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Learning Outcomes

Backwards Design: An Introduction

Backwards Design is a method of instructional design which asks users to begin with the "end" - desired results, goals, or standards - and then build a curriculum from the "evidence of learning (performances) called for by the standard and the teaching needed to equip students to perform" (Wiggins and McTighe). In short, it calls on teachers to identify learning outcomes as a first step and then build a lesson plan that works in service toward those goals. This process has three stages:

  1. Identify desired results: establish curricular priorities by separating desired outcomes into three categories: (1)"Enduring Understanding," things you want learners to remember after they have forgotten everything else about the course, or concepts that have to be grasped before other knowledge can be gained (2) "Important to Know and Do," skills, methods, principles, and concepts without which learning would be incomplete (3) "Worth Being Familiar With," things that can be covered if there is time, or may be covered adequately through supplementary material, such as tutorials or readings.
  2. Determine acceptable evidence: think about the evidence needed to document and validate that the desired learning outcomes have been achieved. Evidence should be collected over time and does not have to be entirely focused on an end of workshop activity. For example, if one of your goals is for students to learn how to problem-solve, give them an assessment that requires a demonstration of problem-solving skills (Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching). 
  3. Plan learning experience and instruction: once you have identified outcomes and assessment measures, decide how you will teach the concepts. Focus instruction around the "enduring understanding" concepts and "important to know and do." Only include the "worth being introduced to" when the other two categories are completely satisfied.