The Worldwide Instructional Design System (WIDS) is currently used by The Michener Institute of Education at UHN community to support competency and performance based curriculum design for didactic and distributed learning models. The Michener has been using WIDS since 2008 for the design of courses, performance assessment tasks and to manage curriculum integrity. WIDS is the central location for all curriculum and assessment information at Michener.
Many of the materials on the Curriculum & Program Development page were produced by Michener and adapted with the permission of wids.org.
Want to learn more about how to leverage WIDS in your course or Program at Michener? Contact our Instructional Design Specialist.
Thoughtful design is your recipe for a successful course or program. Using a Backwards Design approach is the best way to build a strong program or course.
Principles of Curriculum Design and Development
Using the Backwards Design approach, the professor first identifies what they want students to be able to do by the time they finish the course. These are the course competencies and should be based off of external standards for the profession. The course competencies must be appropriate for the level of students being taught, observable, measurable and achievable within the time frame of the course. Learning objectives must also be identified that support the course competencies. From here, the professor should decide on the evidence they will need to ensure that students have achieved those goals. This is the assessment strategy and contains the criteria students would need to meet in order to be successful in demonstrating competency for each course competency. Next, the professor will decide on what learning activities will support the student achieve the course competencies by the end of the course.
Want to learn more curriculum design at the Course or Program level? Contact our Instructional Design Specialist.
The following ideas are adapted from Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R. (2016) and Cornell University (2017).
A Course Outline serves many functions in class. At Michener, there are at least 14 elements of a learner-centered course outline.
- Instructor and Class Information: Instructor name, email, phone, office location, office hours, meeting times and course website. This section establishes an early point of contact and connection between student and faculty
- Course Information: Course number, course title, course description, total credits and total hours. This section helps set the tone for the course and acquaints students with course logistics.
- Pre/Corequesites: for example “completion of all Fall courses”. This section will list the courses that need to be completed prior in order to be successful in the current course. This sets the course in a broader context for learning.
- Textbooks: Author. Title. Publisher. Copyright. Edition: ISBN: Required/Recommended. This section provides students with the details needed to obtain reading material for the course.
- Learning Supplies: Name, manufacturer, quantity required. This can include material that supports learning inside and outside the classroom.
- Core Abilities: There are six core abilities that have been defined for all Michener students. These represent skills which all students will obtain from being enrolled at Michener.
- External Standards: come from you National College. You course outline should list the items covered in your course.
- Program Outcomes: should be consistent throughout the entire program. List the program outcomes that are supported through your course.
- Course Competencies: These are the goals that can be achieved by students by the end of the course. Competencies are based off of external standards, but are written using Bloom’s Taxonomy. There should be 3 to 6 competencies per course.
- Learning Objectives: These are the goals that support each of your competencies. They are written using Bloom’s Taxonomy and there should be 2 to 10 learning objectives per competency.
- Course Grading Information: required mark to pass the course (e.g., 60%) and grading rationale. This section helps define student responsibilities for successful coursework.
- Policies: all course outline must contain the standard wording for Academic Policies and Policy Statement. Other options might include attendance, academic integrity, accessibility, class participation, etc. It is recommended that faculty include policies as appropriate, so that students are aware of resources available to them (see details below).
- Class Schedule: this includes the Date/Session (week of semester), competencies supported in each week, learning activities (description of topics covered) and PAT details (PAT number & name).
- Performance Assessment Tasks: the requirements for all graded or required aspects of the course, including exams, quizzes, assignments, etc. Directions, target course competencies, scoring standard (how the student will be successful in completing the PAT), rating scale and scoring guide (rubric) are all mandatory components of a course outline.
Writing a Course Outline that contains all of these items is important as it serves a legal document and a learning contract between you and your students. In order to support faculty in the creation of learner-centred course outlines, a number of resources have been created to help.
Good Course Outlines rely on thoughtful course design.
Using a Backwards Design approach is the best way to build a solid course and a strong course outline. Using this method, the professor first identify what they want students to be able to do by the time they finish the course. These are the course competencies and should be based off of external standards for the profession. The course competencies must be appropriate for the level of students being taught, observable, measurable and achievable within the time frame of the course. Learning objectives must also be identified that support the course competencies. From here, the professor should decide on the evidence they will need to ensure that students have achieved those goals. This is the assessment strategy and contains the criteria students would need to meet in order to be successful in demonstrating competency for each course competency. Next, the professor will decide on what learning activities will support the student achieve the course competencies by the end of the course.
If you would like support in modifying or creating your course outline, book a consultation with our Instructional Design Specialist.
The tone of your Course Outline can affect learners.
The course outline is often the first introduction a student may have to you as a professor and to the content of a course (Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R., 2016). Saville et al. (2010) explored student responses to course outlines and concluded that students associate a detailed course outline with the qualities of a master teacher (as cited in Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R., 2016).
