Backwards Design

Designing Backwards is the simple process of creating your content from the end to the beginning. First, you clearly define the the learning objectives of your class. Define what you want your students to be able to accomplish when they complete the course or module. From there, you write out what steps are necessary for your students to accomplish these goals. Then you design relevant content and activities that achieve these steps.

Backwards Design

The backwards design principle is simple, but can be very powerful when you are struggling to get started designing a lesson or module, especially in an online course.

Designing Backwards Example

Let's say (for simplicity's sake) you are designing an online module about how to make pizza dough. What do you want your students to be able to do at the end of the lesson?

Here are some possible learning objectives.

  • Identify the ingredients necessary to make pizza dough
  • Explain the proper way to mix the ingredients together
  • Demonstrate the technique necessary to roll out the dough

Once you define these objectives, you can work backwards to create the module's materials. And you don't need to include anything that won't point toward those objectives. Even if you have a fascinating video describing the history of the pizza and the region in which it was first served, you don't need to include it. Anything that does not contribute to the goals of the module is unnecessary.

Designing Backwards Tips

  1. Write learning objectives from the student's perspective.
  2. When writing learning objectives, use strong and specific verbs.
  3. When writing learning objectives, avoid weak/broad verbs.
  4. Include assessment activities that directly correlate with the learning objectives.
Strong Verbs Weak Verbs
  • Define
  • Identify
  • Recognize
  • Solve
  • Apply
  • Analyze
  • Understand
  • Learn about
  • Go over

Looking for more resources on action verbs?
Bloom's Taxonomy Action Verbs