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As presented by Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design, backward design could also be referred to as “purpose-driven teaching.” It asks you to first identify what learning outcomes you want your students to achieve before considering what methods and tasks students will engage. By focusing first on the outcome, backward design helps you to plan your courses and tasks with a great degree of purpose and intentionality. The effect of planning a course backwards is a strengthened alignment between student learning and student work as well as more transparent instruction.

In practice, backward design involves three stages:

  1. Identifying outcomes
  2. Determining the acceptable evidence to support those outcomes
  3. Planning corresponding instruction, tasks, and experiences.

Backward design is often associated with the planning of a course as a whole, but it can also be applied to individual assignments/tasks, and can be taught as a principle itself. Helping students to plan their work using backward design can be a valuable asset for them as they continue to develop their academic and professional skills.

For an overview of backward design, please view our brief video:

Learn more about backward design and download design templates from Vanderbilt University.