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. Especially for online 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 is particularly important in approaching the construction of an online course. Trying simply to reproduce your in-person teaching experience online won’t produce the results you or your students are looking for. Backward design has the advantage of encouraging instructors to establish the reason for doing the components of their courses rather than doing something to do it. And it promotes transparency and intentionality.

To design an effective online 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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