Models for Course Design

Adequate strategic planning is essential to the success of any project, regardless of institution.  Effective planning for improvement requires self-evaluation, assesses needs, proposes goals, and generates solutions that achieve ideal outcomes.  In education, teachers are additionally pressured because their strategies and decisions affect the academic future of their students.  To guide these strategies and decisions, course design models are created with the critical factors necessary to develop courses that effectively foster significant learning experiences. This paper will explore two course design models that have withstood the test of time.

Diamond’s Model

The course design model of Robert Diamond is a two-phase model based on the systems theory.  Romiszowski (1999) described the systems approach as the heuristic process of analyzing problems and creating solutions based on strategies for which there is no absolute correct or guaranteed outcome, but the chance of success can be maximized.  The model originated in the 1960s and has been revised numerous times, although the basic concept has remained decades later.  Despite its simplicity, the model is both efficient and effective and is still used by colleges today.  The model has five characteristics: ideal thinking, uses structural diagrams, is dependent on data, fosters a team approach, and political sensitivity (Diamond, 2008).  As Diamond (2008) explained, the model’s two phases consist of: “(1) project selection and design and (2) production, implementation, and evaluation” and contains a series of steps (p. 41).

Phase One

Phase One of the model begins by exploring the feasibility of the project and establishes the needs that are required for its success.  It considers field and student knowledge, needs, research, and priorities in order to establish goals and learning outcomes, and ultimately develops an ideal solution for which to focus on.  The design of the project also considers factors specific to curriculum (accreditation, credit requirements, resource constraints, existing program efficacy) and courses (goals, scheduling, resources, research, grading, and student factors) in order to develop a clearer path to implementation (Diamond, 2008).

Phase Two

Phase Two of the model contains seven steps to produce, implement, and evaluate the project: (1) determine goals and outcomes of learning; (2) develop instruments and procedures of evaluation; (3) choose formats of instruction; (4) assess and choose existing materials; (5) create and test new material; (6) direct implementation logistics; and (7) implement, assess, and revise the project (Diamond, 2008).

The model stands apart from others through its comprehensiveness and focus on ideal solutions established by creative thinking and strategies oriented on needs and goals—encompassing an approach base on students and learning.

Fink’s Model

            The integrated course design model by L. Dee Fink follows a relational approach instead of linear; that is, all of the components are inter-related.  The diagram presents a broad and simplistic outline of basic features containing: Learning Goals, Feedback and Assessment, Teaching and Learning Activities, and Situational Factors.  The outline enables key questions that must be answered during a project’s design in order to identify the following: (1) important situational course factors; (2) set of learning goals; (3) feedback and evaluation to provide; (4) sufficient teaching and learning activities toward goal fulfillment; and (5) whether or not the components are connected and supportive of one another (Fink, 2013).  The model is designed to analyze the most critical factors affecting a course and learning experience and uses that information to make decisions in three crucial interconnected areas.  To more effectively build the decisions in three areas, Fink developed 12 steps across three phases.

Initial Phase

The focus of the initial phase is to build strong primary components, also known as the three primary components in his course model diagram.  The phase contains the first five steps: (1) ascertain significant situational factors; (2) identify significant goals for learning; (3) establish adequate procedures for feedback and evaluation; (4) choose effective activities for teaching and learning; and (5) ensure integration of primary components (Fink, 2013).

Intermediate Phase

The focal point of the intermediate phase is to arrange the components into a comprehensible whole.  The next three steps include: (6) establish course’s thematic structure; (7) choose or develop strategy for teaching; (8) incorporate course structure with teaching strategy for overarching learning activity scheme (Fink, 2013).

Final Phase

The final phase centers on completing the significant remaining tasks.  The final four steps are: (9) develop system of grading; (10) test and solve potential problems; (11) compose course syllabus; and (12) plan evaluations for course and teaching (Fink, 2013).

