Design Services

Our talented learning designers are available to guide faculty and administrators through curricular and course development.

Co-Creating The Student Experience

Instructional Design

What is Instructional Design?

If the teaching and learning endeavor is goal-oriented, which most would agree it is, then the learning experience needs to be intentional and well designed. As a faculty with deep insight about your knowledge domain, you are already designing your students’ learning experiences according to your best ideas, expertise, and practical experience.

Deeply rooted in learning sciences and the effective use of technology, the field of Instructional Design emerged during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and has developed into a cross-disciplinary field that focuses on “creating instructional experiences which make the acquisition of knowledge and skill more efficient, effective, and appealing” (Merrill, Drake, Lacy & Pratt, 1996). Today, the field of instructional design is gaining recognition across a wide range of organizations. In higher education institutions, more and more we come to see faculty working together with Instructional Designers and content experts to design learning experiences that help to achieve student learning outcomes.

Inside Higher Ed published a series of articles in 2017 and 2018 that discuss the rising benefits when faculty work with instructional designers in the design and development of their courses, especially as online courses and programs proliferate. A 2016 report by the Chronicle of Higher Education titled Instructional Designers in Higher Ed also highlighted a number of roles that instructional designers play in higher educational institutions, including:


• Work with faculty to revise or adapt existing courses, lessons, activities, assessments and learning resources

• Work with faculty to plan and design new courses, lessons, activities, assessments and learning resources

• Research emerging trends in technology tools and pedagogy

• Work with faculty to identify needs and learning objectives for their courses

• Design evaluative strategies and instruments to measure courses’ effectiveness, etc.

Considerations for Course Design and Development

The sections hereafter in this Guide discuss the various considerations to keep in mind before, during and after the design and development of your course.

The School of Professional Studies Philosophy

In developing a course and writing a syllabus it is important to keep in mind the below guiding principles that should underlie the design of all courses at SPS:


  • Faculty should expect a diverse body of students who range in age, culture, learning style, and level of professional skill and should design courses to meet the needs of that diverse globally aware population.


  • Given the value SPS places on our students' abilities to write clearly in both academic and professional settings, faculty are expected to use writing in their courses as a strategy for learning and as an assessment measure. In order to better guide students towards becoming successful writers, expectations for and resources in support of writing should be clearly stated on course syllabi and learning outcomes should guide the design of the writing assignments.


  • Faculty should use technology in imaginative ways to enhance the classroom experience. It is important to be aware that our students are accustomed to using technology and faculty should keep that in mind as they design their courses.


  • Faculty should maintain high and consistent standards for all students. While SPS prides itself on being a school of access and opportunity it must also be a school that insists on a high quality of academic and professional competence from all students. 




Program and Course Background

Before jumping into the design of your course, it is important to ask some bigger-picture questions, such as:


  • Is this course part of a larger program?
  • What are the SPS goals for the program?
  • How does my course align with and contribute to the SPS goals of the program?
  • What are the established industry needs for such program/courses?
  • Who are the target learners, and what characteristics of the learners will inform the design of my course?
  • Is this a certificate, diploma, or degree program? What level is the program, high school, undergraduate, or graduate?


Seek such information from the Program or Academic Director to help you gain a clear understanding of these aspects, as they will help inform some of the high-level decisions that you will make for your course.




The Student Learning Experience

As you consider the overall student learning experience in your course, it is important to make some decisions in this regard before going into the detailed design of the course. For example:

  • Have any decisions been made regarding the overall student learning experience in the course?
  • What overall pedagogy is the program/course expected to use?
  • What role will the instructor play in the students’ learning?
  • Are there deliverables that students must produce to show their learning (e.g., a portfolio)?
Students in the Classroom




An Approach to Quality Assurance

CAES recommends that faculty utilize the nationally recognized Quality Matters (QM) Standards Rubric to ensure that the course meets the quality and rigor that faculty and SPS have come to expect from our programs. The rubric was originally developed in 2003 and has been utilized by more than 1300 universities worldwide. The QM Rubric contains a set of 8 general standards and 41 specific standards used to evaluate the design of online and blended courses. The QM process utilizes a team approach including a subject matter expert, instructional designer and a content specialist peer to provide peer-reviewed feedback for course improvement. At CAES, our instructional designers will also work with you to ensure your course meets the QM standards.


