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Backward Design

This Course Map Guide utilizes a backward design model, which begins with the end or the desired learning outcome first. The backward design approach is a learner-centered approach and is useful for developing both online and face-to-face courses. Backward design ensures that course mapping focuses on the outcome of the course and aligns all course components back to those desired outcomes.


In their explanation of backward design, Wiggens and McTighe (2012) suggest starting course design with determining intended learning outcomes and acceptable evidence before planning learning experiences, instruction, or learning materials. A unit or a course might be thought of in terms of collected assessment evidence needed to validate that the desired learning has been achieved, rather than simply as content to be covered or as a series of learning activities. 

Begin with the end.




Identify desired results. Identify the outcomes or the intended results of your course. Describe what your learners should know, understand, and be able to do by the end of the course. These statements are your learning outcomes. Learning outcomes are often targeted by standards or goals established by the program. 

Determine acceptable evidence that validate and demonstrate achieved learning outcomes. Identify how you plan to assess learners on their knowledge and mastery of information, skills, and attitudes. Determine proficiency levels and the kind of evidence learners need to demonstrate at the different levels. These collective assessments are your formative and summative assessments, and proficiency criteria are your grading rubrics.


Plan learning experiences and instruction that give students the opportunity to gain an understanding, construct meaning from their knowledge, and place that knowledge into practice. Think about the kinds of activities that will give learners opportunity to demonstrate their progress, provide evidence of their learning, and establish a learning community with their peers. Then, think about the instructional material that will equip and support learners to understand the principles, master the skills, and construct meaning.


McTighe, J. and Wiggins, G. (2012). Understanding by design framework. ASCD. Retrieved from

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