Intentional Instructional Design

Intentional Instructional Design: One EdTech Strategy to Rule Them All

This content coordinates with “Intentional Instructional Design” – a presentation first given at InstructureCon 2023 in Denver, CO by Geneva Harline & Valentine S. King. We hope you enjoy the following content and resources.

Some of you may know that Lord of the Rings author, J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote stories to deal with the trauma of war, some of the battles in Middle-earth were inspired by real world war battles he participated in. Beyond our catchy presentation title One EdTech Strategy to Rule Them All, we’ve used the Lord of the Rings motif in this presentation to demonstrate an idea: where we come from, who we surround ourselves with & their support, and ultimately our struggles – they impact how we present ourselves to the world and play a role in our success. Much like a learner’s journey.  Our learners either have or are currently experiencing trauma, especially coming out of a pandemic.

Trauma & How Common Is It?

Definition of trauma

We’re not medical professionals and thus, this session is not about diagnosing our students. Our focus remains on being aware of the impact of trauma, so we can plan courses that will give our students a greater chance of succeeding.

Defined by the American Psychology Association (APA), trauma is “an experience which threatens injury, death, or the physical integrity of self or others and also causes horror, terror, or helplessness at the time.” We are going to take into account the scope of trauma as defined by the APA. Also, we’re willing to acknowledge that sometimes there are traumatic incidents that threaten the psychological or social integrity of our students.

How common is it?

According to the APA definition, It is estimated that around two-thirds of incoming college students will have been impacted by trauma, and even more will experience traumatic events while in college. That two-thirds doesn’t include students who are impacted by trauma while they’re at college.

When considering trauma aware design, it is important to note that you will have students in your class who have experienced some form of trauma, even if you never hear about it, and that it is important to understand that you shouldn’t take a student’s decision to not talk about their experiences personal.

Educational Impact of Trauma

Trauma impacts learning in a variety of ways. In our session, we describe three main impairment categories impacting focus, remembering, and communication.


Impaired ability to focus could be due to several factors, including: intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, overwhelming emotions, and sleep disturbances.

The ability to remember is also affected by trauma. Much of this stems from impaired ability to focus. In addition, when a traumatic event occurs, the brain tries to protect  itself  by avoiding reminders of that event. There are changes to the areas in the brain that handle short term memory and reduce a person’s capacity to recall information that way. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just happen to your memory of the trauma. For students who experienced trauma while they’re in in college, it might to impact how they remember the course material.

Additionally, trauma negatively impacts communication. Trauma can change the brain itself and it does change some of the areas that access language, so students may struggle to find the right word. Another change that happens in the brain is that the brain of someone who has experienced a lot of trauma becomes more receptive to the hormones and emotional states related to what we consider negative emotions. Also, they will have a lower level of perspective of self-worth. This may lead to lower levels of engagement in course discussions and group work.

We recommend using intentional design strategies to design for trauma in mind, which can  benefit all our learners.

What is Intentional Instructional Design?

Intentional instructional design is a deliberate and purposeful approach to planning and creating effective learning experiences. It involves carefully considering the learning objectives, the needs and characteristics of the learners, and the most appropriate instructional strategies and resources to facilitate meaningful and impactful learning.

Intentional instructional design focuses on:

  • aligning all aspects of the learning experience to support the desired learning outcomes
  • selecting appropriate instructional methods, materials, and assessments that are tailored to the specific learning goals and the diverse needs of the learners
  • making informed decisions about how to sequence and organize the content, so it is logical and scaffolded in a way that promotes understanding and skill development.

Intentional instructional design also considers the learner’s prior knowledge and experiences, taking into account their individual learning preferences, and strengths. It incorporates strategies such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which provides multiple means of engagement, representation, and action/expression.

UDL, TILT & the Canvas Certified Educator Program

UDL & TILT Frameworks

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Transparency in Learning & Teaching (TILT) are frameworks that can contribute to intentional instructional design and support learner success. UDL focuses on providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression to accommodate diverse learners. TILT emphasizes making the learning process and expectations explicit to students. Together, these frameworks create a foundation for intentional instructional design that addresses the needs of all learners.

UDL promotes the idea that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to instruction. By providing multiple means of engagement, such as incorporating varied instructional materials, multimedia resources, and interactive activities, teachers can increase student motivation and involvement in the learning process.

TILT complements UDL by explicitly communicating the learning goals, expectations, and assessment criteria to students. When learners understand the purpose and relevance of their learning, they are more likely to engage and take ownership of their education. TILT encourages instructors to be transparent about the learning process, sharing the rationale behind instructional choices, and providing clear instructions & guidelines. This transparency helps students by allowing them to plan and organize their efforts, monitor their progress, and seek appropriate support when needed.

By combining UDL and TILT in instructional design, an inclusive and supportive learning environment where all students can thrive can be created. UDL ensures that instruction is flexible and accessible, and catering to diverse learning preferences and abilities. TILT establishes clear expectations and fosters a culture of transparency, empowering students to become active participants in their own learning. Together, these frameworks promote learner success by enhancing engagement, comprehension, self-regulation, and achievement.

By embracing the principles of UDL and TILT, educators can cultivate an environment where every student has the opportunity to excel.

Canvas Certified Educator Program & Intentional Instructional Design

To implement UDL and TILT effectively, instructional designers and teachers should engage in collaborative planning, reflecting on the diverse needs of their learners to design instructional materials, activities, and assessments that offer multiple options and clear guidelines.

Educators can benefit from professional development opportunities and resources that delve into the principles and strategies of UDL and TILT, providing guidance and inspiration for intentional instructional design practices. The Canvas Certified Educator Program is one such a professional development opportunity, embodying several key frameworks promoting intentional instructional design.

The Canvas Certified Educator (CCE) certification requires completion of four core courses and two elective classes. If you’re not familiar with the program, review the CCE FAQs.

Valentine is a facilitator for #CanvasCertified classes and enjoys teaching the first core class of the program. In additional to being onboarded to the program, Core 1: Foundational Frameworks provides educators the opportunity to workshop a lesson that integrates technology. It encourages participants to consider their learning objectives, while also considering alignment and the type of rigor of the lesson, ie level of skills targeted.

Several Core 1 graduates who appreciated the course stated it was an exercise in “intentional design” and those statements influenced the title of this presentation.

Quality Standards, Rubrics, & Templates

There are quality standards available that can help with the intentional design and development of online courses. Quality Matters Program rubric requires a subscription membership. The OLC Scorecard suite is free to download but not eligible for review/endorsement without membership. However, both the OSCQR rubric and ISTE Standards are freely available online. The #CanvasCertified Educator courses utilize the Canvas Evaluation Checklist 2.0.

Some institutions will use templates across an university, a program, departments, or grade level to foster similar design and navigation. Even when using a template, it doesn’t require each course look exactly the same. Some will use a consistent structure in their modules to set expectations, similar to the PANDA method.

PANDA is used in the Canvas Certified Educator program and refers to: Prepare to Engage;  Activate your Knowledge; Navigate the Resources; Demonstrate your Understanding, and Articulate your Learning. Prepare to Engage provides an outlook for the lesson with an introduction, learning outcomes, and tasks. Activate your Prior Knowledge provide guiding questions to review learning resources, while Navigate the Resources is a segment for interactive content to enhance new knowledge. Demonstrate your Understanding provides an opportunity to apply what you’ve learned and Articulate your Learning asks the learner to reflect on the lesson and its activities.


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Q & A

Should I eliminate all due dates in my classes?

No. While it might seem a beneficial gesture to students to eliminate “deadline” anxiety, it is not recommended. Many learners who experience stress related to due dates, struggle with executive function. Executive function provides learners with the ability to analyze tasks & how to do them, develop timelines for completing tasks, and execute completing the task in a timely manner. Review more on the topic of learner procrastination.

Providing structure for course content and assignments can help those struggling with executive function have a greater chance of success. Structure in a course can be demonstrated though scaffolding assignments (ie creating deliverable milestones for a lengthy assignment or breaking down a complex project into smaller task deliverables) and by using set deadlines. However, don’t be dissuaded from offering flexibility with extensions, when appropriate.

Trauma related resources

Resources for Intentional Instructional Design

Resources for Syllabi

In addition to institutional counseling resources, campus LGBTQ+ support groups, and other local community resources, the follow specific resources may be beneficial to include on a syllabus.

Images Used for the Presentation Slides