Design the Course

When your course has been accepted, you need to develop a course outline (sometimes called a syllabus). If you seek advice in designing a course, you can request an Osher mentor.


The course outline is your MASTER PLAN for the course overall and for individual sessions. It maps what will take place during each class session and may include goals for the class, topics to be covered, learning outcomes, readings, webinars and other videos, invited speakers, hands on activities, homework assignments, online resources, and other teaching techniques and learning activities.

This may not be easy to create, but will be invaluable once the course begins.  You are taking learners on a journey – a journey of discovery.  Each course is unique, so your master plan will be different from other Study Leaders’.

Adult Learners Favor Discussion

Osher at Dartmouth serves a broad, diverse population of adult learners in the Upper Valley and beyond. Understanding the learning characteristics of adults is key to the design of a successful course.  

Adult learners prefer to be actively engaged in their own learning process and are usually ready to discuss the topic being covered. You can initiate discussion through strategic use of questions: focus questions to introduce ideas, follow-up questions to encourage exploration of different ideas raised, and questions to summarize the outcomes of discussion.

Please take a moment to learn more about the characteristics of adult learners.

Backward Design

One of the best ways to design your course is to use a “backward design” process.  With your learners in mind, begin by defining the learning objectives or outcomes for the course, then identify the content you want to cover, and finally create a series of learning experiences to allow learners to achieve those objectives. 

Build into your plan a periodic check with the learners on how the course is going.  Be open to their feedback on what is working for them and what isn’t, and be ready to make changes to improve the course.  

Teaching Style

Finally, consider your own teaching style in designing the course.  What teaching approaches are most comfortable for you?  Lecture? Discussion? Demonstration? Modeling? Facilitation?  Discovery by the learners?  As content allows, seek to use more than one teaching approach, even when some are outside your comfort zone.  A Study Leader mentor can help here.


For more discussion of course design, see the Osher at Dartmouth Course Design Tools and Tips.  

For the adventuresome, a rich, sometimes overwhelming resource for course design guidelines are the websites of teaching and learning centers at major universities, which post helpful information on teaching for faculty.  


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