“Backward Design” is a planning framework used by educators to map out and design a course from the end to the beginning. Here are the steps:
- We start with articulating the skills, knowledge, and attitudes a student should have by the end of the course.
- Next we determine how we would know a student achieved those things, or what the acceptable evidence would be.
- Finally, we plan for the learning experiences and instruction that would be necessary to reach those outcomes.
Why use Backward Design?
A major advantage of using this process is that it centers the course materials on what we truly want our learners to know. This process helps focus our design efforts, identifies unnecessary and/or missing content, and encourages learner-centered design and instruction, creating more space for learners to engage with the most essential materials in the course. This video will walk you through a detailed explanation of Backward Design and how to get started with it.
Design a Course Through Backward Design (7 min, 45 sec)
To see the original backward design framework, check out the Understanding by Design Framework (McTighe and Wiggins, 2012), and to see practical examples of what each step could look like see this Understanding by Design page from Vanderbilt.
How can I get started with Backward Design?
Identify the desired results: Start with learning objectives
When you identify the desired results, you are essentially setting a destination for your learners. If your syllabus went through the Course Quality Assurance process (also known as the QM11 Review) you have already completed this step because you have honed your learning objectives with an instructional designer. Starting with the learning objectives you identified in your syllabus, you can break each of those large, course-level objectives down into smaller, module-level objectives.
If you did not go through the EHE Course Quality Assurance process, you may want to find out more about how to evaluate your existing objectives and adapt or create measurable objectives. Here are some questions to help guide you through the process:
- What are the desired results of someone taking this course?
- What should students come away from this course understanding?
- What would students be able to do as a result of the knowledge and skills gained in this course?
For further information about creating learning objectives, see these resources:
- Crafting Effective Learning Objectives (EHE Distance Education and Learning Design)
- Course Learning Outcomes (coursemapguide.com)
- Objectives & Outcomes (MIT)
- Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Write Effective Learning Objectives (University of Arkansas)
Determine Acceptable Evidence: Think about assessments
The measurable verbs that you chose for your learning objectives (i.e. analyze, create, reflect, identify, compare) will give you the starting place for determining what evidence of mastery or progress to look for in your assessments.
- What would you see as evidence of the desired results indicated in step 1?
- What are the various ways that students could demonstrate achievement of the desired results?
- How could students authentically demonstrate their knowledge gained, specifically for this course?
Here are some examples of how this might look:
Reflect on a particular concept
- journal assignment that spans the semester
- a reflection post on a discussion board
Identify steps in a process
- A quiz that asks students to pick out the steps of the process from a longer list and put them in order
- An video activity that asks students to identify the steps of the process in the context of practice
Utilize the steps of a process to solve a problem
- A case study that uses the process to solve the problem
- A peer-evaluated role-play exercise where students use the steps of the process as both an evaluation tool and a guide to completion of the role-play
Design Learning Experiences: Plan for content and class activities
The final step in the backward design process is choosing the content and activities that you will be using to get learners ready for the assessments you just set up in the last step. As with the learning objectives setting the stage for the assessments, in this step, the learning objectives and assessments will set the stage for the learning experiences. In order to be ready for the assessments that you set, you will need to be sure that students have the right content and, for more involved assessments, have had time to practice the skills needed in smaller, no- or low-stakes activities.
It is best to choose a variety of activities to assess your students’ learning, giving them different ways to approach and engage with the content. For example, you may use a mix of videos, podcasts, and reading to facilitate information transfer. And you may also use a mix of class discussions, group work, and individual work as active engagement with the concepts contained in that information.