Course Mapping

What are course maps?

Course maps involve taking an in-depth look at a course—who studies it, who teaches it, what it’s about, and how it’s delivered and assessed. It is a more visual, comprehensive way of presenting the course guide, and enables collaboration with multidisciplinary curriculum design teams.

In keeping with the idea of constructive alignment, the map draws together the course-level outcomes, assessments, activities and resources required to create “an environment that maximises the likelihood that students will engage in the activities designed to achieve the intended outcomes” (Biggs, 2003). 

What is Constructive Alignment?

It is an outcomes-based approach to teaching in which the learning outcomes that students are intended to achieve are defined before teaching takes place. Teaching and assessment methods are then designed to best achieve those outcomes and to assess the standard at which they have been achieved (Biggs, 2014). 

In designing a course, you must consider three important questions, which will underpin the completion of your course map:

  • Learning Outcomes:

    What do I want my students to be able to do and to know as a result of undertaking this course?

  • Teaching and Learning Methods and Activities:

    How will my teaching instructions and delivery allow students achieved these learning outcomes?

  • Assessment:

    How will I know if my students have achieved the learning outcomes?

The diagram belorepresents the relationship between PLOs and CLOs and the sequence in which constructive alignment takes place.

Why using Course Maps

When developing, refreshing or overhauling a course, this process enables a multidisciplinary team—including teaching staff, academic developers, learning designers, and students—to see the course outline at a glance. From this they can develop a pedagogical approach and supporting course structure (or understand the one already in place), and then examine the details of the activities, resource types, delivery mode, etc., that are required to make this design work. An effective and engaging course requires the careful alignment of outcomes, assessments, student activities, learning resources, and lecturer support and involvement. Course mapping highlights each of these areas, so that they can considered separately and together.    

Benefits of course mapping: 

  • Improves communication about the curriculum
  • Enhances collaboration
  • Fosters discussion among teachers 
  • Increases interdisciplinary coherence
  • Ensures program consistency, creating a shared understanding amongst teachers 
  • Maximises learners’ opportunities to achieve learning outcomes 
  • Encourages reflective practice
  • Provides a clear picture to students on what they are achieving throughout their studies 
  • Generates a consistent and quality learning and teaching experience 
  • Identifies gaps, strengths and opportunities for improvement 

How to start with course mapping? 

Before starting with your course mapping, we recommend you watching the video here, which captures in a very succinct and clear way how to follow constructive alignment.

Once you are ready to proceed, follow the steps below: 

  • Step 1: Personas

Consider completing user personas before starting the course mapping, this will allow you to identify your user groups and their needs.  To learn more about personal use the following resources:

What are personas?
(Template included)

  • Step 2: Defining the Course Primary Statement

Define in a couple of sentences the primary aim of your course.  Think of this as your course mission statement. 

  • Step 3: Writing Learning Outcomes

Proceed to establish how the aim of the course (course mission statement) is to be achieved. This involves defining the course learning outcomes that learners are expected to achieve upon completion of the course. Learning outcomes are simple statements that describe what the learners will be able to demonstrate at the culmination of the course.
When writing course learning outcomes, we recommend you follow Bloom’s and/or SOLO’s taxonomies. For more information on using the SOLO Taxonomy, download this guide.

Use the AQF descriptors to map the program and course-specific skills and knowledge to represent a graduate level outcome, for more information visit the AQF Levels.

  • Step 4: Designing Learning Activities

Commence to choose and design your teaching and learning activities, remember that these must be aligned to the course learning outcomes.  Ask yourself two important questions: What learning activities will guide, help and support students achieve the CLOs? and What resources and support do students require to learn what is expected?  

If you need assistance thinking of learning activities to support your course design, see the Activity Cards for some ideas. 

  • Step 5: Reflecting on the Course Mapping

Commence to choose and design your teaching and learning activitiesremember that these must be aligned to the course learning outcomes.  Ask yourself two important questions: What learning activities will guide, help and support students achieve the CLOs? and What resources and support do students require to learn what is expected?  

