“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.“– Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Free Press, Revised Edition, November 2004
Popularised by Wiggins and McTighe’s book, Understanding by Design and the framework by the same name, backward design shifts the focus from the content that the instructor teaches to the desired outcomes the learner will achieve.
This design model aims to help course instructors align learning outcomes with assessment and learning activities because it innately encourages intentionality during the learning experience design process.
💭Alignment refers to how much outcomes/objectives, assessment, and instructional activities depend on, address, and affirm one another.
When you first stumble upon academically acclaimed theories talking about the impact of cognitive science on learning experience design, you may wonder what on earth educators of the past were thinking, if they were not focused on the needs of the learner… death by PowerPoint perhaps?!
Backward design, however, is a smart curriculum design strategy which continually encourages the instructor to establish the purpose of doing something before implementing it into the curriculum and assessment plan – a perspective which can lead to the misconception that learning is the activity when, in fact, learning is derived from a careful consideration of the purpose of the activity.
It typically has three stages: identify desired results, determine acceptable evidence, and plan learning experiences and instruction.
Stage 1. Identify Desired Results
During this stage, you will explore what you hope learners will be able to achieve and the knowledge they will be able to transfer by the end of the learning experience. These are articulated as learning outcomes and learning objectives. For tips on writing these, see this excellent guide.
Stage 2. Determine Acceptable Evidence
During this stage, you need to determine how your learners will demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes and objectives. You should also decide how learners will provide evidence of progress toward those outcomes and objectives. When planning the approach to assessment, you should consider including a sufficient variety of assessment methods.
Stage 3: Plan Learning Experiences & Instruction
During this stage, you plan the instructional activities and strategies that will prepare learners to demonstrate evidence of their learning, promote meaning making, and provide opportunity to transfer learning. Activities at this stage should include identification of feedback opportunities.
During these three stages, you don’t have to worry as much about details (points, grading, the language of instructional materials). The goal is to ensure that the overall learning experience plan aligns. Once you are able to do that, you can start working on the details of the assessments and activities.
Here’s a brief example of Backward Design:
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