Course Planning – Backward Design

Backward design is the approach that puts those essential questions into action and guides the selection of course content.

Backward design involves three distinct stages:

  1. Identify the desired result of instruction
  2. Determine acceptable evidence
  3. Plan experiences and instruction (i.e., learning strategies, resources, and activities)

In the first stage, instructors will identify the learning goals, outcomes, competencies, and/or skills that learners should retain after taking the online course. As we covered earlier, they will also narrow down the big ideas and essential questions of the course.

In the second stage, instructors will determine how students should demonstrate their knowledge and abilities. This includes choosing assignments and assessments in alignment with the objectives identified in the first stage, as well as self-reflection tasks that have learners consider their own progress.

In the third and final stage, instructors will plan the learning resources and activities that will best help students reach the stated objectives of the course. Ideally, varied learning materials will be incorporated that can be tailored to different learner needs, abilities, and interests.


Additional Resources:


Consider how you can structure learning activities and interactions within the rhythm of your course. The figure above is one of four rhythm chart examples that you can download as an excel file. These charts show you how an online course can be organized to provide a weekly rhythm and clear expectations for your students. Thank you to Professor Dietram Scheufele and Instructional Designer Kevin Thompson for the above example.