Situational Factors

Making clear the context of your course allows its design to work with constraints and creates opportunities for learning.

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The Importance of Situational Factors

Courses exist within larger contexts that influence their design and facilitation. Determining which factors are most important for the context of your course can be very helpful. These factors may operate as:

  • Constraints: Factors you cannot control or change and must be designed around. For example, number of students, prerequisite courses, room size and length of class.
  • Opportunities: Factors that you can change to improve your course. For example, your knowledge of effective teaching strategies.

Considering situational factors at the start of the design process can lead to more effective teaching choices that can positively impact students’ learning experiences. There are many instructional strategies and techniques that can be used to complement both constraints and opportunities.

Situational Factors to Consider

Fink (2013) uses the following groups to explore various situational factors:

  • Context of teaching and learning situation – includes information about your course such as the length, time and delivery mode. Additionally, it may include general information about the student population such as course enrollment numbers and students’ academic year.
  • Expectations of external groups – includes expectations of students in the field or program from external sources such as society, the institution, other professionals and accreditation requirements.
  • Nature of the subject – includes content area, instructional approaches, application of skills, cognitive complexity and stability of field.
  • Characteristics of the learners – includes the diversity of students, their previous knowledge or experiences, their attitudes about their subject as well as their personal and professional lives.
  • Characteristics of the instructor – Includes the instructor’s prior experience, knowledge, skills and attitudes toward both the subject area and the art of teaching. It may also include challenges in course design and delivery.
  • Special pedagogical challenges – Includes specific requirements, accreditations, curriculum, and/or standards that are unique to the course, program or department.
Situational Factors Table

A variety of these groups and factors will influence both the design process and the way the course is facilitated. These are unique to each instructor and each course, and they may change from semester to semester. The process of determining these factors can help the course’s overall design by considering the particular constraints and opportunities. Additionally, taking the time to collect this data will help you make decisions about your course that are effective, efficient and student-centered.

Download the Situational Factors Table

Explore Your Situation

Using the Course Design Template explore the aspects that will likely affect your course.

  • Step 1: For each factor consider your situation and note the implications that are important to your course design (see the Situational Factors Chart above).
  • Step 2: For factors that are constraints you want to design around:
    • Note the resources and design locations in the Situational Factors Chart.
    • For those that you would like to prioritize, create an action plan. This can be a general statement such as, “I will address assessments for large number of students with rubrics.”
  • Step 3: As you develop your course, refer back to the important factors for which you want to design opportunities.

Please note that you may not have all data prior to the start of class. Therefore, it can be helpful to review this worksheet periodically when more information emerges. This document will act as a resource throughout the design process and can also help you identify areas in which you need additional ideas or support. 

Next Steps

Now that you have considered an assortment of situational factors and how they may influence your design elements, it is time to evaluate the course’s learning outcomes.