The Concept of the Design Principle explained

Design principles

The concept of the design principle is introduced to present a description of the research results that the teachers can use to design their courses. The reason is that the formulation of the research results in the scientific articles is not meant to be used by the teacher in their practical activities. The essential quality of a design principle is that it should be appealing, understandable and valuable for university teachers in general and that the teachers should be able to translate these design principles into ideas for their courses.


In a set of 5 to 12 design principles, the pedagogical qualities which should be realised in the design of a course are described ( Cremers et al., 2017),  DPs about Oral presentation (Ginkel, Gulikers, Mulder, & Biemans, 2015), Project-based learning (Guo et al., 2020), Sixteen design principles (Visscher-Voerman, 1999), the principles of authentic eLearning (Reilly & Reeves, 2022), Teacher design teams (Post et al., 2022), and Chickering and Gamson (1987) who have made one of the first descriptions of design principles. Other sets of design principles are described by Theelen and van Breukelen (2021), Parker and Hankins (2002), Reilly and Reeves (2022), Wals, Wesselink, and Mulder (2017) and Picciano (2017).


My version of the design principles for Modern Higher Education

Based on the pedagogical analyses I performed over the last 30 years, I have formulated eight design principles which can characterise Modern Higher  Education. The eight DPs summarise the multitude of teaching and learning research results. For each design principle, I have formulated 6-9 possible pedagogical options for applying the principle in a course in HE. The results are assessed and updated with the help of recent books about Higher Education: Neelen and Kirschner (2020), Luckin (2018), Kirschner and Hendrick (2020), Shand and Farrelly (2016), Picciano (2019), Stein and Graham (2020), Last and Jongen (2021), Bates (2015) and also the two books of Romiszowski (1984 and 1995). The following websites are also consulted: 3-Star learning experiences,, (T)E-Learning Blog Rubens (Dutch) and Blended and online learning (


In practice, you see other summaries with different formulations. However, the similarities predominate. These differences can mainly be found in the pedagogical options. Different words or specific pedagogical options are seen as more important than my set of DP’s in the different learning theories. Another reason not to stick strictly to my eight DP’s is that it might be necessary to use more recognisable words for the teachers and managers in a specific context to describe the chosen design principle. However, the design principles should always be based on scientific evidence.

You should check whether these characteristics are adequately addressed for each course or curriculum. Sometimes, one or two DPs dominate your design and the others play their role in the background. This does not mean those ‘other’ DPs can be forgotten.

How to use design principles

The design principles can effectively support teacher designers in designing their courses. Because of the messiness of DP’s, Hanghoj, Handel, Visgaard and Gundersen (2022) stress the importance of discussing design principles with teachers or in a project group. This discussion about DP’s could be combined with teacher training activities on using these design principles. The participants discuss how to interpret and apply them with a researcher. An interesting side product might be a more helpful description of the design principles when applying the teachers’ experiences.

 An example of neglecting a DP is that in the first MOOCs, learning from each other received little attention. The students had to assess each other, but the assessment criteria were too general and did not stimulate the participants to give serious feedback. A summary of the judgments made by an experienced teacher was also missing or too vague. In later MOOCs, more opportunities were sought to give group learning a place. This can promote the learning and motivation of the participants.

Another example is online learning. During the COVID pandemic, teachers and students soon lost contact. After the strict lockdown, a few institutions sought a blended learning approach to emphasise online environments. For example, by making it possible for teachers and students to speak to each other at a distance of 1.5 metres. There were plenty of suitable spaces in those days because many cultural and sports activities were prohibited. Another option to promote ‘learning from each other’ was to work on an assignment in small groups outside the institute. This option was supplemented by ensuring digital contact.

Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987, March). Seven Principles for Best practice in Undergraduate Education. AAHE Bulletin, 3-7. Retrieved from

Cremers, P., Wals, A., Wesselink, R., & Mulder, M. (2017, April). Utilization of design principles for hybrid learning configurations by interprofessional design teams. Instructional Science, 45, 289 – 309.

Ginkel, , S., Gulikers, J., Mulder, M., & Biemans, H. (2015). Towards a set of design principles for developing oral presentation competence: A synthesis of research in higher education. Educational Research Review, 62-80. doi:10.1016/J.EDUREV.2015.02.002

Guo, P., Saab, N., Post, L., & Admiraal, W. (2020). A review of project-based learning in higher education: Student outcomes and measures. International Journal of Educational Research, 102, 101-158. doi:10.1016/j.ijer.2020.101586

Parker, B., & Hankins, J. (2002). AAHE’S Seven Principles for Good Practice applied to an Online Literacy Course. Consortium for Computing in Small Colleges. Middle Tennessee State University.

Picciano, A. (2017). Theories and Frameworks for Online Education:Seeking an Integrated Model. Online Learning, 21(3), pp. 166-190. doi:10.24059/olj.v21i3.1225

Post, L., Van Leeuwen, A., Lockhorst, D., Admiraal, W., & Kester, L. (2022). A blueprint for teacher design teams to create professional development interventions. International Journal on Studies in Education (IJonSE), 4(2), 88-106.

Reilly, C., & Reeves, T. (2022, May 12). Refining active learning design principles through design-based research. Active Learning in Higher Education.

Theelen, H., & Van Breukelen, D. (2022, October 22). The didactic and pedagogical design of e-learning in higher education: A systematic literature review. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 38(5), 1286-1303. doi:10.1111/jcal.12705

Visscher-Voerman, J. (1999). Review of Design in Theory and Practice. Enschede: University Twente, the Netherlands.


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