Prior to beginning your course design, we recommend that you read through each of the standards carefully.  Think about how you will be able to meet each standard.  Identify the standard(s) you feel will be more challenging to meet, and work with an Instructional Designer to discuss strategies for meeting that standard(s). During the course development, continue to refer to the QM Rubric for guidance to ensure you are meeting each standard. 


A copy of the Standards from the QM Higher Education Rubric is attached, and to learn more about the QM initiative you can also visit





So how do you design a course that will meet the quality standards set forth by Quality Matters (QM) Standards Rubric while ensuring that you have the creative freedom to bring your ideas to life for your students?


Your course would likely already have a set of course-level learning outcomes. How do you ensure the design of your course will enable students to achieve those learning outcomes? The simplest way to think about this is through the concept of alignment. As you think about the design of your online course, the first and most important principle is to ensure that each of the course components – the course level objectives, the lesson level objectives, the resources and learning materials, the activities, the course technology and the assessments are all aligned to help students achieve the learning outcomes of your course.  When all of these components are aligned, they support the achievement of the learning outcomes. In the end, if you have an outcome that is not measured by the assessments you developed, we encourage you to develop a new assessment, realign your assessment with the outcome, or simply eliminate the unaligned outcome.


Think of course alignment as building a structure with the course and module level learning outcomes as the foundation, and framework and the instructional materials, course tools, activities and assessments serving as the infrastructure that supports the achievement of the learning outcomes.


We suggest that you use the CAES Course Design Matrix (linked here) to design your course and help you achieve alignment between these important elements of the course.

Alignment Illustration




Formulating Significant Learning Goals

In his book titled, Creating Significant Learning Experiences, Fink (2003) talks about the idea of “Significant Learning Goals” – goals that would lead to significantly improved student learning. The author propose the below taxonomy of significant learning (p. 74):


  • Foundational knowledge: knowledge about the phenomena associated with the subject and the conceptual ideas associated with those phenomena
  • Application: an ability to use and think about the new knowledge in multiple ways, as well as the opportunity to develop important skills
  • Integration: the ability to connect one body of knowledge with other ideas and bodies of knowledge
  • Human dimension: discovering how to interact more effectively with oneself and with others
  • Caring: the development of new interests, feelings, and values
  • Learning how to learn: developing the knowledge, skills, and strategies for continuing one’s learning after the course is over


To help formulate significant learning goals, Fink suggests using the below as guiding questions (p.75):

Foundational Knowledge



Human Dimension


Learning How to Learn

Writing Effective Learning Outcomes for your Lessons

learning objective is a statement of what students will be able to do when they have completed instruction. Especially in the context of SPS’ brand of applied and professional education, the learning outcomes you write will reflect real-world, on-the-job, observable and measurable skills that learners can expect to gain from your course. As you think about the learning outcomes for each lesson of your course, observe the following four principles:


  1. Outcomes must measure something useful and meaningful. The evidence produced by the outcome measure will be useful in developing and improving student learning in the course.
  2. Lesson learning outcomes must be consistent and aligned with course-level learning outcomes.
  3. Outcomes must be measurable. Use verbs that specify the trait, ability, behavior, of habit of mind you will assess with the class assignments. Be sure that each outcome is going to be tested at least once. For example, do not use, “students will understand....”; instead, choose a verb that allows you to measure their understanding. If students understand a concept, they should be able to describe a phenomenon, explain a process, identify key elements, etc. And in many cases they should be able to apply understanding in a variety of ways (listed below). These verbs can link the desired understanding to an assignment that measures what they have learned.
  4. Outcomes should be explicitly stated in terms of what students can do. Use active verbs (below) to describe what students will be able to do when they successfully complete the course activities. Care must be taken to avoid listing what the instructor plans to do, those are your instructional activities, or instructor goals. As you begin writing student learning outcomes, sometimes it’s natural that you begin from instructional activities. Try to convert your instructor goals into student learning outcomes as shown below: 


