Instructional Design

Backward Course Design

Backward course design is an instructional method that focuses on identifying and establishing learning goals first, prior to the development of instructional activities and content. In its structure, backward course design will have instructors:

  1. Identifying learning goals and results for students to achieve
  2. Determining what kinds of evidence are acceptable that meet the desired goals
  3. Designing and creating learning experiences and activities that will produce the desired results that were initially identified

With this format, instructors build their courses that are focused and organized around accomplishing learning goals, instead of having students finish a series of activities and hope they understand the overall learning outcomes. Backward course design also keeps the goals and intentions of the course clear and transparent to students. This creates a mutual understanding between the instructor and their students of what is expected, as well as helps to realign students to learning goals if they become confused or lost in the course's content.

Identifying Desired Learning Results

In this phase of backward course design, it is more than just identifying what an instructor wants their students to learn. It can be illustrated as three concentric rings, as explained below:

  1. Outer ring
    • Knowledge worth being familiar with
  2. Middle ring
    • Knowledge and skills important to know and do
  3. Inner ring
    • Enduring understanding - fundamental ideas that students learn and remember years later

With this format, instructors focus in on what are the most important learning outcomes to achieve, while also identifying supplementary concepts that can help lead students to the major goals of a course.

Assessing Learning Results with WHERE

W: Do students know where they are heading, why they are heading there, where they might go wrong in the process, and what is required of them?
H: Are students hooked on the topic of study?
E: Are students able to explore and experience various ideas? Are they adequately equipped with the necessary understanding to master the outcome being taught?
R: Are students able to rehearse, revise, and refine their work?
E: Are there opportunities for evaluation?

The video below provides a detailed overview of backward course design as explained by Professor Erica Halverson from the University of Wisconsin - Madison:

Additional Resources