In this blog, we look at the fundamentals of course design. These are broad topics for consideration. Over the coming weeks we will look more closely at each part so you can make effective courses for your students and your business.
Okay so what are the main points to consider when you want to write a new course?
What do you want your students to know or be able to do at the end of the course? This could be a little different than thinking about what you want to teach. Those two things do not always align, and for the course to be effective, you need to look at the learning outcomes.
IELTS can help here in that it can be very focused.
“By the end of this course, students will be able to achieve a minimum Band 6.5 on Task 2 essay writing”, for example.
You need to know who your students are.
- What is their motivation for joining?
- What are their goals?
- Are they all at around the same level?
- Are they all from university and understand academic writing, or do you need to teach this too?
- Are they all from Vietnam and speak Vietnamese only, or do they come from China, Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam? Multilingual classes are great for constant English use, and multicultural classes can be much more interesting.
How much time do you have to reach the learning objectives? How long will the course run for? How many hours in total? How long is each class? How many classes per week? How much ‘homework’ will be expected or required? Do you need extra time for assessments or review and revision?
Environment or Mode of Learning
Is this an online class, or face-to-face class, or a blended/hybrid class? What is the internet like, reliable and fast or are their frequent problems? Do you have access to breakout rooms in your online meeting platform? What parts of your course require interaction? Which parts can be done alone (asynchronously)? Is your classroom well equipped with IT and presentation devices? Do you have a whiteboard only? Are there chairs and tables that you can move?
All of these need to be considered in terms of what activities are possible.
Who are your trainers? What is their style, are they lecturers or facilitators? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Are they reliable? Will they need training to deliver the course? Will each course have one or many trainers? How will you assess the performance of the trainer?
Lesson Planning Methodology
It is important to understand the range of lesson planning methodologies that are available. Practice, Present, Produce, or PPP, is the plan most commonly taught on TEFL course, but it is worthwhile remembering that PPP is just one approach of many. In practice experienced trainers will often mix up methodologies, even within one lesson, and that is fine if you know what you are doing.
Learning about PPP, ESA, Test-Teach-Test, TPR, Task Based, Project Based, 5Es, Grammar Translation, the Communicative Approach and Dogme, for example, will give you enough tools to plan a variety of effective lessons.
Overarching philosophies can help tremendously in course design. There are many different variations and ideas on these, but the main ones are Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism, Humanism and, more recently, Connectivism.
Constructivism is one that works well for me and my style of teaching, but it requires time and a certain degree of being open to unplanned outcomes! A blend of constructivism and behaviourism may be a better than a pure approach for many situations and students.
Connectivism can work well with motivated learners who have ready access to technology, and it works well with task and project based learning.
One size doesn’t usually fit all, so knowing a little about all the common philosophies can help with the overall planning. There is plenty of information on Google, or ChatGPT, about these and others.
Assessment should be planned right from the start. This should be in the form of summative and formative assessment, and should also be part of every lesson in some way.
Learning objectives must be measurable in an accurate and reliable way, otherwise no one will actually know if they reached their goals or not. And are there major and minor milestones that you can plan assessments and instruction around?
In IELTS, summative assessment for writing could be performed by grading to the IELTS band descriptors. But consider adding formative/summative assessment of other items like essay outlines, paraphrasing techniques and topic sentences for example.
Good assessments give focus, and provide meaningful feedback.
Those are some of the big ideas to consider before writing a new course. For me, once I know the purpose and the students, I start the design process with the final assessment. Then work back to the start of the course making sure the instruction comes at the right pace and there is frequent opportunity to reuse and revise material throughout the course.
Many courses are paced too fast and don’t have enough time built in to deal with learning problems during the course. Allow students time to learn from their feedback, and to revisit topics when necessary.
Learning often involves struggling, misunderstanding and confusion. Recognise this as as an important part of any course and try to embrace that in course design. Not everything should be easy and bitesized, the world (and the IELTS test) is not like that!
That’s all for this blog. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more.