Examples of Learning Outcomes




Active Verbs for Learning Outcome Statements - Bloom's Taxonomy

The action verbs below are considered measurable and suitable for use in the development of student leaning outcome statements. As you write student learning outcomes for your lessons, using these action verbs will help assure that they can be measured. The categories presented below proceed from the simplest forms of knowing to the most complex forms. In general, more complex forms of action verbs (higher stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy) should be associated with upper division courses at the undergraduate level, in addition to graduate-level courses. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical sequence, and therefore, being able to “analyze” for example (level four) assumes that the learner can already perform at the lower levels (knowledge, comprehension, application) of the Taxonomy.




Example Action Verbs - Bloom's Taxonomy

Higher Order Thinking Skills to Lower Order Thinking Skills







Selecting Learning Materials

One of the differences between an online class and a face-to-face class is that you will not be able to deliver a lecture to the students as you might in a face-to-face class. But, you can produce or select targeted and focused materials that will nevertheless help students learn the knowledge points that are essential in each lesson.



Recommended Guidelines for Selecting Learning Resources

  1. Focused/targeted: The learning materials referred to here are those ‘must study’ materials for students so that they can learn the knowledge points for each lesson of your online course. In other words, what materials are absolutely necessary to provide to the students to help them learn the knowledge points? Therefore these learning materials should be high quality, specific and target the knowledge points in the lesson. These are not “additional resources” which can be tangentially relevant and optional for students.
  2. Sources/permission: Please make sure the learning materials you have chosen are available for educational use and are accessible for students. You are encouraged to select resources that are available electronically through the NYU Library, or Open Education Resources (e.g.
  3. Diversity: It is important to consider providing a variety of learning materials for students to learn the knowledge points in the lesson. The great news is that our NYU library systems have millions of easily accessed and researchable resources. Simply log on to NYU libraries and use the easy-to-use key word searches. You will find videos, slide shares, articles, and so much more.
  4. Student workload: It’s easy to provide students with a generous amount of learning materials. But consider this question: To achieve the learning outcomes for a lesson, what's the absolutely essential amount of time they need to spend during each session? How much of this time on average should a student budget for studying the learning materials? Use this as a general guide for the amount of learning materials you choose to provide keeping in mind that too much often means students experience cognitive overload that can decrease optimal learning.
  5. Scaffolding: Consider offering students activities, assessments and a wide variety of resources at varying levels of difficulty, e.g., basic, intermediate, and challenging. Offering students low-stakes options to work within their ZPD or Zone of Proximal Development* taps into the natural desire to learn and advance to the next level.  Build in activities and assessments, from simple to complex, to allow students to increase their comfort and skill levels until they are able to master the learning goals. Offering students a variety of learning options to self-remediate and choose their own learning pace empowers students to take control of their learning process, increases completion rates, and the possibilities they will pursue further studies through SPSNYU. 




Selecting Textbooks or Websites

If you need students to use a textbook, make sure you cite the title and page numbers of the chapter or section you are asking students to study for each lesson. Simply listing the name of a textbook is not recommended because textbooks tend to be too broad, more static, less dynamic, and may be not easily accessible to students. Considering e-text or open source materials can significantly decrease costs for students.

Keeping in mind that all of the recourses will be embedded within the educational ecosystem on NYU Classes, broad websites are generally difficult  because they are not targeted to the specific learning outcomes.. If you would like to utilize a website, please make sure the resource is specific enough and directs the students to the precise information in support of the lesson knowledge points and learning outcomes.  




