the first step in an engaging lesson. Establishing the relevance and importance of the lesson at the beginning builds motivation for learners to focus and participate in the learning.

Some Bridge-in strategies include:

  1. Tell a story connected with the lesson topic.
  2. Ask learners about their experience with the topic.
  3. Pose a provocative question linked to the topic and/or learners' personal lives.
  4. Offer a startling statement or unusual fact.
  5. Link the current topic to material already studied or future learning and/or the real world.
  6. Introduce the topic with an interesting video, audio clip or image.


Sharing clear lesson learning outcomes with students helps learners understand what to expect in the lesson and what is expected of them as learners. Learning outcomes also help students connect the lesson to the course outcomes and gauge their own learning at the end of the lesson.

Depending on your lesson goals, you can share lesson outcomes in different ways:

  • Present a list of outcomes near the beginning of the lesson.
  • Ask students to help establish individual or collective learning outcomes for the lesson/topic.
  • Reveal outcomes at the end of the lesson.
  • Have learners identify outcomes at the end of the lesson.


What simple strategies have you seen or used to uncover students' prior knowledge or learning? Examples of simple pre-assessments include:

  • Reflection question
  • Hands-up poll
  • Quiz
  • Kahoot
  • Think-Pair-Share

Posing questions or introducing activities that give you information about your learners' prior learning and their interests has two key benefits. First, simply asking learners to recall something helps prime their brains for learning. Second, once you have assessed your learners' prior knowledge or skills, you can adapt the depth and pace of your lesson to best meet their needs and leverage any student's experiences to support the learning for the class.

Pre-assessment can be short and individual, or more complex and debriefed in the class. They are an important part of student-centred lessons, and they support student engagement through active learning.

Participatory Learning

The next key element or ingredient in an effective lesson plan is participatory learning. By purposefully sequencing presentation of new concepts or skills, and learning activities, you can improve student engagement throughout your lesson and help your learners achieve the learning outcomes.

Participatory learning often takes the most time in a lesson and it is important to plan for adequate timing for the activity/activities and a debrief.

Learning activities should be selected to clearly align with the lesson learning outcomes, and it is important to set out clear expectations for students when facilitating learning activities.

Examples of participatory learning activities that can enhance student engagement and learning include:

  • Think-Pair-Share.
  • Guided class discussions.
  • Kahoot-supported presentations.
  • Case studies.
  • Problem sets.


You're nearing the end of your lesson and you now have the questions:

  • What did my students learn?
  • Did students meet the lesson outcomes?
  • Are there any muddy points or gaps in understanding?

By incorporating a post-assessment into your lesson, you can measure student learning and identify areas that you may need to follow up on in a future lesson. The post-assessment is also an opportunity to debrief the learning activities with your learners, and for students to receive real-time feedback on their learning so that they can identify where they may need to focus their work.

Post-assessments can be formal or informal, and they don't need to take up a lot of time. Ideas for simple post-assessment activities include:

  • A brief quiz.
  • Ask students to collaboratively summarize the key points of the lesson.
  • Ask learners to submit a one-minute reflection paper regarding the most important thing learned and outstanding unanswered questions.
  • Ask students to submit their muddiest points.


You have come to the end of your lesson, and if you have planned well, you have time for the last key lesson element: the summary. Wrapping up a lesson with a summary is an important way to bring the lesson to a close for students and help them review the new concepts or learning immediately. The summary is also an opportunity to set up learners for your next lessons.

Ideas for summarizing a lesson include:

  • Recap main points verbally and/or visually.
  • Share a story that illustrates how the learning applies in the real world.
  • Ask students to identify the main points or important learning from the lesson (this can also be your post-assessment!)

Planning lessons using BOPPPS

There are various lesson plan templates that will help you to always incorporate the key elements of an effective lesson plan, map out estimated timing for your lesson, and provide an opportunity for you to reflect on what went well or might need to be adjusted for the future.

You can create your own lesson plans using the CTLI Accessible Template [Accessible Lesson Plan Template with BOPPPS.docx], available for download here.