In addition, warm and cold language in a course outline affect student perceptions of their professor. Warm language might include statements like “I hope you actively participate in this course. I have found it is the best way to engage you in learning the material (and it makes lectures more fun)”, compared to cold language which may express the same idea in a different way, like “Come prepared to actively participate in this course. It is the best way to learn the material (and makes lectures more interesting”. Harnish and Bridges (2011) found that students are more likely to rate the professor using warm language as more approachable and more motivated to teach.
To set the tone for your course, consider (Cornell University, 2017; Nilson, 2010):
- Sharing your teaching philosophy.
- Announcing your office hours and location.
- Sharing some information about yourself, such as your educational and professional background.
- Describing how the course relates to the program, discipline, or field.
- Providing information about campus services that can aid students with their studies.
- Reflecting on the overall tone of your writing: is it encouraging or punitive?
Motivate your students to refer to the course outline.
- Be strategic in where you place the course outline. Make sure it is posted on your Blackboard course site for easy access by students.
- If a student asks questions that the course outline answers, ask the student to find the answer on the spot using the posted course outline.
- Have students review the course outline in class and ask them to contribute to suggestions for changes.
- Introduce the course outline in class as a learning activity. Conduct a jigsaw activity or have students create a visual representation of what the course is about.
Jigsaw (Cornell University, 2017):
- Break the course outline into different sections
- Divide students into small groups
- Give each group a different section of the syllabus for review – their goal is to become experts on their section
- Reform the groups so that each group includes a member from each of the previous expert groups
- Have the experts teach their section of the syllabus to their new groups
- Divide students into small groups
- Have them review the course outline in class and discuss what they think the course is about
- Give each group a piece of flip chart paper and markers
- Ask the students to visually represent their understandings of the course.
- Have each small group present back to the class about how they represented key course features.
Resources that can support you.
The Centre for Learning, Innovation and Simulation offers one-on-one consultations to faculty. Make an appointment with our Instructional Design Specialist or come by to see us!
Download a copy of our Course Outline Template
View our Sample Policy Statements
Cornell University. (2017). Writing a Syllabus. Retrieved  from https://www.cte.cornell.edu/teaching-ideas/designing-your-course/writing-a-syllabus.html
Harnisch, Richard J. and K. Robert Bridges. (2011). “Effect of Syllabus Tone: Students’ Perceptions of Instructor and Course.” Social Psychology Education, 14, 319-330.
Riviere, J., Picard, D. R., & Coble, R. (2016). Syllabus Design Guide. Retrieved  from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/syllabus-design/
Saville, Bryan K., Tracy E. Zinn, Allison R. Brown, and Kimberly A. Marchuk. (2010). “Syllabus Detail and Students’ Perceptions of Teacher Effectiveness.” Teaching of Psychology, 37:3, 186-189.
Nilson, L.B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
The following materials were produced by Michener and adapted with the permission of wids.org.
Major skills, knowledge or attitudes that are measurable and observable; field or discipline specific outcomes addressed at the learning plan (lesson) level. Samples: Use active listening skills, write a narrative, adjust automotive brakes, prepare an income statement, analyze costs that affect food service, solve quadratic equations, examine the impact of WWII on the family.
What are competencies for?
Competencies provide an organizing framework for planning and implementing a learning experience. They are the intended outcomes of learning experiences. Since they describe what you want learners to be able to do, they must be stated in observable measurable terms.
- Determine what content you will teach.
- Tell what you want your learners to be able to do with what they know at the end of the learning experience
- Drive a course. Teachers design assignments and assessments around competencies.
Benjamin Bloom identified three domains of learning: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective. They are referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy. Cognitive: Focuses on thinking or knowledge. Psychomotor: Focuses on doing or performing. Affective: Focuses on the development of attitudes and interests. Competencies can be written in any of the domains.
Performance statements in the cognitive domain can be placed into one of six levels. Because the definition of a competency implies the application of knowledge, typically they are written at the APPLYING level or above on Bloom’s Taxonomy. (That means they are not written at either the Remembering or Understanding level.) The Verb Library in the WIDS software allows you to search the library by domain and level.
- Describe what you want learners to do with what they know at the end of the learning experience (applying level or above on Bloom’s Taxonomy)
- Begin with an action verb (one verb)
- Are measurable and observable
- Are clear and concise (short)
- Describe the learner’s performance
- Require the application of content
- Can be accomplished within the timeframe of the learning experience (3-6 competencies per credit or 9-18 hours of learning)
- Often result in a product, a service, decision, or a performance
- Become the target of a learning plan
- Conduct a patient interview
- Recommend diagnostic procedures
- Implement infection control strategies
- Apply conflict resolution strategies
- Measure EKG
- Evaluate the care plan
- Compare primary tissue types of the body
Supporting skills, knowledge and attitudes that lead to mastery of a competency. Learning objectives serve as benchmarks. They represent the content in terms of performance and provide cues for the development of learning activities.
