Course DesignM50 course flow

UM3D helps instructors plan and create courses that embody the University's principles of accountability, collaboration, diversity and inclusions, innovation, service and student success. Incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) instructional techniques ensure courses are appropriate for all learners. While we consult on courses in all modalities, UM3D might best be known for assisting with online asynchronous courses (M50).

New M50 Course? Start here!

The course proposal form is the first step in the process of designing a new M50 course and is required before a new M50 course can be reviewed and scheduled. This form requests information related to the course and the course developer that will help UM3D provide aligned support. The best person to complete the course proposal form is the person who will be developing the course. Once the proposal has been filled out, it is routed to the identified department chair for approval before being sent to UM3D. If you do not hear from a UM3D instructional designer within 5 business days, please reach out to your department chair to check on the status of the form or email UM3D directly at um3d@memphis.edu. 

Scheduling a M50 course for the first time requires 1) the course to be reviewed by your assigned Instructional Designer and 2) the department scheduler to complete a M50 Course Schedule Request ticket. This ticket is only needed the first time a course is scheduled as a M50. Your assigned instructional developer will inform you when a course is ready to be scheduled.

Departments who are interested in creating entire programs or certificates online must work with Global to create a plan. Once that plan has been established, you will work with an UM3D instructional designer to plan and build individual courses.

UM3D instructional designers use the Guide for Online Developers (GOLD) Rubric to review M50 courses. The GOLD rubric consists of course development standards aligned to evidence-based practices and industry standards for online learning. UM3D instructional designer use GOLD to determine if a course meets standards for UofM Global courses; however, the rubric is appropriate for hybrid and even in person courses. You can use our GOLD checklist pdf to see if your course is up to GOLD standards. Contact an instructional designer to learn more.

Other Course Design / Redesign? Start here!

Whether you are redesigning an entire online course or just a few assignments for an on-ground course, UM3D can help faculty:

  • identify course goals & objectives; align activities & assessments to goals,
  • choose the most appropriate technologies & tools, &
  • discover best practices, templates, and resources.

Whether you are creating a new course, redesigning an existing one, or tweaking an assignment, everything starts with a plan. Our course planning sheet will guide you in crafting the overall goals and learning activities.

Don't leave your students wondering what to do. Guide them with an orientation module that outlines everything students need to be successful in your course. Ask an UM3D instructional designer for a template you can use or develop one of your own.

How orientation modules work

All courses that have materials in Canvas --on ground, hybrid or online-- should have an orientation module. M50 course orientation modules are required and are usually called Getting Started. No matter what you call your orientation module, it should contain all the tools and information students need to success in your course. The orientation module highlights important items so that they are more likely to be seen by your students. In addition to your syllabus, your orientation module should contain information on special technical skills & resources needed for your course, explicitly state feedback expectations and policies, instructor information and online office hours. We make this simple for M50 courses by providing a customizable template. All courses are welcome to use the M50 template. Just contact um3d@memphis.edu and ask.

Parts of an orientation module

Identify Technical Skills & Resources

Have you ever had a student perform badly on an assignment not because they didn't know the material, but because they didn't know the technology? Often, we assume students know technology because they are, well, students. Aren't students supposed to be technically savvy? But this isn't always the case. If your assignments rely on specific technology in order to be completed, make sure you give your students time and opportunity to try out the technology, without penalties.

Technical Skills and Resources: Quick Tips

  • Give students low stakes assessments where they try out the technology. For instance, an ungraded but required "Getting to Know You" discussion board teaches students how to use discussion boards with little risk.
  • Find or create your own how-to videos that explain exactly how to use your special technology.
  • Ensure your students understand your expectations for communication. Do you email them? How often should they check their email?
  • Prove it. Do you teach a course that uses special or industry-specific tools? Give your students a simple assignment to prove that they know how to use it. Use that simple assignment as the basis for another assignment (scaffolding) so it doesn't feel like busy work. Or, simply require students to send you a screen shot showing their user name to prove they were able to get into their e textbook (this doubles as insurance that they obtained their textbooks on time!)
Identify Expectations for Feedback & Communication

Communication is at the heart of all faculty/student interactions. Students need to feel and know their instructor is available to them, and that their instructor is a human, not a computer.

