Whether designing a new course or redesigning an existing course, the first step is to identify and review the situational factors that affect major design components. Fink identifies these components as learning goals, feedback/assessment, and teaching/learning activities. If situational factors are not taken into account while developing these components, you run the risk of developing a course that doesn’t work for the students, doesn’t meet institutional goals, and doesn’t achieve the course outcomes. Fink identifies the following situational factors to consider.

Situational Factors




  • “What is the special situation in this course that challenges the students and [you] in the desire to make this a meaningful and important learning experience?” (Fink 77).


  • “What does society at large need and expect in terms of the education of these students, in general, or with regard to this particular subject?
  • Are there accreditation requirements that affect the goals of this [course]?
  • What curricular goals does the institution or department have that effected this course?” (Fink 76).


  • “Is this subject matter convergent (working toward a single right answer) or divergent (working toward multiple, equally valid interpretations)?
  • Is this subject primarily cognitive or does it have physical elements?
  • Is the field of study relatively stable, in a period of rapid change, or are competing paradigms challenging each other?” (Fink 77).


  • “What is the life situation of the students at the moment: full‑time student, part‑time working student, family responsibilities, work responsibilities…?
  • What life or professional goals do students have that relate to this [course]?
  • What are their reasons for enrolling?
  • What prior experiences, knowledge, skills, and attitudes do the students have?
  • What are the students’ learning styles?” (Fink 77).


  • “What prior experiences, knowledge, skills, and attitudes [do you] have in terms of…this course?
  • [Have you] taught this subject before or is this the first time?
  • Will [you] teach this course again in the future or is this the last time?
  • [Do you] have a high level of competence in this subject or is [it] on the margins of [your] zone of competency?
  • What prior experiences, knowledge, skills, and attitudes [do you] have in terms of the process of teaching?” (Fink 77).