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Course Design

These tools are intended to assist managers and instructors in planning for and designing new Adult Career Pathways courses.

Adult Career Pathways Course Design Guidelines and Template

ATLAS, 2018

This document is intended to guide a systematic process of designing and documenting courses within an adult career pathway program (or for stand-alone courses related to preparation for a particular career). Well-designed courses increase student learning. Well-documented courses are more easily shared with other ABE instructors and programs. The Guidelines and Template ar used in an ATLAS training and may also be used independently by other ABE professionals. (45 pages)


Adult Career Pathways Curriculum Review Rubric

ATLAS, 2017

This rubric was developed by ATLAS, in consultation with its 2016-17 Transitions PD Advisory Group. It has been used to review adult career pathways (ACP) course curricula for inclusion in this ATLAS ACP online resource library. The results of the review are detailed in the summary page for each curriculum, which notes pluses and drawbacks.

The rubric can be used by an ABE program to review/evaluate its own adult career pathways course curricula and/or to review ACP curricula from other sources for potential use. It also provides a useful guideline for best practices in ACP course curriculum design.

See also the ACP Course Design Outline, based on the rubric, which provides detailed guidance on designing and documenting ACP curricula for use in the ABE field.


Articulate Your Learning Objectives

Carnegie Mellon University

A simple two-page guide with advice on articulating clear and learner-centered course objectives. Articulating learning objectives helps the instructor select and organize course content and determine appropriate assessments and instructional strategies. This in turn helps students direct their learning efforts appropriately and monitor their own progress. 

Links within the document include a list of action verbs that is extremely helpful in defining what kind of learning and demonstration of that learning we expect upon completion of a lesson, unit or course.


Backward Design

From Understanding by Design, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

A useful 3-page summary of the what and why of backward design as an effective approach to designing a course, with a focus on the learning rather than the teaching. Describes the “twin sins” of activity-oriented design and a coverage approach, and contrasts these to backward design’s three stages: identifying desired results, determining acceptable evidence, then planning learning experiences and instruction.


Budgeting Guidelines for ACP Course Development

ATLAS, 2017

In any adult career pathways program, adequate time should be planned and compensated for development of course curriculum by an ABE instructor. This document is intended to give those budgeting for curriculum development projects some guidance in the tasks, time, and accompanying compensation involved in this critical and complex work. (Note: This document pertains primarily to courses delivered solely by ABE. A similar approach should be taken for an integrated instruction course, with an ABE and CTE instructor co-teaching, but may look a bit different.)


Career Pathways Toolkit: Element Three - Design Education & Training Programs

U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration, 2017

Element Three of the Toolkit provides useful guidance and tools to ensure that career pathway courses promote the competencies required in the target career; utilize accelerated, contextualized learning strategies; provide flexible delivery methods; and integrate comprehensive support services. (49 pages.)


Course Design Cycle

D. Fowler, C. Sandoval & M. Macik, 2011; retrieved from

Provides a very useful graphic and brief explanation of a 5-stage course design process. Stages include: course learning outcomes (what will students know, be able to do and value upon completion of the course), assessment (what evidence will we have of success), learning activities (how one will assist students in their learning), alignment and syllabus (do activities and assessments align with outcomes, do I communicate plans clearly to learners), and analysis & action (what is / isn’t working, what changes will I make). (8 pages)


Designing Contextualized Instruction – Online Course

Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS)

This 2.5-hour course self-paced and features three modules: (1) Understanding Contextualized Instruction (and the supporting research); (2) Building Contextualized Lessons; and (3) Overcoming Development Challenges.

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Developing Effective Bridge Programs – Online Course

Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS)

This 2.5 hour course is self-paced and features three modules: (1) Understanding Bridge Programs; (2) Laying the Foundation; and (3) Developing the Curriculum.

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Learning Task Formats

Compiled by ATLAS

A learning task format is a routine structure for activities and tasks that provide practice of lesson content. Establishing consistent learning task formats creates predictability and a foundation for success for learners. Consistent learning task formats can also simplify instructor preparation of lessons. An example is using a consistent set of activities for mastering new vocabulary.

Basic guideline: When teaching new content, use a familiar learning task format. When introducing a new learning task format, use familiar content. Be patient. Any new, unfamiliar learning task format will likely be challenging for learners. The beauty of using them consistently is that over time students do in fact become proficient at the learning process, and can in turn assist new or struggling students with the task itself. It gives a high sense of competence to master how we are learning things.

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Minnesota ABE Content Standards


A helpful two-page reference document provides an overview of ABE content standards: College and Career Readiness, Northstar Digital Literacy, and Transitions Integration. These standards are the guide in setting learning objectives in any adult career pathway course.


The ATLAS website provides extensive explanation and resources on all three sets of standards.

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Writing a Syllabus

Cornell University, Center for Teaching Innovation

A brief 3-page overview with advice on best practices in writing a syllabus. A syllabus should be used in all adult career pathway courses as a way to communicate course plans and expectations to learners, and to familiarize them with the syllabus as a key document they will encounter in the post-secondary education setting.