As instruction design trends shift toward focusing on learning outcomes, the Backward Design model1 of course design has gained prominence. Rather than beginning the course development process by designing instructional strategies, Backward Design starts by identifying learning outcomes and assessment methods.
Stage 1: Identify Desired Results
To achieve effective instruction, course design should start by clearly identifying learning objectives. The driving question at this stage is: what is worthy and requiring of understanding? This stage often requires narrowing the scope of what can be covered in a course by filtering out those concepts or objectives that "clutter the curriculum" to allow students to master the most important concepts without overburdening them too many ideas at once. As criteria, or filters, to help select the ideas to teach, you might look at each objective and consider to what extent does the idea, topic, or process: (1) represents a "big idea" having enduring value beyond the classroom (see also Big Ideas and Threshold Concepts); (2) resides at the heart of the discipline; (3) requires uncoverage; and (4) offers potential for engaging students. Completing this stage will ensure that the final course design accomplishes the task of "framing instruction around enduring understandings and essential questions."1 See also Course Objectives for more on how to develop and articulate outcomes for students.
Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence
The next step is to identify how to know whether students have achieved the desired results. The driving question at this stage is: what counts as evidence of understanding? Consider a range of assessment methods, such as projects, portfolios, task performance, and papers, not just quizzes and tests. See also Evaluation of Learning and Assessment Strategies. Completing this stage will ensure that the final course design accomplishes the task of "anchoring instruction in credible and educationally vital evidence of the desired understandings."1
Stage 3: Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction
The final step is to plan instructional activities that will help students achieve the desired results and prepare them to demonstrate their learning. The driving question at this stage is: what learning experiences and teaching strategies promote understanding, interest, and excellence? Completing this stage will ensure that the final course design accomplishes the task of ensuring that "coherent learning experiences and teaching will evoke and develop the desired understandings, promote interest, and make excellent performance more likely."1
- What is Backward Design? G. Wiggins & F McTighe, chapter in Understanding by Design (1998).
- Principles of Backward Design, Tasmanian Department of Education.
- A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning, L. Dee Fink, Instructional development Program, University of Oklahoma.
- Bloom's Taxonomy Blooms Digitally, Andrew Churches, (2008), Educators' eZine, Tech and Learning.
- Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain, W. Huitt, (2004), Educational Psychology Interactive, Valdosta State Univ., GA.
- Model of Learning Objectives, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Iowa State University.
- Writing Learning Objectives, University of Texas at Austin.
- Design and Teach Your Course , Eberly Center of Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon University.
- How to Write a Statement of Teaching Philosophy, Gabriela Montell, The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- Writing a Teaching Philosophy, Center for Education Innovation, University of Minnesota.
- Preparing or Revising a Course (page 24), Barbara Gross Davis, Tools for Teaching (Jossey-Bass; San Francisco, 1993).
- Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to designing College Courses, 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Wiggins, G.J. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding By Design, 2nd ed. Pearson Higher Education.
1. What is Backward Design? G. Wiggins & F McTighe, chapter in Understanding by Design (1998).