Guide To Teaching and Learning

Backward Design

Most faculty tend to start by thinking about what they want to teach and therefore what content they want to cover. A learner-centered approach starts with determining the short-term and long-term learning goals and designing backwards. For both online and in-person teaching and learning, it’s best to start at the end. Ask:

  • What do I want my students to be able to know and/or do by the end of my course?
  • How will I know if they do know and/or are able to do those things? How will I assess whether they’ve learned it?
  • What learning experiences will lead them there?

Backward design encourages instructors to prioritize establishing the course’s learning goals instead of building the course based on the content to be included. And it promotes transparency and intentionality. 

To design an effective course, be sure there’s alignment between:

  • Your stated learning outcomes and objectives
  • Your assessment mechanisms for determining what they learned
  • The assignments you ask students to do to facilitate learning

Here’s a simple template for backward course design.

The basic steps in backward design are:

  1. Identify student learning outcomes
  2. Determine assessments
  3. Plan student learning experiences
  4. Put it all together

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