Course Development Guide

  /    /  Course Development Guide

Overall Development Process

This general process provides an overview of the major steps involved in a course development process. Though each course is unique, this overarching development process remains relatively unchanged.  Once hired to develop a course, the Course Developer (CD) will:

Your Dean or Academic Manager should provide you with a course title, course code, course description, and vocational learning outcomes. You will meet with Mel Young, Curriculum Developer, to:

  • learn about backwards curriculum design
  • learn the importance of aligning outcomes to course assessments, activities, and content
  • learn who to go to for support with selecting course resources and technologies
  • receive some example DCOs to refer to as you create your own DCO
  • provide you with your own DCO template to populate. 

Once hired, reach out to Mel as soon as possible to set up this initial meeting.

Once you’ve fully developed a draft DCO, you’re ready to create the syllabus. This document describes course activities in a detailed, weekly format. Mel will provide you with the syllabus template to populate with the specific weekly topics, pre-work, reference materials, and assessments. The syllabus does not need to go into great detail about these items; rather, it provides students with an overview of weekly events and in this early planning stage, will help you visualize the discrete items that must be developed for the course.

Now that you’ve developed a draft DCO and syllabus, it’s time to have those documents approved. Cambrian’s Planning and Research department should review these documents first. Contact Sylvie Mainville, Manager, Quality Assurance, to arrange a document handoff. It isn’t uncommon that some minor revisions are required. Incorporate these revisions, then submit both the DCO and syllabus to your Dean or Academic Manager. This individual will review your documents once again, and may request a meeting to discuss your overall plan for the course. Once your DCO and syllabus have been approved, you’ve got the “green light” to start developing specific course components.

If you are planning for a hybrid or online course, contact Jessica O’Reilly, Instructional Developer to arrange a meeting. Jessica will orient you to the digital assessment strategies available to you; the types of technology-enabled learning activities that you may wish to develop for the course; Cambrian’s current content-conveyance software; and will remind you of the expectations related to alignment of course outcomes and discrete learning objects. You will also negotiate a content hand-off strategy for when you have completed the development process.  If you are planning for a face-to-face course, contact Mel Young, Curriculum Developer for continued support in the development process. The bulk of the time spent on course development occurs during this phase. Contact Mel, Jess, your Dean, or Academic Manager if you have questions or concerns as you start building your discrete learning objects.

Once you’ve finished the draft assessments, activities, and content, arrange to meet with your Dean or Academic Manager once again. This time, you will review the course components together.

Once you’ve finished the draft assessments, activities, and content, arrange to meet with your Dean or Academic Manager once again. This time, you will review the course components together.

Course Developer Responsibilities

As a Course Developer, you are responsible for completing the following tasks. Timelines for completion will be negotiated with the Dean or Academic Manager.

  • Establish evaluation plan, including assessment method, description, and value (%)
  • List topics / concepts to be covered in the course, in linear sequence
  • Develop course learning outcomes 
  • Develop course learning objectives
  • Select relevant Essential Employability Skills
  • Select relevant learning activities
  • Research and recommend appropriate resource materials, including textbooks, web-based resources, required software, etc.
    • Ideally these resources would be Open Source or free for students.

For each of the fifteen weeks the course will run, describe: 

  • The overarching topic to be explored
  • Any preparatory work and formative activities students are expected to complete
  • Related reference materials, including: 
    • Textbook title and associated chapter(s) / page(s)
    • Additional learning resources (videos, web-based tools, instructor-generated content, etc.)
  • Evaluated components (assignments, labs, tests) and due dates with alignment to the course learning outcomes

Course content should be “chunked” into discrete, manageable units of learning. Typically, course developers follow a weekly, topical format. Aim to design each unit in a similar, predictable format. For each week, provide: 

  • A brief description of why this week’s content is important and relevant to the course, and ultimately, to the students’ future employment. 


  • A short list of the week’s intended learning outcomes (“By the end of this unit, students will be able to…”). These unit-level objectives should draw from the course level objectives.  


  • List all of the required readings and resources that students must work through. Elaborate on the information provided in the Course Syllabus by explaining why, how, and in what order students should work through the resource materials. For example, if you include a YouTube video as a course resource, briefly explain your rationale for selecting that particular video, what students should pay close attention to, etc. 


  • Provide instructional materials. You’ve been hired as a content developer because of your extensive subject-matter expertise. In a traditional delivery, your knowledge would typically be conveyed to students in an interactive lecture format which balances passive listening with active learning. How will you convey the content to the students. Do not simply repeat the information students already encountered in the readings and resources. Instead: 
    • Expand their understanding by providing important background information
    • Clarify important concepts by explaining them in a new way 
    • Connect new information to previously learned concepts
    • Provide real-life examples
    • Prompt students to connect content with their lived experiences


  • Describe learner activities. In order to truly learn, students must be provided with opportunities to interact with content, peers, and professor. Now that students have worked through the reference and instructional materials, what will they DO? Activities should be relevant, preparing students for success in their evaluated coursework and in their future profession. Activities may be completed by individuals, small groups, or the entire class. They may include personal reflection, class discussion, concept mapping, case study, simulation, educational games, interviews, as well as evaluated course components such as assignments and quizzes. 
  • Develop the discrete course evaluations by drafting assignment descriptions and success criteria, quiz and test questions along with answer keys (where relevant), and any other evaluated components of the course. 