Pro tip: Sometimes your lesson just doesn't go according to plan. Activities may take more time than you anticipated, or students may need time to review concepts or an upcoming assessment that is beyond your lesson plan. Lesson plans are meant to be adaptable. Be prepared to adjust and adapt, shorten, or drop one activity if needed to meet your learners' needs. If you are running out of time in a lesson, you can also wrap things up with a summary of the learning achieved, then plan to go back and revisit any essential learning in the next lesson.

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Learning Outcomes

Students in every program at Mohawk College have specific academic and vocational needs. We describe these needs as Learning Outcomes (LOs).

A learning outcome is a statement about what a learner will learn while completing a particular program or course. The key here is in the focus of the statement. It puts the emphasis on what the student will learn and be able to demonstrate, rather than on what the teacher will teach.

A good outcome also provides a method of assessment. Most simply defined, learning outcomes describe what learners are supposed to know, be able to do, or value at the end of a program, course or lesson.

When educators are designing a course, the first thing to consider is learning outcomes, as this will inform the content, teaching and learning activities, and assessments.

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Types of Learning Outcomes

There are several different types of academic learning outcomes in the Ontario College system that we use at Mohawk College. The graphic below demonstrates how these types fit together to ensure student success.

Three arrows are stacked in a row. The largest arrow is on top, for Vocational Learning Outcomes or VLOs and Essential Employability Skills, or EESs. The second arrow is slightly smaller and is for Course Learning Outcomes. The bottom arrow is even smaller and is for Elements of Performance.

Vocational Learning Outcomes

Vocational Learning Outcomes, or VLOs, are the specific learning outcomes that students must achieve in order to graduate from their chosen programs.

Any Ontario College Certificate, Diploma or Advanced Diploma program's VLOs are either set by or approved by Ontario's Ministry of Colleges and Universities. Local Mohawk College credential VLOs are approved at the college level.

Essential Employability Skills

Essential Employability Skills, or EESs, are set by Ontario's Ministry of Colleges and Universities. According to the Ministry, there are 11 valuable skills that are "important for every adult to function successfully in society today" (MCU, 2023).

The Ministry also requires that: "All Ontario college graduates... must be able to reliably demonstrate the EES required." Therefore, EESs must be scaffolded across all programs. Learn more about these skills on the Government of Ontario Website.

Course Learning Outcomes

Course Learning Outcomes (CLO) are developed by faculty and program areas for individual courses. They define the course-specific outcomes students will achieve by the end of individual courses.

CLOs include a measurable, observable, and specific statement that clearly indicates what a student should know and be able to do as a result of course learning. More information on writing CLOs is below.

Elements of Performance

Like Course Learning Outcomes, Elements of Performance (EOP) are developed by faculty and program areas for individual courses. EOP are designed to complement and support each CLO.

EOPs are the smaller steps that students will learn and demonstrate to be successful in the greater CLO. More information on writing EOPs is below.

Use at Mohawk College

Every program has a list of Vocational Learning Outcomes (VLO) either set by the Ministry or developed by the College and approved by the Ministry or the College. Additionally, every program must also develop students' Essential Employability Skills (EES).

Students must achieve all of the outcomes on both of these lists before they complete their programs. All of Mohawk College's programs have developed maps that outline which courses contribute to these program-level outcomes.

Course Learning Outcomes (CLO) and Elements of Performance (EOP) are an essential part of Mohawk College's Course Outlines and should align with course descriptions. Major changes to course learning outcomes may require the creation of a new course.

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How to write Course Learning Outcomes

Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) are central to your course's curriculum. They articulate to students, faculty, and external parties what students will achieve in each course and how their learning will be measured..

A Learning Outcome (LO) is a measurable, observable, and specific statement that clearly indicates what a student should know and be able to do as a result of learning.

Well-written learning outcomes involve the following components:

  • Action verb.
  • Subject content.
  • Level of achievement (if applicable).
  • Condition of performance (if applicable).

For example:

  1. Compare areas of consensus and disagreement among publications on global warming.
  2. Develop a business plan for a small business.

Below are four steps to writing a learning outcome. For a more detailed overview, including an overview of Bloom's Taxonomy, see Mohawk College's Learning Outcomes Pamphlet (PDF) [29413 Learning Outcomes 11 x 17_REV1 copy (1).pdf].

