Guidance for planning courses

These pages include:

didactic tips for planning courses, with information that is scientifically grounded and practical.

Preliminary planning

Regardless of whether your course is offered online, in person or in a hybrid format: the same didactic design principles apply. This means online courses should also include interactive elements, hold your students’ attention and be both well-structured.

There are three basic scenarios for courses in the winter semester:

Planning your specific semester

As you plan your semester and each individual unit, you can follow the same simple process:

  1. Define the learning objectives
  2. Define a suitable exam type
  3. Prioritize and allocate content
  4. Select suitable activities
  5. Create a course design

1. Define learning objectives

The learning objectives provide orientation as you teach your course. Start off by considering what your students should be able to do at the end of the semester. As you formulate learning objectives, it is key that these are concrete, measurable and can be tested.

2. Define a suitable exam type

Your end-of-semester exam is how you can evaluate whether and to what extent your students have reached the learning objectives you set for them. There are several options available to you, and, before the semester starts, it is important to define the type of exam before you plan the course’s specific content and activities.

3. Prioritize and allocate content

On the basis of the learning objectives and exam type that you defined, you can now decide which content is relevant. Remember to figure in the intended workload for your students. Especially when self-learning phases are combined with face-to-face classes there is a risk of students getting overwhelmed by too much content. The next step is to make sure the content is in a logical order.

4. Select suitable activities

Now consider which content students should work on and which form this should take. Start by deciding which content they can complete on their own during guided self-learning phases (asynchronous) and which content you would like to cover together with the students during live classes (synchronous).

During asynchronous phases, teaching and learning take place at different times. These are best used to gain new knowledge, share information and review what students know.

Synchronous phases are when communication or interaction take place simultaneously (e.g. via Bigbluebutton or Cisco Webex videoconferences). These are best suited to deepening knowledge, developing ideas, collaborating and enabling social contact.

Our tip: Live online classes should not primarily be used to present information. Make sure that the timing and frequency of live online classes is well chosen. Plan for regular short breaks and alternate different activities and teaching methods. From time to time, it may however be necessary to teach certain content during live online classes. In such cases, be sure to limit the length of such input to 10 – 12 minutes max. per unit. Share content or information with the students via slidecast, screencast, podcast, literature, etc. so they can work through the material during asynchronous phases.

Especially for the face-to-face classes, you will need to decide which methods you can use to involve students in learning new content. We have put together a collection of simple methods to get students actively involved in live online classes along with recommendations for suitable online tools. 

5. Create a course design

We recommend planning the structure for your individual classes and for the entire semester in order to help you stay focussed and save time.

Planning your semester using a timeline

Especially in less traditional formats like blended learning or the flipped classroom it can be helpful to plan the semester using a timeline. Here you can schedule the content and activities for specific periods of the semester. The examples linked below show basic planning for seminars and lectures. The file is in PowerPoint format which makes it easy for you to adapt it to your specific course.

Planning live classes using a schedule of events

For live classes, it is helpful to create an exact schedule of events that includes the individual parts of the class including the approximate time required, methods, tools and materials. This makes it easier to plan and conduct the class.


Assistance with teaching online from Leipzig University

Information about teaching during the coronavirus pandemic from the Bern University of Applied Sciences

Großkurth, Eva-Marie; Handke, Jürgen (eds.) (2014): The Inverted Classroom Model. The 3rd German ICM-Conference – Proceedings. German ICM Conference. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter; De Gruyter Oldenbourg.

Großkurth, Eva-Marie; Handke, Jürgen (eds.) (2016): Inverted classroom and beyond: Lehren und Lernen im 21. Jahrhundert. [1st edition]. Marburg: Tectum Verlag.

Handke, Jürgen (2017): Handbuch Hochschullehre Digital. Leitfaden für eine moderne und mediengerechte Lehre. 2nd edition. Baden-Baden: Tectum Wissenschaftsverlag.

Kauffeld, Simone; Othmer, Julius (eds.) (2019), Handbuch Innovative Lehre
available online at

Kerres, Michael (2018): Mediendidaktik. Konzeption und Entwicklung digitaler Lernangebote. 5th edition. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg (De Gruyter Studium). Available online at

Kompetenzteam Digitale Lehre der J.G. Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

van Ackeren, Isabell; Kerres, Michael; Heinrich, Sandrina (eds.) (2018): Flexibles Lernen mit digitalen Medien ermöglichen. Strategische Verankerung und Erprobungsfelder guter Praxis an der Universität Duisburg-Essen. Münster, New York: Waxmann. Available online at