Backwards Curriculum Design

All course activities, including assessments, activities, assigned readings, discussions, etc. must serve a specific purpose. The purpose of a course is to provide students with opportunities to build their knowledge and skills so that they are equipped to meet the vocational standards, learning outcomes, learning objectives, and essential employability skills that you’ve identified on the DCO.

When most Course Developers are hired, they immediately start thinking about content and what the teacher should do, rather than learning outcomes. This approach, though common, is not ideal. Often called teacher-centered, this approach is indicative of a more traditional view of teaching and learning that is rooted in content-conveyance rather than deep learning. As our understanding of neuroscience has matured, we’ve realized that learning isn’t simply a matter of reading or being told something. Rather, students must actively apply their learning; practicing skills and demonstrating their abilities to achieve the desired learning outcomes. This active approach to learning has been called “student-centered” as it focuses on what the learner will do, rather than what the teacher will do.    When you plan curriculum from a student-centered, outcomes-oriented approach, it makes little sense to begin by planning content. In fact, content should come last in the development process! If you start with the end in mind and work backwards, your development process will look a bit like:

document icon

1) What should students be able to know or do by the end of this course?

 You’ve already answered this first question on your DCO! These are conveyed on the course outline under Vocational Learning Outcomes and Course Outcomes.

knowledge icon

2) How can students provide evidence of their knowledge and abilities?

This will come in the form of course assessments, which must be appropriately aligned with course outcomes. For example, if by the end of a course of study students should be able to design a document in Google Docs, it is inappropriate to test this ability using a multiple-choice quiz, as this assessment will not provide you with an adequate representation of the students’ ability to design a GDoc. A more appropriate assessment would be for students to actually design a GDoc according to a specific set of criteria. Put simply, if students should be able to DO something, they should be assessed on their ability to do that thing. If students should KNOW certain information, it is important to provide them with opportunities to convey their knowledge, to the depth that is required and articulated on the DCO. When you first met with Mel she likely introduced you to Bloom’s Taxonomy, a framework that places levels of learning in a hierarchy. Bloom’s Taxonomy was helpful when you were developing learning outcomes and objectives, and it is helpful now that you’re developing performance tasks. 

lightbulb icon

3) What learning experiences and instruction will students require to become proficient?

Ideally, students will have opportunities to attempt tasks and convey their knowledge before being graded on their abilities. This practice comes in the form of learning experiences and guided instruction. At this stage it is most appropriate to consider how students will practice and build their abilities, what information and skills students will need to be explicitly taught and guided on, how best to convey this information in light of the performance goals and assessment strategies, and finally, which resources are most appropriate, given the performance goals. 


clipboard icon

Project Manager

Your project manager will be your Dean / Academic Manager who hired you. Don’t hesitate to reach out to this individual if you are unclear about project deliverables, deadlines, payment schedules, etc. This person should be your go-to for information related to project logistics.

pencil & ruler icon

Curriculum Designer

Mel Young’s role is to support Cambrian faculty in their pursuit of pedagogical excellence. Go to her with your questions about teaching and learning, or if you’re unsure about who to contact for what. 

open book icon


Marnie Seal is Cambrian’s Faculty Librarian. She can help you source out course resources like textbooks, open educational resources, articles, etc. and can answer any questions you have about copyright.

computer with gears icon

Instructional Designers

Sarah Wendorf, Alison Frauts, and Krista Ceccolini assist faculty with developing technology-enhanced educational experiences, provide guidance to online educators, and perform instructional design services.

camera icon

Video / Multimedia Production Specialist

Should you decide to develop instructional videos for your course, Jeffery Tranchemontagne can provide video production services. You worry about the content, he films, edits, and uploads the final product into the Moodle LMS.

computer with grad cap icon

Learning Technologies Specialist

Christopher Schubert supports faculty in the use of the Moodle LMS, liaises with IT to provide faculty with appropriate hardware and software solutions, and works with vendors to integrate commercial resources into the Moodle LMS.

hub logo

Teaching & Learning Innovation Hub

Many of the individuals listed above belong to Cambrian’s Teaching & Learning Innovation Hub, a co-created community of practice that strives to foster creative and collaborative implementations of the College’s Teaching and Learning Framework. The Hub empowers the Cambrian community to explore and inspire new perspectives in pedagogy, educational technology, and curriculum design. Come to the Hub to make use of our educational technologies, innovative work space and just-in-time support services. 

Was this article helpful?

Share this: