Backward Design – An Approach for Creating a Good Course

  • Creating a learning course takes a lot of efforts.
  • The objective of these efforts is to fulfill the learner’s needs.
  • This requires smart planning in developing the course flow, which we do.
  • But, as we know there is always room for improvement.
  • This article will introduce you to a new dimension of planning a course, which will help achieve better learning outcome.
  • Before embarking on the planning dimension, it is better to get a picture of what constitutes a well designed course.

Elements of a Well Designed Course:

The idea of a good course may vary from learner to learner.

But, broadly speaking there are four criteria which when met will qualifies a course as a well designed one.

A well designed course is one which:

  • Inspires critical thinking in learners
  • Push learners for dynamic learning like problem solving, decision making etc.
  • Gives immediate feedback
  • Learning activities are soundly constructed

Prevalent Approach and its shortcomings

ADDIE is an instructional systems design (ISD) model that many instructional designers refer to develop courses.

ADDIE stands for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate.

The issue with this approach is that:

  • It is too linear
  • Evaluation is at the end

This in effect causes a mismatch between desired outcome and actual result.

Dr. Dee Fink addressed this issue and came up with an innovative approach and named it the backward design.

Backward design

At the outset it needs to be cleared that this is not a defined strategy, but is a guiding philosophy.

Fink encourages us to begin design with the end in mind. This is the core philosophy of backward design approach.

Whether it is evaluation methods or the learning objectives, always keep the end in mind and work from backwards.

To be able to execute this approach, you need to ask questions like:

  • What do we want learners to do?
  • What do you want them to perform?
  • How will you know they can do that?
  • What evidence will show you they can perform on the job?
  • What kind of learning experience can encourage critical thinking?
  • How can we achieve the desired performance outcome?

This list is not exhaustive but indicative only. This way we can effectively enhance the performance of the learning solution we create.

As you know no strategy works in isolation.

So we need to blend the established approaches (ADDIE model) with innovative ideas like the backward design, to create learning solutions to achieve our desired learning outcomes.

To achieve this we need to integrate our approaches with new and innovative ideas.

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