  • Step 6: Designing Assessment Tasks

Once you’ve filled in elements of the course, check the Course Map for a logical progression in the rows horizontally, but ensure that within a given week or module the different elements align to enable the weekly outcomes. 


Find below a course map guide, an example and templates for a 13 weeks course and a 16 weeks course. 

Learning Arches

The information we provide you on the Learning Arch Design methodology comes from the extensive work done by its creator, Simon Kavanagh. Simon developed the Art & Craft of Facilitating Learning Spaces, a master class underpinned by Kaospilot’s core pedagogical approach, which is about new ways of defining, designing and delivering education through the exploration of experiential learning, authentic problem-based learning, team-based pedagogy, share experiences and reflection.

The steps described below captured the essence of this approach in a simplified and concise manner.  We strongly recommend you reading the resources we have provided below for a more in-depth information, alternatively, you might consider doing the Kaospilot Masterclass offered by Alkimia Learning. 

Example Learning Arches

What are learning arches?

The Learning Arch Design methodology or Learning Arches as it is also referred to, are “a method to design transparent, collaborative and experiential learning journeys or processes that maximise engagement, capacity, ambition, ownership, confidence, relevance and most importantly, dialogue between the learners and hosts, facilitators, instructors or teachers as stakeholders of the learning” (Kavanagh, 2009).

Why use learning arches?

This methodology aims at creating learning journeys that are innovative, scalable and inclusive. In the words of Kavanagh and Kaospilot’s philosophy, this methodology is a simple way to bring learning alive, as it translates and interprets the curriculum into a journey that is exciting.

Benefits of the Learning Arch Design methodology
  • Invites teachers and students to co-create and co-design
  • It reveals the learning journey by unfolding the narrative of the learning experience
  • Makes the design and the logic of the learning journey transparent
  • Reveals the “big picture” of the learning journey
  • Supports teachers to develop their own style of facilitation
  • It is flexible
  • Allows for more creativity in the curriculum
  • Increases learners’ engagement
  • It creates a transformational learning experience for the learners

How to start with learning arches? 

Before guiding you through the steps of designing Learning Arches, it is important to see how they look like. An image, very similar to the one below is the overall outcome of this process.


Before starting to design learning arches for your course, it is recommended to frame all the development work around the five questions below:

  1. What do students need to know, think and do by the end of the course? What piece of the program puzzle does this course supply?
  2. What skills and knowledge do they come to you with already? What do you have to work with?
  3. What are broad steps they need to take to get from where they start to where you want them to be? (discipline skills and knowledge, soft skills)
  4. What concepts, values or scenarios do you want to use to guide or frame the learning?
  5. How will you know they’ve developed these? And how will you monitor that development? (Assessments)
  • Step 1: Sketching

Using the learning arch graph, your own drawing abilities, the app, or following the instructions on the learning arch basic intro slides, draw the arches for your course. These can be days, weeks, months, topics or modules. As the curriculum at RMIT tends to be deliver over 12 to 16 weeks, we recommend you use weeks. However, you are not constrained by this, as you might like to use the learning arches to start thinking conceptually and holistically about your course.

      • Step 2: Labeling, Filling and Landing

      There are three important tasks to complete here:

      • Label every arch with the content, purpose, theme or title for the week
      • Fill them with the top skills, knowledge, methods, models and theories. Remember, this is the content to be delivered, explored, learned, experienced, taught and tested; what you will be doing here is to reflect the desired learning outcomes. Keep it simple, you will have the opportunity to reflect on them and make changes.
      • Land each arch with an activity that will assess the desired learning outcome, either through an individual or group task.
      • Step 3: Unpacking the Hidden Curriculum 
      The hidden curriculum, also referred to as the unknown curriculum, is about defining the values, mindset, attitudes and competencies you want learners to explore and cultivate. Remember that these are about establishing empathy and fostering personal growth and development. These are reflected under the horizontal line.
      • Step 4: Thinking about Disturbances and Interventions
      By this step, the arches should be “alive”, and you should be able to see connections and ideas materialising. This is a great time to start thinking about the extra things you can implement in your planning that will support students along the way. These extras can take on the form of new knowledge, creativity, literature and challenges. Kaospilot groups these disturbances in the following manner:
      • Creative: increase creativity, innovation, inspiration and critical thinking
      • Knowledge: deliver knowledge at time when it is more relevant
      • Activate: recommend the literature and activate it for discussion
      • Hotspot: a task to challenge and create growth
      • Revisit Learning: revisit the content by increasing complexity
      • Step 5: Reflect, make changes and redefine
      Stand back and have a look at your arches, reflect on what you have produced, consult and discuss with your team the progress thus far, and if necessary, makes changes.


