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Planning a course

Content design

Once you have established a need for training and undertaken research and analysis to profile your learners, you need to plan the course content. This usually needs to be undertaken in conjunction with the logistical planning and budgeting as these three areas are inter-related and have an impact on each other.

The first task is to identify the main subject areas that need to be covered. Remember to take into consideration the existing level of knowledge of your participants. Begin with the broad areas that need to be included and refine down into development of detailed sections or sessions.

Remember to take into account the learning outcomes, although sometimes these will develop along with the course, depending on how it has been commissioned or market researched. You also need to consider the participants and what they may perceive as important or less important content. Another consideration that affects course design is the time available for the training.

If you are using “external” speakers you will need to balance knowledge and expertise against teaching skills. Not all practitioners are good speakers. Sometimes the the person is more suitable for a good workshop than a lecture that might not be so well-organised or presented.

In designing the course, draw on your experience of what skills, techniques and knowledge practitioners in the field need to have at every level. Begin with the length of the course and think about the aims and objectives, even the broad learning outcomes to identify the main elements you want the course to include. For example, the aims, objectives and learning outcomes for a training course on the provision of reference and user services might be used as a guide to break the main elements into:

Once you have your basic list of main areas, you can begin to map out each one in more detail, but it is best to start to think about timings at this point as well. It can be helpful to tabulate this as follows:

Main subject area Points to cover Delivery method Time required Teaching aids etc
Different types of reference services Face-to-face

Written via mail

Written via email


Resources needed
Group brainstorm 20 minutes Flip chart or whiteboard to record results
Policy and procedures for reference services Access policies content and style

Reading room regulations

Document request procedures

Security issues
Presentation and workshop (form design) 1 hour 20 minutes OHPs or powerpoint and workshop space and resources

You obviously need enough time to cover the subject matter for each session — and that may vary so don’t feel all sessions have to be of equal length. However, if you really don’t have enough time to cover everything as thoroughly as possible, you might adjust the level of detail and/or choose a delivery method that allows you to point at sources and examples that the participants can explore for themselves after the training is finished. Choosing delivery methods in any case is very important. You will want to have a mix of lectures, presentations and more participative sessions such as workshops and discussions, but you need to think carefully about which delivery suits which subject matter the best.

When designing the training content and programme you also need to take resources, equipment and venue into consideration. Think about the following:

Finally you should draw up your programme. Don’t forget to allow time for a midday meal and refreshment breaks mid-morning and mid-afternoon. You also want an introductory session at the very beginning so you can introduce yourself to the class and go over the programme and the learning outcomes, and so participants can introduce themselves too. It can also be very helpful to go over basic terminology so that everyone has the same understanding of what the technical terms mean. At the end of the day you should allow time for final questions, a quick participant evaluation form and certificates, if you give them out.

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Last updated: 20 December 2005