  • Create a short, friendly biography page that also contains a picture (or better: a video) of you. You don't need to post your entire CV, but consider writing about your current research.
  • State your office hours and when you are most likely to be online. If you aren't usually available on particular days or or times of day, say so. Keep consistent office hours-- by appointment is fine for online, especially as some of your students may be in different time zones.
  • Be flexible with how you meet your students. Teams, Zoom, phone are all good options, but the best option is the method that works for both you and the student.
  • If you want to keep your personal cell number private, consider setting up a free Google Voice account.

You may wish to develop a template module. You can then copy this module and use it to jump start the rest of your modules in the course. Each module should contain a friendly introduction to the module's content, restate the module objectives, and provide clear instructions & deadlines. While you develop the first module, you'll determine how you wish to break your materials into more digestible pieces ("chunk content") and decide your preferred way of sequencing materials.


Now that you've created an orientation module, it's time to dive into instructional content! At this stage, there's a lot to consider. If you are creating a self-paced (or asynchronous) course, you'll need to think through organization, structure, sequence, cognitive load, engagement, and other variables along the way. By addressing all of these components, you will create a quality course that not only meets the learning needs of your students, but provides a more personalized and student-centered experience.

Start with Stating the Objectives

At this point in the development of your course, you should have a completed course planning worksheet that details all of your course's learning objectives and distributes them and their associated instructional content throughout the course. Now, we need to make sure this distribution is communicated to your students.

Stating your learning objectives associated with each module is important because it:

  • signals what students will need to extract from the instructional materials (what they need to know);
  • demonstrates the importance of the instructional material (why they need to know);
  • informs them how they will be assessed (what they will have to do with what they know); and
  • reveals how their learning is scaffolded from less cognitive complexity to greater cognitive complexity (what their learning prepares them for).

Provide Clear Instructions and Deadlines

Providing clear instructions and deadlines is important as it removes an artificial barrier for your students success. This is especially important when teaching online where written or recorded instructions must stand on their on in their depth and specificity. Without clear instructions, students may shut down believing that they lack the ability to comprehend, or students will be unable to adequately demonstrate what they have learned. Overcoming vague instructions is not a learning experience; rather, vague instructions prevent your students from demonstrating their mastery of the course's objectives. 

Quick Tips

There are several tools within Canvas to help your students clearly see instructions and deadlines.

  • Assign begin, due, and end dates for all quizzes, assignments, and tests.
    • These dates will automatically populate in your course calendar, and they will appear on your students' course homepage.
  • Explain the directions in different modalities, such as text, video, or graphics.
  • Insert assessments into the module it corresponds with, don't make the students hunt for them.
  • A Guide to Giving Clear Instructions to Students (That They Will Actually Follow)

Chunk Content into Manageable Segments

To understand why chunking instructional content is important, we must explain the concept of cognitive load theory. At it's most basic, cognitive load theory (CLT) describes how cognitive performance and internal motivation are inversely related to the capacity of our working memory. That is, as more information is stored in our working memory, the efficacy for transcribing that information into our long-term memory decreases due to a decrease in cognitive performance and internal motivation to learn.

In an online asynchronous learning environment in particular, it is essential to consider how the organization and availability of your instructional materials will impact your students attainment of the course's learning objectives. In a traditional face-to-face learning environment, you and your students are physically present, and you can rely on a multitude of student inputs to understand your students cognitive load. For online learning, we need to proactively consider how a variety of learners will react to the organization and availability of instructional materials.

Quick Tips
  • Use a detailed course planning sheet.
  • Leverage various delivery modalities for content delivery. 
    • Blend readings, videos, video and/or audio recordings of lectures, etc.

Ensure Content is Logically Sequenced

The key here is make sure the "red-thread" of your course is present and visible to your students. This is accomplished through careful utilization of the course planning sheet; careful consideration of the courses learning objectives as well as how they are scaffolded; and a detailed plan for chunking content into manageable learning sessions for your students.

This attention to the logic of the course's structural elements is necessary to ensure your students are able to see and understand why the material and objectives are important as well as how they all work together to accomplish the overarching course goals. Once these elements are logically sequenced, it is necessary to sign-post them to ensure the visibility of each element and the importance placed on its positioning within the course.

Quick Tips

To make the logical structure visible of your course visible to students consider the following:

  • Use the Rich Text Editor within Canvas
    • Create instructional materials using headings and subheadings to denote importance and organize content.
  • Structure instructional materials of similar types consistently to make sure students can efficiently interact with them.
  • Use modules to consistently organize instructional materials consistently across your course allowing the courses structure to communicate importance and interconnectedness. 
  • Use the course planning sheet for outlining the structure of modules and submodules.