Sample competency: Interview for a job
Samples learning objectives:
- Explain the purpose of an interview
- List the documents required for an interview
What are Learning Objectives for?
While competencies set the target outcomes for the course, learning objectives form the basis for what is to be learned. Learning objectives are important for both the learner and the instructor.
For the learner they:
- Break the major skills into smaller pieces and give students smaller goals that are less overwhelming.
- Provide a roadmap for achieving mastery of the competency.
- Provide benchmarks for learners to measure their progress towards achieving the competency.
For the instructor they:
- Detail the content that is embedded in the competency.
- Guide the selection of learning activities (assignments).
Learning objectives are linked directly to a competency. There are usually 2–10 learning objectives per competency. Most often they are written at or below the level of the competency. If you cannot write at least two learning objectives for the competency, the competency may be too small.
Guidelines for Writing Learning Objectives
To write learning objectives:
- Ask, “What do learners need to know in order to perform this competency?”
- List any facts, concepts, procedures, processes, and/or principles that support the competency.
- Cross out any prerequisite skills or content.
- If your list has many detailed items in it, consider combining some of them.
- Write a performance statement for each item still on your list. You should have 2–10 learning objectives per competency.
Learning Objectives Checklist
- Learning objectives include supporting skills, concepts, procedures, processes, and/or principles a learner needs to perform the competency.
- Learning objectives begin with action verbs.
- Learning objectives are measurable and observable.
- Learning objectives are clear, concise, and precise description of skills, knowledge, and attitudes.
- Learning objectives specify a single performance (one verb).
- Learning objectives number 2–10 per competency.
Resources that can support you.
Make sure your competencies and learning objectives are written using Bloom’s Taxonomy. Download our Bloom’s Taxonomy Verb List.
The following materials were produced by Michener and adapted with the permission of wids.org.
Lesson Plans (a.k.a. Learning Plans)
A written learning guide that describes the intended performance outcomes (what), suggests learning activities or strategies (how), and designates assessment requirements (when). A learning plan addresses one or more competencies and the related outcomes; it is written to the learners. There may be multiple learning plans within a given course, project, or learning experience.
Learning Plans help students.
Learning plans help your learners navigate through the learning process. A learning plan links what learners will learn with how they will learn and when they will know they have achieved competence. When you develop learning plans, you provide your learners with a handbook for learning.
A single learning plan addresses one or more competencies and/or outcomes. There may be multiple learning plans within a given course or learning experience.
Learning plans are handy tools to be used in several ways.
- You might incorporate learning plans into a study guide for learners to purchase or receive at the beginning of a course.
- Learning plans are also useful if a learner misses a class meeting, falls behind, or wants to work ahead
- You can post your learning plan online either in an online course or as a companion to a face-to-face course.
Engage students through learning activities.
At Michener, we represent the learning process as a cycle. There are four major stages: motivation, comprehension, practice, and application. Each stage supports one or more of the five thinking processes: attention, encoding, rehearsal, retrieval, and metacognition. When you select the learning activities for a learning plan, choose activities that provide a framework for guiding learners all the way through the cycle.
At the motivation stage you facilitate the attention process by inspiring learners to learn and answering the question, “Why do I want to learn this information or skill?”
During the comprehension stage you facilitate encoding and processing in the working memory by clarifying performance expectations and helping learners access the information they need to perform the target competency.
In the practice stage you need to provide guided practice—elaborative rehearsal, giving feedback to facilitate encoding to long-term memory.
Finally, at the application stage, foster retrieval from the long-term memory to enable working memory processing on demand. During the application stage learners need to show that they can apply what they have learned to real world problems and decision-making. It is during the application stage that you build in assessment.
When you design learning plans, try to move learners through the complete learning cycle: motivation, comprehension, practice, and application. However, learners need to swing back and forth between the comprehension and practice stages before moving on to application. By doing this you help them avoid cognitive overload by chunking the learning into manageable pieces and punctuating it with frequent practice.
Learning Plan Checklist
- Learning plan addresses 1–3 related competencies
- Learning plan includes a title and overview or introduction
- Learning plan includes a series of learning activities that help learners master the competency or group of related competencies
- Learning activities begin with an action verb
- Learning activities support the learning cycle (motivate, comprehend, practice, apply)
- Learning activities are varied and require active learner involvement
- Learning activities address all of the learning objectives
- Learning plan includes assessment activities
Resources that can support you.
Download the Learning Plans Information Sheet to keep these details handy.
Self-assess the learning plans you have developed using the rubrics on the Learning Plans Self-Assessment worksheet.
View our Sample Learning Plan.