Step 1: Select an action verb

Select an action verb from Bloom's Taxonomy, as shown in the graphic below.

a high-res image of Bloom's taxonomy from Mohawk College's Learning Outcomes Pamphlet. Will require alt text.

Note that this is not an exhaustive list, but it does provide examples of specific verbs that link to different levels of student learning.

Always select a verb that can be observed and measured. There are many verbs that can't be directly observed, and therefore are difficult to assess in a course. Do not use the following verbs:

  1. Understand
  2. Know
  3. Comprehend
  4. Appreciate
  5. Be familiar with
  6. Study
  7. Be aware
  8. Become acquainted with
  9. Gain knowledge of
  10. Cover
  11. Learn
  12. Realize

Step 2: Select subject content

Next, select the subject content for which students are performing that task. For example, in CLO 1 above, "areas of consensus and disagreement among publications on global warming" is the subject content. This is what the students are comparing. Similarly, in the CLO "Develop a business plan for a small business," the subject content is "a business plan."

Step 3: Select a level of achievement (if applicable)

A level of achievement identifies how proficient students need to be in a task. For example, in a Composition course, you might say, "Write a literature critique with no grammatical errors." This tells students the level of achievement that's expected of them.

Importantly, you don't need a level of achievement for every CLO. You don't need to say "effectively," "accurately," or "correctly" on a CLO, for example. These are all implied. We expect students to achieve all outcomes in all courses correctly and accurately. Levels of achievement are for specific cases where it is integral to the student achieving the CLO.

Step 4: Select a condition of performance (if applicable)

A condition of performance identifies if students are only performing this outcome in a specific context. For example, in a Welding course with a field placement, you might say "Demonstrate oxy-fuel-gas cutting techniques with limited supervision." This tells students they will be performing this task, but they will be supervised while they do so.

Again, you don't need a condition of performance for every CLO. Only include a condition of performance if it clarifies the specific outcome students will achieve in the course.

Tips and tricks

CLOs should be SMART outcomes: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Do your outcomes follow SMART principles? Check them against the descriptions below.

  1. Specific: Is there a description of a precise behaviour and the situation it will be performed in? Is it concrete, detailed, focused, and defined?
  2. Measurable: Can the performance of the objective be observed and measured?
  3. Achievable: Can the objective be achieved with a reasonable amount of effort and application? Are you attempting too much?
  4. Relevant: Is the objective important or worthwhile to the learner or stakeholder? Is it possible to achieve this objective?
  5. Time-bound: Is there a time limit, rate number, percentage or frequency clearly stated? When will this objective be accomplished?

CLOs should have only one verb, and only one area of significant subject content. If your CLO includes multiple verbs, select the one that articulates the highest level of learning students will demonstrate in the course. If your CLO includes multiple topics, select the one that articulates the key outcome.

More information

Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management's Goals and Objectives", Management Review, Vol. 70, Issue 11, pp. 35-36. (Available through the library - login required for off-campus access.)

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How to write Elements of Performance

Writing an Element of Performance (EOP) requires the same process as writing a Course Learning Outcome. It is also a measurable, observable, and specific statement that clearly indicates what a student should know and be able to do as a result of learning.

Where EOPs differ from CLOs is in the choice of verb from Bloom's Taxonomy. While a CLO is the statement that indicates what a student should know or be able to do as a result of learning, EOPs are the smaller steps that students will learn and demonstrate to be successful in the greater CLO. Therefore, a CLO will use a verb from a higher-order level of Bloom's Taxonomy than its EOPs.

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Curriculum Design Approaches

Courses and programs are purposefully designed with the end in mind - to help students develop the knowledge and skills to become the "ideal graduate." Elements within a course are designed so that each element aligns with the others to create a meaningful and engaging experience for students that leads to reaching the goals or outcomes of the course.

There are several course design models that focus on starting with the end in mind to build the ideal graduate. These include Backward Design, Constructive Alignment and Integrated Course Design (ICD).

Backward Design

The Backward Design model is one where curriculum design starts with the end goal in mind - the learning outcomes. The design of a program or course should always begin with defining what skill, attitude, value or knowledge students should have by the end of a course or a program.

