3 D’s of Course Building

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There are many approaches to instructional design and course building and I don’t want to give the impression that what I am going to write about here is one of those official models. If you do a little searching you will find processes such as ADDIE or Dick and Carey – I’ve always been fond of Fink’s Significant Learning Experiences. All of these break course design down into a variety of steps, have theory taxonomies, and a whole host of tools and charts to help you along.

I find some faculty members’ eyes can glaze over when looking at these models as they often come described in thick books and to really dig in you are encouraged to attend multi-day workshops. Those trained in a particular model can become attached to that model but I think it is important to remember that there are lots of models out there — and few perfect designs

This blog post is informed by my experience in instructional design/academic technology/faculty development but steps laid out here are not part of some formal design theory. This is simply a reflection on the organic process that happens during course delivery and I’m trying to convey a kind of minimally viable structure of course design. 

No matter what stage you are at we have offerings from the Hub and some other offices here at University of Michigan — Dearborn that can help and if you are at another institution then consider similar supports at your own school. 


For me, the design process is distinct as a process of imagination around the course. When we are designing it is all about imagining:

  • What the course will look like
  • The cadence or timing of how content will be released 
  • How we will know that the students are “getting it” (or not)
  • How content will connect to assignments and assessments
  • How we will communicate in the class – instructor to students, students to instructor, students with one another – etc. 

In the design stage we are imagining all of these different angles of the course and running them through, visualizing them, mapping them out. The design process theoretically happens before the course starts but the reality often is that design is happening throughout the course. 

Supports for the Design Stage

We can get lost in our imagination is the thing, so there are tools we use to help guide this process or to help us visualize what we are imagining — the Hub’s blueprint is a good one, doing an design level learner analysis is another. And of course it is always a great idea to reach out to an instructional designer around matters of course design. 

Note this is a “design” but also “redesign” stage. This is because outside of the situation where you have a new prep — if you have ever run the course in any form before — this is a redesign. Note the section below about silos and iteration. 


When we start developing we are actually building out the thing we imagined. If during design we imagined a module structure in Canvas, then in development we build that structure.  If there are instructions that need to be written or videos that need to be recorded, development is the best time to do so.

Something that often gets lost is that, yes this is content/course development, but it is also our own development as teachers. Do we need to practice a presentation technique or activity? Do we understand the technologies that we will need for the course? During development we practice these to make sure that things work the way we imagined. 

Again, “theoretically” development happens before the course runs but in reality it is not uncommon for some of the development to happens while the course is running.

Supports for the Development Stage

Partnering with our friends in Canvas support and Information Technology is a great thing to do during our development stage. Often, we request what is called a “Work in Progress” or “WIP” Canvas course. This is simply a Canvas shell with no students in it — the structure and content placed here can be imported to the live shell with the students when the time comes to deliver the course. How do you get a WIP course here at UM-D? You just ask your Canvas Admin.


It is show time! The first day of class is the beginning of the delivery stage and it is here where the magic of teaching and learning happens. Some don’t like the word “delivery” as they think of this as just content delivery, so don’t get caught up in that. What I’m talking about is the actual act of teaching the course and the truth is that often there is still some design and development happening at this stage but I think this stage goes a lot smoother depending on how much you put into the other stages beforehand. 

Supports for the Delivery Stage

During delivery it is great to reflect on how well what you imagined is matching up with the various realities of the course as this will inform the next time you run the course and start back at the top of this list with a “redesign”. 

The Hub can help during delivery! Our Mid-term Course Student Feedback Sessions are confidential sessions where we come into a course and talk with students about how the course is going. We give faculty members this feedback which can inform short-term and long-term changes to the course.

Notes on Silos and Iteration 

It is important to recognize that these stages are an abstraction of the process of course building. These stages are not silos and they often happen out of order and bleed into one another. Also of great importance is that all of this is an iterative process that loops back on itself to continue to improve the course over time . 

Just remember that no matter what stage you are in, Instructional Designers in the Hub are here to help. We are friendly and fun; and we love thinking about this stuff. We work across the university with different disciplines, so we’ve seen a lot of examples. We would love to talk to you about your course no matter where you are in designing, developing or delivering your course. If you are at UM-D schedule a meeting with a first available Instructional Designer today and if you are at another institution, reach out to your teaching center, academic technology group, or other support systems. 

Featured Photo by Fanny Rascle on Unsplash

Autumm Caines is an Instructional Designer in the Hub for Teaching and Learning Resources and you can find out more about her on her author page.

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