About Backward Course Design

About Backward Course Design

In backward course design, all course content is planned, authored, and developed based on predefined learning outcomes. It is a learning-centered approach, as the emphasis of course design is on what learners should know, understand, or be able to do after taking the course rather than focusing on what someone wants to teach.

Backward course design starts with the end in mind, focusing on what the end results of the course should be. It also establishes a roadmap with clear, incremental phases for achieving those results.

The Three Phases

There are three phases in backward course design:

  1. Identify the end results
  2. Determine assessment methods
  3. Define the learning experience (LX) and instruction methods

Backwards Design Phases

Phase 1: Identify End Results

The end results are the intended learning outcomes of your course. This phase answers the question “What do we expect students to learn?” Typically, end results are specific statements that describe what the learner should be able to know, understand, or do.

Phase 2: Determine Assessment Methods

The second phase answers the question “What is the best way to assess what (or if) students learned?” Use the learning outcomes created in the previous step to develop assessments that validate the information the students learned and their proficiency levels.

Phase 3: Define the Learning Experience and Instruction Methods

In the final phase of backward course design, you want to answer the question “How can we create a learning experience that achieves these end results?” During this phase, craft the learning experience and decide which instructional methods to use throughout the course. Plan activities to reinforce concepts and practice new skill sets, identify supplemental materials, evaluate the sequence that you will present content, and more.

For more information, see Design Courses Using Backward Course Design.


For more information on backward course design, see Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

Backward course design template


Backward Design. Course Map Guide. (n.d.). https://www.coursemapguide.com/backward-design.

EDUCAUSE. (n.d.). Online Course Development Process Guide. https://events.educause.edu/ir/library/word/EDU07104D.doc

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design (2nd ed.). Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). 

Author: Katherine Baeckeroot

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