NYU Library Course Reserves

Using the NYU Library's course reserves is a great way to reduce the cost of learning resources for your students. Please visit the Course Reserves page fror more information.




Producing High-Quality Educational Videos

Sometimes you may want to record short and dynamic videos for students to use as a resource to learning the knowledge points in each lesson. While the Digital Studio at the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library provides support for video recording, we highly recommend you consider principles of effective educational videos prior. Read this article to learn more about how to produce and use educational videos to enhance students learning. You can also film your videos here at SPS with our experienced videographers. You may also want to keep in mind that you can use these videos as interactive opportunities with your students through various NYU Classes tools. Our CAES team is happy to work with you to integrate discussions, games, and short quizzes that can provide formative assessments and increase student learning. 




Designing Student-Centered Learning Activities and Assignments

Today’s students have access to many resources to learn almost anything, and the instructor is no longer a sole source of knowledge. At NYU SPS, we value the real-world expertise that you bring to the students, and students are eager to receive your guidance to bridge the theoretical and real-world practice. Do you consider yourself to be a traditional lecture-centered “sage on the stage” type of instructor, or are you the more adventurous “guide on the side” type that is always looking for ways to facilitate student learning? No matter which type of instructor you are, adopting some of the approaches below will greatly enhance the engagement and effectiveness of your courses for student learning and achievement of outcomes. 



Active Student-Centered Learning

Analysis of the research literature (Chickering and Gamson 1987), however, suggests that students must do more than just listen: They must read, write, discuss, or be engaged in solving problems. Most important, to be actively involved, students must engage in such higher-order thinking tasks as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Within this context, it is proposed that strategies promoting active learning be defined as instructional activities involving students in doing things and thinking about what they are doing.


Chickering, Arthur W., and Zelda F. Gamson. March 1987. "Seven Principles for Good Practice." AAHE Bulletin 39: 3-7. ED 282 491. 6 pp. MF-01; PC-01.

Formative and Summative Assessment

Learner-Centered Teaching

Experiential Learning

Problem-Based Learning

Authentic Learning

Team-based Learning

Project-Based Learning

Scenario-Based Learning

Reflective Learning

Instructional Scaffolding


Social Learning

Global Learning

Coginitive Load





Technologies that Support Active and Student-centered Learning

Technology has not only changed the role of the teacher, it has also transformed students’ learning experiences from those of their counterparts decades ago. New Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have revolutionized how we teach and learn in higher education opening up education for a more global reach. Through Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), imparting and acquiring knowledge is no longer confined to a physical, or even virtual classroom, or LMS, educators and learners can share, create, communicate and apply knowledge in ways never imagined before using different types of technology tools, platforms and Web 2.0. Video-conferencing, watching and creating Youtube videos, communication through social media networks and online discussion forums, blogs, wikis, Google Docs and more foster and support formal and informal student-centered learning, content creation and critical thinking.  In higher education, however, the application of TEL remains elusive. Faculty understanding of why and how to leverage technology to engage learners and to design impactful learning experiences and tasks previously inconceivable run the gamut from novice to expert.

Kirkwood and Price’s (2013) critical literature review and assessment of TEL provides higher education faculty, administrators and support staff insights about the current research, perception and use of TEL in higher education.

If faculty are to adopt TEL, they must first gain an understanding of how TEL has changed their role, and their students’ expectations of learning experiences.  This paper presents the purpose of applying TEL, the role TEL plays in restructuring teaching and learning, approaches for implementing TEL and evidence-based examples of the benefits, value and impact of TEL.


Further reading: Please read the article from the NYU library at:    


Tools within NYU Classes

Many functionalities within the NYU Classes platform support student-centered, collaborative learning that encourage students to continue their learning after the class period has ended. It provides them with opportunities to consume knowledge and reflect on their own time, in addition to the faculty-supported teaching and learning. Read the How can I encourage collaboration section of this NYU Classes knowledgebase article to learn more about how to effectively use features such as Forums, Chatroom, and the Message Tool to support student collaboration.


