Whether designing a new course or preparing to adopt a standardised curriculum, the instructor will find it helpful to begin the course preparation by asking key questions such as “What do I want my students to learn?”, “How do I measure my students’ learning?”, “How will my students learn?”. The most common approach to course design focuses on creating and/or selecting a list of content that will be taught. However, Wiggins and McTighe (1998) argues that “only when one knows exactly what one wants students to learn should the focus turn toward consideration of the best methods for teaching the content, and meeting those learning goals”. They propose the “Backward Design” framework for course design. This framework is “backward” only to the extent that it reverses the typical approach, so that the primary focus of course design becomes the desired course learning objectives.
Backward Design is beneficial to instructors because it innately encourages intentionality during the design process. The instructor is required to focus on (1) successful student outcomes by determining measurable course learning objectives and then (2) determining assessments that will assist the instructor in determining if the students have met the learning objectives. After the assessment methods have been determined, the instructor works backward to (3) plan ways to deliver the content (i.e. instructional strategies) that will lead the students toward successful completion of the assessment.
Good course design does not happen by chance. Designing a course takes extensive planning and using the Backward Design framework, in combination with an understanding of research-based, effective principles of how students learn can help an instructor design an effective course. This webpage provides you with self-help instructions on how you can apply the principles of Backward Design to develop your course outline. The assessment methods and instructional strategies are organized according to the Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy thinking levels.
- Wiggins, Grant, and McTighe, Jay. (1998). Backward Design. In Understanding by Design (pp. 13-34). ASCD.