Aerial view of Washington Square Park at sunset

Backward Design Framework

Careful planning of a course takes much time, reflection and analysis. The course design process will help you to identify and select appropriate pedagogical strategies to assess, engage and instruct students in any teaching modality (in-person, online and blended).

The backbone of our process is the Understanding by Design or Backward Design framework by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins.

Backward Design

In the backward design process, we start by identifying your desired course learning outcomes. What do you want your students to know or be able to do by the end of this course or module? This process is considered “backward” because we are planning with the end in mind. If we begin with knowing what our destination is, we can then better plan how we are going to help our students get there. For additional resources on writing learning outcomes and objectives, please review the Learning Outcomes and Objectives Guide.

After you have identified your desired learning outcomes, we need to consider what is the acceptable evidence to determine that the learning outcomes have been achieved. What kinds of tasks/deliverables will reveal whether students have achieved the learning objectives you have identified? From there, you can now consider your learning activities and instructional materials. What kinds of learning materials and activities in and out of class will reinforce the learning objectives and prepare students to demonstrate their understanding?

Diagram of the sequential steps in backward design
Source: Wiggins, G.P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Understanding Your Learners

In order to design effective learning experiences, we must first know who the learners are. Are they in different time zones? Do they have limited access to the internet or unstable connections? Are there any accessibility considerations? Your choice of remote options, like whether to hold synchronous class meetings or provide asynchronous activities, will be shaped by these circumstances. You can make a copy of the Understanding Your Learners handout to help you think through the information you may need to know.

Course Blueprint

It is often helpful to see your course as a whole and to align each learning objective with your acceptable evidence, learning activities, and learning materials. You can make a copy of this Course Blueprint Template to help with this process. You will notice that we have separated the learning activities into a section called Engagement and the instructional materials into Instruction. We have also added columns for identifying any associated technology and total time on task as these components are helpful to identify in an online learning environment.