Backward design prioritizes this goal rather than starting with topics to be covered (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005). It involves a three-stage process:

  1. Identify the desired results (learning outcomes).
  2. Determine acceptable evidence (assessments).
  3. Plan learning activities (lesson planning).

Constructive Alignment

Similar to Backward Design, Constructive Alignment begins with the end goal in mind. It assumes that the learning outcomes, assessment methods, and teaching and learning activities are all aligned.

It also emphasizes that students are central to this process and should be provided with opportunities to actively select and construct their own knowledge (Biggs, 1996).

Meyer and Nulty (2009) offer five recommendations for designing curriculum using constructive alignment. They state that courses should provide students with assessments, learning materials, tasks, and experiences which:

  • Are authentic, real-world, and relevant.
  • Are constructive, sequential, and interlinked.
  • Require students to use and engage with progressively higher-order cognitive processes.
  • Are aligned with each other and with the learning outcomes.
  • Provide challenge, interest, and motivation to learn.

Integrated Course Design (ICD)

One of the best ways to incorporate both Backward Design and Constructive Alignment into curriculum design is to use Dee Fink's Integrated Course Design (ICD) model.

ICD has three key course elements that must always be aligned. These are:

  1. Learning outcomes.
  2. Feedback and assessment.
  3. Teaching and learning activities.


  • Is a student-centred learning philosophy that focuses on supporting and measuring students' achievement of the learning outcomes.
  • Focuses design on the question: What should students be able to do after completing the learning activities and assessments in this course?
  • Clearly specifies what students are expected to learn and arranges the curriculum such that these intended outcomes are achieved.
  • Aligns each part of the course (assessments/activities) to support the specific course outcomes.

Additionally, the Integrated Course Design model asks that teachers consider situational factors (e.g., type of student, # of students, learning environment, teacher's experience/expectations, etc.) into account while planning the course and its delivery.

ICD is underpinned by the principles of Universal Design for Learning. At Mohawk College, we advocate that the principles of UDL are embedded into all elements of course design.

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Course Descriptions

A course description is a brief summary of the significant learning experiences for a course. Course descriptions appear in the Course Outline for each course and in the Program of Studies (POSs) for individual programs.

Use at Mohawk College

Initially, course descriptions are written when a new program is being developed or when developing a new course.

Course descriptions should:

  • Be student-centered, rather than teacher-centered or course-centered.
  • Use brief, outcomes-based, descriptive phrases that begin with an imperative or active verb (e.g., design, create, plan, analyze).
  • Be clear, concise, and easy to understand (less than 80 words).
  • Detail significant learning experiences and benefits students can expect.
  • Align with the outcomes identified in the rest of the course outline.

Course descriptions should avoid:

  • Obvious, redundant, or repetitive language (such as "this course will..." or "students should expect to...").
  • Marketing language (such as "Concept X is a critical part of success in Industry Y" or "Course A will change the way you think about everything").

Course descriptions can also be changed during the POS Renewal Cycle, which is managed by the Academic Data Office. For questions about this process, please contact academicdataoffice [at] (academicdataoffice[at]mohawkcollege[dot]ca)

Example Course Descriptions

Below are three examples of effective course descriptions.

CADM CV203: Produce dimensioned introductory level drawings using a computer assisted drafting program (AutoCAD).

ACCT CB340: Prepare and analyze financial information of a business to develop sound managerial decisions relating to Corporate Finance, including the valuation of securities, working capital management, and short-term financing.

SSCI SS299: Examine a wide variety of technologies that have influenced our society significantly. Analyze the contribution these technologies make to society, associated ethical dilemmas, and critique their value to the individual and society.

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Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning (EL) is an integral and required part of program and course delivery in Ontario. EL is an educational activity facilitated and supported by the College through which students learn while doing.

Students participate in workplaces, or simulated workplaces, where they are exposed to authentic professional demands and expectations. The goal of an EL experience is to improve students' employability and interpersonal skills and to support their transition to the workforce (MCU, 2017).

Whenever possible, educators should look to incorporate EL in their courses. The Experiential Learning Faculty Handbook Experiential-Learning-Handbook-Updates-June-2024.pdf has been designed to provide faculty with information and resources related to EL. It includes definitions, supporting theory, information on reflective practice, and assessment strategies.

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