      Backward Design

      Backward Design is another curriculum design model that has a lot of similarities with constructive alignment and the process of course mapping.  However, the main difference between the two approaches is when assessments design come in the process.  

      What is Backward Design?

      Backward Design was developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their book Understanding by Design.  They defined their model as a method of designing educational instructions by focusing on the intended desired outcomes.  What this means is, that as a teacher, you build your course around the knowledge and skills you want learners to acquire and gain through the learning experience. 

      As Wiggins and McTighe (2005, p.14) explained, backward design requires a shift in thinking, the challenge is to focus first on the desired learnings from which appropriate teaching will logically follow. 

      Backward design reflects a planning sequence for curriculum, and this sequence consists of three well defined stages as shown in the figure 1.

      Figure 1: Stages of Backward Design 

      Why using Backward Design?

      The proposers of the model argue that the most important benefit of Backward Design is that is focuses primarily on student learning and understanding.


      Benefits of Backward Design: 

      • It is student-centred
      • Importance is placed on the intended learning outcomes
      • Encourages intentionality during the design process
      • Encourages teacher to reflect on the purpose of doing something
      • It provides guidance for teaching instructions, making them more transparent and meaningful
      • It minimises the implementation of unnecessary activities
      • Ensures that every task students are required to complete, and every instruction the teacher plans has a purpose

      How to start with Backward Design? 

      You start by following, in the correct order the three stages as reflected in the image above. 

      • Stage 1 : Identify desired results

      In stage one, you will consider the overall learning goals of the course. You are creating the learning outcomes by focusing on what learners will understand, know and able to do once your course has culminated.  Wiggins and McTighe (1996) recommend teachers to consider the three questions below in order to identify what priorities are, and what the most valuable content is. 

      What should learners hear, read, view, explore or otherwise encounter? 
      • What knowledge and skills should learners master? 
      • What are the big ideas and important understandings learners should retain? 

      These three questions can be reflected using the three nested circles as shown below. Each of nested circle clearly reflects their level of importance. 

      • Step 2: Defining the Course Primary Statement

      In this stage you are simply designing and creating the performance tasks and assessments learners will be required to complete to demonstrate understanding.  You will be asking yourself:   

      •  What would my learners have to do to demonstrate to me that they have achieved the learning outcomes? 
      How would I know if my learners have achieved the desired outcomes? 
      •  What will I accept as evidence of learners’ understanding?

      What is important about this stage is that it will help you to clarify the real meaning of the learning outcomes, and if your outcomes are clear and relevant, hence the more authentic your tasks and assessments will be. Ensure that tasks and assessments match the learning outcomes, and always consider a variety of assessment methods that are authentic, relevant and meaningful. 

      • Stage 3 – Plan Learning Experiences and Instructions 

      In the final stage of Backward Design, you begin to think about “how” you will teach.  It is about designing and developing the instructional strategies and learning activitiethat will prepare learners for the journey, and that will eventually allow them to arrive to the desired outcomes. Wiggins and McTighe (1996) proposed you ask yourself the following questions: 

      •  What activities will equip learners with the needed knowledge and skills? 
      • What will I need to teach? 
      • How should I teach what is required? 
      • What material and resources are best suited to accomplish the learning outcomes? 
      • Is my design coherent and effective? 


      At this final stage you will also need to keep in mind your delivery approach (face-to-face, blended, fully online), as your instructions and design will change based on it.