Backwards Design for Instructional Design

Photo by Quinntheislander, CC0

I’ve taken several motorcycle courses over the years, and the one mantra that all instructors have said is, “Look where you want to go.” This was repeated over and over again, yet years later, I occasionally find myself looking at the beautiful vistas as I ride through. This is a rather dangerous habit, as people tend to steer in the direction they are looking at. That can kill you.

Looking where you want to go applies to car drivers as well as motorcycle riders. It also applies to goals and to education, particularly teachers, professors, and instructional designers, who must always have the end goal in mind and stay on course.

For instructional designer the term “backward design” means keeping the end in mind and working backward from the goal. I believe that many in education use backward design but just aren’t aware of it.

Backward design has three stages. The first is identifying the desire results. The purpose is to determine what the learner is expected to know, or be able to accomplish, at the end of course or lesson.

The second stage is where the learner knows he or she has reached the learning goals. This is known as determining the acceptable evidence of learning. It is in the stage that the instructional designer provides assessment tools and feedback mechanisms to the learners. When designing lengthy courses or delivering complicated theories or material, it is best to have a number of assessments tools as opposed to one, end of course, test.

The third and final stage is to plan the learning experiences and instruction. This is the nuts and bolts of the courses. Appropriate classroom or online tools are selected, and lesson plans are created.  This stage is where an instructional designer’s creative shines. Activities are created, tools selected, and the flow of the course is solidified.

The purpose of the third stage is to prepare learners for the second stage, which prepares them for the first stage.

It is important to remember that all activities and tools must be selected to reinforce the material to help learners gain a deeper understanding of the topic.

Finally, it’s important to step back and look at the entire flow of the course to ensure that material is scaffolded properly.  To save time, it’s best to step back often and look for speed bumps that will slow the learner down and send them in the wrong direction.



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