Integrated Course Design


Integrated Course Design, developed by L. Dee Fink, provide means for instructors to integrate student’s situational factors into the course’s learning goals, activities, and assessments. This resource touches on Fink’s Self Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. Instructors will learn how to develop strong primary components of the course and how to integrate those components.


Initial Design Phase

Immediate Design Phase

Final Design Phase

Key Components of Integrated Course Design

Fink, L. Dee. Key Components of Integrated Course Design

Initial Design Phase

The first step in designing a course is laying out strong primary components: situational factors, learning goals, feedback and assessment, and teaching and learning activities as shown in the Key Components of Integrated Course Design model. Laying out these components promotes a significant learning course design.

Situational Factors

Start off with determining situational factors. Reflect on information already known about the teaching and learning environment and consider looking into specific and general context of the learning and teaching situation, nature of the subject, and characteristics of the students and instructor(s). This worksheet from Dee Fink’s Self Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning provides additional questions to ask when considering situational factors.

Learning Goals

Before designing course activities and considering course content, refer to the Backwards Course Design process’ idea of designing from the “end” of the learning process to the “beginning.” This way, instructors think first of what they want their students to achieve while taking their course. Developing learning goals first will not only make it easier to integrate course activities, but it considerers the long term effects on what students learn.

When developing course goals, take a learning-centered approach which identifies several types of significant learning. This is different from what Fink calls the “Understand and Remember” approach where instructors base their goals on the content they want their students to learn. The model below shows types of interactive, significant learning goals that instructors should incorporate into their course. This worksheet from Fink also provides additional questions to consider when developing goals.

Fink, L. Dee. Taxonomy of Significant Learning

Feedback and Assessment Procedures

A learning-centered course calls for enhancing the quality of learning through “educative assessments,” where instructors:

  1. Develop forward-looking assessments: Instructors must think forward and utilize real life context into their assignments, discussions, and exercises. By doing this, the instructor relates how the content is relevant outside their course and thinks about how students will use content once the course is over.
  2. Explain criteria and standards for learning goals: The instructor clearly states the traits and characteristics in high-quality work then explains how “good” students’ work must look like.
  3. Give students self-assessment opportunities: Once the criteria and standards are developed, instructors can give students opportunities to discuss criteria in assessing their own work, then have students act on those self-assessment criteria.
  4. Provide FIDeLity Feedback: Which stands for frequent, immediate, discriminating, and loving, makes instructors provide constant and clear feedback on students’ work while taking into consideration empathy towards students.

Fink provides this worksheet to further think about educative assessments.

Teaching & Learning Activities

Instructors that go beyond the “lecture and discussion” model utilize active learning in the classroom which, as Fink states, provide “experiential learning and opportunities for reflective dialog”. The Holistic View of Active Learning figure below shows the holistic view of active learning and how experience, information & ideas, and reflective dialog connect with each other.

Fink, L. Dee. Holistic View of Active Learning

Incorporating this model provides an effective set of learning activities and a rich learning experience, especially when those activities are direct (gathering information from primary sources, creating experiences in authentic settings, and reflective dialog with other students). Activities to consider in class include debates, role playing, stimulations, and dramatizations while activities to consider outside of class include service learning, situational observations, and authentic projects.


Now that instructors know how to implement situational factors, learning goals, feedback & assessment procedures, and teaching & learning activities, it’s time to consider how each element connects. Fink provides these worksheets to help think how these elements integrate. The model below also shows how everything is integrated.

Fink, L. Dee. Criteria for Assessing Course Designs

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Intermediate Design Phase

After creating fundamental course components in the initial design phase, it is time to organize activities that integrates course goals and ideas into one whole. Instructors do this through their course structure, instructional strategy, and their overall scheme of learning activities.

Course Structure

Identify 4-7 key concepts, issues, and topics that the course relies on then determine the amount of time needed to present those ideas. Instructors should consider how to incorporate more challenging and complex questions and assignments as the course moves forward. The model below shows how to structure courses that challenges students thinking.

Fink, L. Dee. A Structured Sequence for the Content of a Course

Instructional Strategy

Teaching techniques are those that are discrete and specific. This includes lecturing, large discussions, and small group work. On the contrary, instructional strategies consider not just how activities challenge students as time goes on, but also how those activities build off of each other. Instructors should make sure that students are able to prepare for later work through each assignment, have time to practice learning the skills needed for completing the activity, are assessed on their performance quality, and have time to reflect on what they’ve learned. The model below provides a structure to connect in-class activities with out-of-class activities. Fill in each box with the activity planned for each class.

Fink, L. Dee. The “Castle Top” Template for Creating an Instructional Strategy

Creating the Overall Scheme of Learning Activities

Once an instructor develops course structure and instructional strategy, it is time to integrate the two together. Instructors should think about how the topics and themes go hand in hand. They also need to consider the differentiation in the activities and topics. Are there varieties of activities throughout the course? Is there development in the course topics? The model below combines the course structure and instructional strategy models.

Fink, L. Dee. Instructional Strategy

Once instructors have a solidified overall scheme, it time to create a weekly schedule of activities. Consider: How should a course begin? How can the order of activities challenge students as the course progresses?

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Final Design Phase

Once fundamental course components are laid out and integrated, the final steps in creating a course is to consider the following:

How are you going to grade?

The scope of learning goals and activities should be seen in the grading system. Consider: What are the key components of the course’s grading system? How are grades going to be weighted? Will the grade weight be determined by the instructor or discussed as a class?

What could go wrong?

Instructors should analyze their course design and see what problems could occur. Think about not only learning problems (Are students going to be able to have enough time to grasp topics?), but situational problems amongst students as well (Are students able to obtain the necessary resources?).

Let students know what you are planning

Orally sharing course plans and creating a syllabus is important for students to know the structure of the course. The following information should be included:

  • Instructor contact information (phone, email, office location and hours, etc.)
  • Course goals
  • The structure and order of class activities
  • Required material
  • Grading procedures
  • Course policies (attendance, late work, make up exams, etc.)

Consider: What should be included in the syllabus? How should the syllabus be distributed?

How will you know how the course is going? How it went?

Instructors should plan on evaluating the course and how the course was taught. It is important to do this so skills and ideas develop over time. Gather feedback from students throughout the course through ratings, interviews or questionnaires, and test results. Also consider feedback from outside observers such as colleagues and instructional consultants.

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Additional Resources