Course Design Patterns

Design patterns are abstract solutions to recurring design problems. The term was originally used in architecture, but it has been applied more recently to software design. In architecture, the placement of doors and gates, windows, and other elements are design patterns that recur in many buildings. The idea of a lobby in a large office building is a design pattern. Over time, these patterns become almost invisible to us as we are continually exposed to them. Changing a pattern can lead to the discovery of an entirely new way of interacting with a space.

Instructional design patterns are similar. There are abstract solutions to the design challenges that occur in many courses. We can abstract four basic course types in higher education:

Introductory survey course

These tend to be large lecture courses designed to expose students to basic concepts, vocabulary, and foundational ideas.

Skills development course

These courses are designed to apply the ideas introduced in the beginning courses. Labs, recitations, workshops, and second-level courses tend to fall into this category. While there is discussion of theory, applying the theory to problems is the core of the course.

Theory/discussion course

In more advanced courses, students are expected to think critically about research and theory. Application is typically secondary to the discussion of the theory itself.

Capstone course

Many programs have some sort of summative experience that enables students to demonstrate ...

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