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WHAT IS COURSE DESIGN? It is the process by which the raw data about a learning need is interpreted to produce an integrated series of teachinglearning experiences, whose aim is to lead the learners to a particular state of knowledge.

The use of the theoretical and empirical information available to produce a syllabus, to select, adapt or write materials in accordance with the syllabus,to develop a methodology for teaching those materials and to establish evaluation procedures by which progress towards the specified goals will be measured.

After we have completed our needs analysis, we ask the question: What do we do with the information we have gathered? We must interprete the data. Asking questions about learner needs will not of itself design a course.

When we come to designing our course, the data from our needs analysis can help us. But, there is no necessary one-to-one transfer from needs analysis to course design. We should take into account the following issues: - classroom facilities - time - our own theoretical views - experience of the classroom

Approaches to course design

There are three main approaches: 1) Language-centred course design 2) Skills-centred course design 3) Learning-centred course design

Languge-centred course design

The language-centred course design process aims to: draw as direct a connection as possible between the analysis of the target situation and the content of the ESP course.

Identify learners target situation

Select theoretical views of language

Identify linguistic features of target situation

Create syllabus

Design materials to exemplify syllabus items

Establish evaluation procedures to test acquisition of syllabus items Figure 1: A language-centred approach to course design

It seems logical: It starts with the learner Various stages of analysis Materials in use Evaluation of mastery of the syllabus items

However, it has some weaknesses: a) It starts from the learners and their needs so you may consider it a learner-centred approach, but in fact, not learner-centred. - The learner is only used to identify the target situation. - Then, the learner plays no further role in the process. - But, the learner should be considered at every stage of the process in needs analysis.

b) A static and inflexible procedure. - Once the initial analysis of the target sitation is done, the course designer is locked into a strict process. - But what if the initial analysis is wrong? - Students motivation, feedback channels, error tolerance should be taken into account. So you can respond to unsuspected or developing influences.

c) It appears to be systematic. - But the fact that knowledge has been systematically analysed and systematically presented does not mean that it will be systematically learnt. - Learners have to make the system meaningful to themselves. - Learning must be an internally-generated system not an externally-imposed system.

d) Learning factors are not considered to be important at all. - For example; materials should be interesting. - But as a teacher once remarked at a seminar on materials writing, It doesnt matter if its boring. Its ESP.

e) The analysis of target situation data is only at the surface level. - It reveals very little about the competence that underlies the performance.

To sum up, the logical, straightforward appeal of the language-centred approach is, in effect, its weakness.

It fails to recognise the fact that, learners being people, learning is not a straightforward, logical process.

Skills-centred course design

The skills-centred approach to ESP has been widely used in Latin America. Students in universities there have the limited but important need to read subject texts in English, because they are unavaliable in the mother tongue. So, some ESP projects have been set up to develop the students ability to read in English.

The skills-centred approach has two basic principles: 1. Theoretical 2. Pragmatic

1. The basic theoretical hypothesis is that underlying any language bahaviour are certain skills and strategies which the learners uses to produce or comprehend discourse.

A skills-centred approach aims to get away from the surface performance data and look at the competence that underlies the performance. So, a skills-centred approach will present its objectives in terms of both performance (general objectives) and competence (specific objectives).

2. The pragmatic hypothesis Widdowson (1981) and Holmes (1982) called the skills-centred approach as goal-oriented or process-oriented courses.

Holmes believe that you cannot interpret needs in the narrow sense of target situation necessities. Otherwise, a large number of students will fail the course. (?) The process-oriented approach tries to avoid this problem by removing the distinction between the ESP and the target situation.

In the process-oriented approach: - Students are not seen as proficient target situation performers. - The emphasis is not on achieving a particular set of goals, but on enabling the learners to achieve what they can. - ESP course is seen as helping learners to develop skills and strategies which will continue to develop after the ESP course.

Theoretical views of language

Identify Target situation

Analyse skills/ strategies required to cope in target situation

Write syllabus

Select texts and write exercises to focus on skills/ strategies in syllabus

Establish evaluation procedures which require the use of skills/strategies in syllabus

Theoretical views of learning

Figure 2: A skills-centred approach to course design

The role of needs analysis in a skillscentred approach is twofold. - Firstly, it provides a basis for discovering the underlying competence that enables learnes to perform in the target situation. - Secondly, it enables the course designer to discover the potential knowledge and abilities that the learners bring to the ESP classroom.

The skills-centred approach, therefore, can certainly claim to take the learner more into account than the languagecentered approach. ? Because it takes into account: - how the mind of the learner process - the positive factors that the learners bring into the classroom, rather than just on the negative idea of lacks.

However, despite its concern for the learner, the skills-centred approach still approaches the learner as user of language rather than as a learner of language. That is, it focuses on the process of language use not the language learning.

A learning-centred approach
Why is it learning-centred instead of the more common term learner-centred? The learner-centred approach is based on the principle that learning is totally determined by the learner. As teacher we can influence what we teach, but what learners learn is determined by the learners alone.

However,in the the learning process there is more than just the learner to consider. Therefore, the learning-centred approach is prefered to indicate that the concern is to maximise learning. The learner is one factor to consider in the learning process, but not the only one.

A language-centred approach says: ? This is the nature of the target situation performance and that will determine the ESP course. A skills-centred approach says: ? That is not enough. We must look behind the target performance data to discover what processes enable someone to perform. A learning-centred approach says: ? That is not enough either. We must look beyond the competence that enables someone to perform, because what we really want to discover is not the competence itself, but how someone acquires that competence.

A learning-centred approach to course design takes account of the learner at every stage of the design process. This has two imlications: a) Course design is a negotiated process. There is no single factor that influences the content of the course. The ESP learning situation and the target situation will both influence the syllabus, materials, methodology and evaluation procedures. Smilarly, each of these components will influence and be influenced by the others.

b) Course design is a dynamic process. Needs and resources change with time. Therefore, the course design needs to have feedback channels to enable the course to respond to developments.

A needs analysis reveals that the ESP learners need English to be able to read texts in their subject specialism. They have no need to write, speak or listen to English. Their only need is to read English texts. So, what should we do in this situation?

In a language-centred or skills-centred approach, the only activity will be reading texts. In a learning-centred approach, we need to consider other factors:

a) If an image gets into the brain through a number of different patways (by hearing, reading, writing and speaking) that image is likely to be a richer one than if it gets in through only one pathway. So, if the effectiveness of the process can be enriched by the use of other skills, then that is what should be done.

b) Does having a mono-skill focus lead to lack of variety and boredom in the learners? Frequent repetition creates boredom: our minds switch off and learning is minimal. Variety of skills , therefore, keeps the learners mind alert and maintains concentration.

c) How do learners feel about reading as an activity? Is it something they like doing or avoid even if in the mother tongue?