Zoom, NYU Stream, Padlet, VoiceThread

In addition, several internal and external tools are also great options to engage students in group, social, and active learning. 


More Teaching with Technology recommendations can be found on the Educational Technology Services page of the CAES website.

Assessment Principles & Structure

Assessment of student learning is the systematic and ongoing process of gathering and interpreting learning evidence and using this information to improving student learning experience (Angelo, 1995). Assessing student learning within a course is aimed at figuring out what students already know when entering the course/lessons, providing feedback to move students’ progress towards learning outcomes during the course/lessons, as well as determining what students have learned and how well students meet the course expectations at the end of the course. Assessment methods include formal activities that are often high-states or contribute significantly to individual student’s course grades, such as, end-of-unit tests, midterm exams, final projects. They could also be informal activities that are low-states and mainly for the purpose of monitoring students’ progress and promoting active engagement. For example, using a concept map to diagnose students’ readiness to comprehend course materials, having students provide feedback to peers on a draft of final paper, or even asking questions during group discussions to make sense of students’ current understanding. 

Therefore, assessment goes beyond assigning grades. Though grades is a key indicator of how well students participate successfully in their course, grades alone is insufficient for gauging students’ learning progression towards learning outcomes inasmuch as grades comprise of attendance and effort components that cannot directly speak to students’ knowledge, skills and dispositions.


At CAES, we believe that purposeful and sustainable assessment practices

  • drive student engagement and motivation;
  • ensure rigor and quality of student learning experience;
  • inform evidence-based instructional design and effective grading; and
  • should be meaningful and manageable for students and instructors. 


As you designing assessment activities or making assessment decisions, we recommend the following assessment principles:

  • Align assessment activities with learning outcomes and instructional activities to ensure assessments and instructional activities work together to maximize student achievement on specified learning outcomes;
  • Build a balanced assessment system to provide students with the motivational incentives for higher stakes assessments while offering ongoing lower stakes assessments that serve to deepen learning;
  • Emphasize on authentic assessment activities linked to or mirrored workplace requirements to ensure students are able to transfer academic skills to workplace environment;
  • Integrate student voice via self- and peer-assessment activities to empower autonomy for both short- and long- term learning outcomes; and
  • Use rubrics to clarify learning exceptions as well as implement meaningful and consistent grading.


Prior to beginning your assessment design, we recommend that you review your program goals, program learning outcomes and curriculum map to understand where your course fits into the students’ learning journey in your program. Which program learning outcomes will be introduced, reinforced or assessed in your course? How are these program outcomes connected to your course outcomes? Once you gained a big picture of how your course should contribute to the program, you may consider the following questions and recourses for designing assessment activities that allow students to demonstrate their achievement thorough out the course.

  • How do I match assessment activities with learning outcomes based on Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Types of Assessments for each Bloom’s taxonomy level

  • What low stakes assessment activities can I use to morning students’ learning?

Classroom Assessment Techniques

Peer Assessment

Assessing Group Work

Discussion Boards

  • How do I develop rubrics for providing feedback and assigning meaningful grades?

Using Rubrics




Align assessment activiteis with learning outcomes and instructional activities

Build a balanced assessment system for effective feedback

Emphasize authentic assessment activities that mirror workplace requirements

Integrate student voice via self- and peer- assessment

Use rubrics to guide student completion

Accessibility should also be considered amongst your course design decisions. Accessibility not only involves designing a course layout which facilitates ease of use, it also includes information about the accessibility of all technology tools required in the course.  All print materials should be screen reader accessible and designed for easy screen readability; non-print materials should include alternative text and closed captioning.  Students should be provided with alternative means to access the course materials. An instructional designer can work with you to ensure your course meets QM accessibility standards. 




NYU Accessibility Resources




Making Materials Accessible