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Backward design

In this step, Neil Hughes introduces the idea of backward design.
Image of a group at the end of a music concert receiving the audience's applause..
© Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

The video for Coldplay’s, The Scientist, taken from the 2002 album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, starts at the conclusion before progressing backwards towards the beginning of the melancholic story it narrates. This use of reverse chronology, as well as being a common feature of cultural production, is also used in learning design.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

In Wiggin and McTighe’s (2005) oft-cited contribution to the field, for example, designers begin by identifying what learners gain by the end of the course i.e. the desired learning outcomes. This leads to a reflection on the types of assessment necessary to demonstrate their achievement. It is only at this point that thinking about the content and learning experiences necessary for learners to achieve these goals begins.

According to Bowen (2017), one of the main advantages of this approach is the extent to which it encourages ‘intentionality’ in design (something that Peter Bryant talked about in Week 1):

It continually encourages the instructor to establish the purpose of doing something before implementing it into the curriculum. Therefore, backward design is an effective way of providing guidance for instruction and designing lessons, units, and courses. Once the learning goals, or desired results, have been identified, instructors will have an easier time developing assessments and instruction around grounded learning outcomes.
As Bowen (2017) argues, it can also lead to greater transparency and more purposeful teaching.
The incorporation of backward design also lends itself to transparent and explicit instruction. If the teacher has explicitly defined the learning goals of the course, then they have a better idea of what they want the students to get out of learning activities. Furthermore, if done thoroughly, it eliminates the possibility of doing certain activities and tasks for the sake of doing them. Every task and piece of instruction has a purpose that fits in with the overarching goals and goals of the course.
© University of Nottingham
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