Beginning with the end in mind

Welcome to Learning Event 2 (#LE2): Beginning with the end in mind

(Need more info about Learning Events in general? Visit the Learning Commons for a full description of this series.)

Learning Event 2 (#LE2) focuses on backward design, or focusing on what is to be taught, as opposed to how it will be taught. Backward design is a process that educators use to design learning experiences and utilize instructional techniques to achieve specific learning objectives.  

Focus: Backward design, sometimes called backward planning or backward mapping, begins with the learning objectives of a unit or course, and then proceeds backwards to create individuals modules and lessons to achieve those desired goals. The thinking behind “backward design” has a long history in education, going back to the seminal work Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, by Ralph W. Tyler in 1947. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe popularized “backward design” for the modern era in their book Understanding by Design (1998).

The logic is that starting with the end in mind helps educators develop a sequence of lessons, problems, projects, presentations, assignments, and assessments that help the students achieve the goals of the course.

By beginning with the end in mind, backward design allows instructors to have students actually learn what they were expected to learn, the objectives you identified in LE1.

If you already have designed and rolled out your course but need to move your work online, start by considering where you want to have students academically by the end of the course. When revisiting the activities, assessments, and tools used in your course, you have an opportunity to only focus on the aspects that will ensure your students can achieve the goals of the course.

If you do make changes mid-semester, this is an opportunity to talk with students about how you’re ensuring that your syllabus, course curriculum, and assessments all align to provide a structure for their success. Given the challenges you might encounter as we move online, take a moment to talk with your students about what is most important during the remainder of the semester and how you’ll help them achieve and succeed during the remainder of the semester.

Check out the materials presented below to learn and engage more!


Understanding by Design – Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. “Our lessons, units, and courses should be logically inferred from the results sought, not derived from the methods, books, and activities with which we are most comfortable. Curriculum should lay out the most effective ways of achieving specific results… in short, the best designs derive backward from the learnings sought.”

Understanding by Design (UbD) framework (PDF) – McTighe & Wiggins, 2012. “The Understanding by Design framework is guided by the confluence of evidence from two streams—theoretical research in cognitive psychology, and results of student achievement studies.”

Creating a Course: “Understanding by Design” – Ashley Wiersma. “Learning with understanding is more likely to promote transfer and application than simply memorizing information from a text or lecture..”


Educator Grant Wiggins leads a workshop on Understanding by Design (UbD), to help teachers clarify learning goals, devise assessments that reveal student understanding, and craft effective learning activities. (10:51)

Erica Halverson talks about curricular redesign and how the “backward design” framework can help you think through these issues Using Bloom’s Taxonomy (9:36)

How to outline your project assessments using backwards design. (4:46)


How will we support learners as they come to understand what is need to know as opposed to what is nice to know?


Examine, review, possibly revise the activities and assessments for your course(s) to make sure they keep the end in mind.


There are generally three stages to backward design:

  • Identify the results desired (big ideas and skills)
    • What should students read, review, and explore?
    • What knowledge, skills, and dispositions should students master?
    • What are the big ideas (principles, theories, concepts, points of view) should students retain?
  • Determine acceptable evidence of learning
    • How will you know if students have achieved the desired goals and objectives of the course?
    • What will you accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency?
  • Design learning experiences, events, and instruction
    • What knowledge and skills will students need to achieve the desired goals and objectives of the course?
    • What teaching methods, sequence of activities, and resource materials are needed to achieve the goals of the course?

We would love to hear about what you created or implemented as a result of this Learning Experience! Please send an email to if you have something to share!