Model Comparison and Discussion

The models presented by Diamond and Fink both demonstrate an ability to create an effective learning plan.  Both models are focused on students and their learning experiences, as well as the course content.  Both models also require continued assessment and evaluation so that any arising problems are identified and a solution may be implemented.  Courses and teachers must be open to change and revision in order to be effective for the students.  Just as the course models design and mold courses around goals and needs, it must continue to be molded around those goals and needs.

Diamond’s model appears to have more of institutional and instructional focus than Fink’s model.  Curriculum factors are a more significant step in Diamond’s model, as evidenced by the model diagram.  Alternatively, Fink’s model has a greater emphasis on learner and teacher characteristics, denoted in questions that consider student enrollment reasons and learning styles, and the knowledge, skills, and experiences of teachers.  This may make Fink’s model more suitable for online learning.  Volery and Lord (2000) cited two studies in which the three primary variables affecting the efficacy of online delivery were found to consist of technology, instructor characteristics, and student characteristics (p. 218).

Diamond’s model is highly team-oriented, which is an option that is not always possible in all colleges.  Numerous issues can impede this ability, including faculty size, division, and availability.  If a college can overcome these issues, the model does yield advantages.  Ono (2005) was among faculty that used Diamond’s model to conduct curriculum reform, and although they found that the project’s success was dependent on faculty teamwork, they also found that the teamwork was necessary for gaining acceptance, political support, and resource allocation.  Diamond’s model also takes special notice of “fiscal and staff constraints” which may pose a problem in regards to feasibility (p. 42).  Gaff (2007) stated that the majority of faculty members “have little knowledge about the basic financial realities of their institutions and instructional programs” (p. 12).  It may be difficult—if not impossible—for a faculty member to consider fiscal factors when utilizing Diamond’s model.  However, Diamond’s model would prove superior if the faculty member was tasked with designing a new course with fiscal factors in mind, such as in the case of college-wide cost-saving measure.

Fink’s model appears to be slightly more user-friendly than Diamond’s model, given the 12-step series, and a comprehensive list of situational factors.  Considering the aforementioned challenges posed by Diamond’s model, Fink’s model seems more applicable to teachers of various programs and colleges.  In other words, it is a more independent model that even teachers with little experience can use as they begin teaching for the first time.  Given this assessment, Fink’s model would be more beneficial to use when planning and creating new teaching approaches.  It is not dependent on institutional resources or other faculty to compose, but rather, a teacher can use the model to create new teaching approaches derived from the characteristics of the students, the learning situation, the subject, and the teacher’s own abilities.  The needs of the students would likely influence the need for a new teaching style in the first place, and Fink’s model is an effective vehicle for that style due to its student-focused structure.  Guttikonda and Coco (2013) used Fink’s model in revising a flagship accounting course and were able to adopt a new teaching strategy and a set of learning activities resulting in a “course that was more active, relevant, and meaningful to students” (p. 121).

Regardless of their differences, both Diamond’s and Fink’s models have allowed teachers to design courses in a more meaningful way.  Both models have proven their significance and benefit to both students and teachers.  As the paradigm shifts to learner-centered, more faculty should utilize course design models to ensure their courses are designed to deliver much-needed improvements to learning experiences.




Diamond, R. M. (2008). Designing and assessing courses and curricula: A practical guide (3rd ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fink, D. L.  (2013).  Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gaff, J. G. (2007). What if the faculty really do assume responsibility for the educational program? Liberal Education93(4), 6–13. Retrieved from

Guttikonda, R. R., & Coco, C. M.  (2013).  Incorporating Fink’s significant learning experience model in the re-designing of the flagship accounting course.  Journal of Accounting and Finance, 13(5), 116-124.  Retrieved from

Ono, J. K.  (2005).  A useful how-to guide for course and curriculua revisions.  Cellular Biology Education, 4(1), 38-39.  Retrieved from

Romiszowski, A. J.  (1999).  Designing instructional systems: Decision making in course planning and curriculum design.  London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Volery, T., & Lord, D.  (2000).  Critical success factors in online education.  International Journal of Education Management, 14(5), 216-223.  Retrieved from


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