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This content is taken from the UNSW Sydney's online course, Introduction to Educational Design in Higher Education. Join the course to learn more.
titled Design, with lots of sharp black pencils of differing lengths

What is educational design?

The design process consists of the basic steps of planning (analysis and design) , development, implementation and evaluation (refer to the figure below), and is well established within fields such as engineering, architecture and computer science. The design process often starts with a need, a problem or a challenge, for example, ‘how can I align my course curriculum with my faculty’s programme?’

Addie's Model of Design ADDIE Model By Fav203 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In higher education, the design process can be used to develop, renew and enhance any aspect of learning and teaching. Consider for example, curriculum design, task design, spatial design, classroom layout, assessment design, curriculum alignment, instructional design, human-computer interface design, programmed instruction, adaptive technological systems, and pedagogical design. Teaching itself is increasingly described as a designerly task (Laurillard, 2012; Brown & Edelson, 2003; Goodyear, 2015).

Characteristics of good educational design

  • Supports students to make sense of new information by relating it to something they already know or to something they have already experienced (Gagne, Briggs & Wager , 2003). That is, it will support a constructivist approach to learning (as we explored in ‘Introduction to Student Learning in Higher Education’).
  • Acknowledges learner diversity. It achieves this by considering the needs of the cohort of learners, designing activities that will engage them and support their learning. Technology is integral to the design process. Good design makes informed decisions about how technology is chosen and used. Equally important is adopting a holistic perspective and considering all aspects of the learning environment.
  • Seldom involves working (designing and developing) from the beginning. Unlike architecture and construction, educational design is rarely constructed on a “green-field” (piece of land that has not previously been built on) site. Instead, educational courses, materials, resources, assessment, and curriculum are often in place and design work is therefore more often, and more accurately referred to as re-design work (Goodyear & Dimitriadis, 2013).

Design frameworks

While there are many frameworks for educational design, in this course, we will explore:

  • Constructive Alignment model
  • ICF - Integrated Curriculum Framework
  • RASE - Resources, Activities, Support & Evaluation
  • UDL - Universal Design for Learning

Talking point

Consider design work in your educational context. Write a list of the tasks (that involve design work) you would undertake when planning a class, lab, tutorial, lecture, practicals etc.

Identify one step in your design process you use to plan the class, lab, tutorial, lecture, practicals etc, provide a short example to explain the step and post to the discussion.


Brown, M., & Edelson, D. (2003). Teaching as design: can we better understand the ways in which teachers use materials so we can better design materials to support their changes in practice? Chicago: Northwestern University.

Dimitriadis, Y., & Goodyear, P. (2013). Forward-oriented design for learning: illustrating the approach. Research in Learning Technology, 21.

Gagné, R. M., Briggs, L. J., & Wager, W. W. (1992). Principles of instructional design (4th ed.). Forth Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

Goodyear, P. (2015). Teaching as design. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 2, 27-50.

Goodyear, P., & Dimitriadis, Y. (2013). In medias res: Reframing design for learning. Research in Learning Technology, 21.

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a design science: building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. Abingdon: Routledge.

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Educational Design in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney