The key feature of this tier is to focus on students having holistic, authentic, and high impact educational experiences. This design level emphasizes making learning more meaningful and promotes more holistic learning that includes cognitive, affective, and/or psychomotor domains of learning. 

The design features from the previous tiers are still applicable here. The alignment among course components is still an essential piece. Meaningful learning is still the target. The difference here is to look at your course goals and unit objectives to include affective and/or psychomotor areas and to specifically include a much higher level of authentic assessment and high impact educational experiences (HIEE).

Create Learning Objectives

As you analyze your course goals (outcomes) and unit learning objectives, refer to Weber’s HIEE Taxonomy, which is an instructional tool meant to encourage educators to thoughtfully consider and cultivate the impactfulness of each engagement opportunity. Not every objective will include all parts of the HIEE taxonomy, but when looking at your course as a whole, you should be able to see the individual threads of high-impact educational experiences weaving together to create a holistic and authentic educational tapestry for your students. 

  • Using Backwards Design principles, refer to the overarching course goals/outcomes to create unit objectives that address learning in the cognitive, affective, and/or psychomotor areas.
  • Create relevant non-cognitive objectives for each unit (e.g., seek different opinions, change attitude, show empathy, accept other perspectives, etc.).
  • Create performance objective(s) for each unit that focus on authentic tasks students should be able to perform independently at the end of the unit. Break these performance objectives down further, if needed, by:
    • Creating understanding objectives (infer, explain, interpret) for each unit students need to arrive at before they can perform such authentic tasks.
    • Determining the knowledge and skills (fact, formula, procedure, term, theory) that are essential for students to arrive at the deep and underlying (unobvious, hidden, moral of the story) understanding and to perform authentic tasks. Create those essential knowledge and skills objectives for each unit. 
      • Performance and deep meaning go beyond the ability to perform any scripted and polished skills perfectly, to recite perfectly from memory all facts, to summarize reading content, or to identify the main ideas of text. Instead, performance focuses on if students can apply their learning to solve an authentic, real-world problem by themselves. And meaning here focuses on what students come away with from summarizing content or identifying text’s main ideas. 
  • Write the objectives in measurable terms (see WSU Online’s “Create Measurable Learning Objectives” workshop) to assist in the design of unit assessments, content, and activities. 
  • Incorporate different types of interactions (student-student, student-content, student-instructor) into your objectives, as appropriate. The affective domains are often best taught and measured with student-student and student-instructor interactions, especially.
Note: The affective outcomes/objectives may be repeated across units or courses. This area of learning takes time. You may not even see a real change immediately. The idea is to plant a seed and communicate to students what is important.

Decide assessment evidence

  • Identify specific performance or product students need to show, as acceptable evidence, that they can authentically apply learning independently. 
  • Indicate specific responses or criteria students need to demonstrate for you to be convinced that they understand the ‘moral of the story’ of content (deep understanding).
  • Determine the mastery level of the needed knowledge and skills students need to possess to help them learn deeper and apply what they have learned.
  • Choose proper assessment formats (discussions, projects, presentations, performances, peer review, multiple-choice, true/false, essay, matching) to collect the evidence. Often, student-student and student-instructor interactions are the best assessment of learning in the affective domain.
  • Specify any observable behaviors (action, decision, performance, response, product) to assess the non-cognitive objectives.
  • Use assessment opportunities more broadly. Instead of focusing on the assessment of learning, focus on assessment for learning and assessment as learning (for more information, read Assessment of Learning, for Learning, and as Learning, chapter 3 in Earl, Lorna (2003), Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximize Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA, Corwin Press). 
    • Assessing does not automatically mean giving a score or grading. Assessment does mean giving feedback and providing opportunities for improvement and growth until the time when a grade must be given.
Design Tip: Ask yourself, “What field does my course prepare students for?” Then ask yourself, “What would a person in that field actually do with the content outlined in the learning objectives?” Go beyond ‘what should students know’ to ‘what should someone in this field be able to do.’

Design learning experiences

With the focus on holistic and authentic high-impact educational experiences, create learning experiences that help students learn how to perform and produce as they would in authentic settings.

  • Consider framing each unit around a real-world problem, challenge, or mystery to solve.
  • Help students discuss and practice learning collaboratively and individually. 
  • Especially focus on student-student and student-instructor types of learning activities.
  • Help them integrate learning so they can defend, modify, and make it their own.
  • Demonstrate or model desired behaviors, either by peers and/or instructors.
  • Challenge students’ current beliefs and perspectives with different viewpoints.
  • Encourage students to justify their beliefs and perspectives with credible evidence. 
  • Use role-playing to help students walk in someone else's shoes.
  • Create a safe, accepting, encouraging, and supportive learning environment, which is based on respect and caring.
  • Provide choices in learning based on student interests.
  • Create (graded or ungraded) learning activities to help students practice, discuss, and apply learning. 
  • Help students reflect on learning and self-assess their progress.
  • Offer constructive and positive feedback to help them improve.

Technical Quality

Place links to articles, videos, and other resources on a Page instead of in a module list. This enables you to introduce each resource, point out why it is important, emphasize things students are to gain from it, and so on. It also eliminates the need for students to click through so many different screens to access course materials.

Learner Supports

  • Teach students learning strategies where they learn how to identify key information, review class notes, and summarize what they learn (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2018)
  • Include a list of resources to help students with food insecurity, disability services, tutoring services, and other resources to support students inside and outside of the classroom.

Additional Design Resources


Anderson, T. (2003, October 1). Getting the Mix Right Again: An Updated and Theoretical Rationale for Interaction. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 4(2).

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE bulletin, 3, 7.

Earl, Lorna (2003), Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximize Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA, Corwin Press.

Ewell, P. T., & Jones, D. P. (1996). Indicators of" Good Practice" in Undergraduate Education: A Handbook for Development and Implementation.

Kub, G. D., Donnell, K. O. A., & Reed, S. (2014). Ensuring quality & taking high-impact practices to scale. Peer Review, 16(2), 31.

Miyazoe, Terumi & Anderson, Terry. (2009, December 31). The Interaction Equivalency Theorem. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 9(2), 94–104. National Survey of Student Engagement, 2018.

Schanzenbach, D. W., Nunn, R., Bauer, L., Mumford, M., & Breitwieser, A. (2016). Seven facts on noncognitive skills from education to the labor market. Washington: The Hamilton Project. Retrieved from October 2022.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (expanded 2nd ed.). Pearson Education.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2011). Understanding by design: Guide to creating high-quality units. ASCD.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2009). Promoting self-determined school engagement: Motivation, learning, and well-being. In K. R. Wentzen & A Wigfield, Handbook of Motivation at School (pp. 171-195). Routledge.