A backwards approach to creating effective content

You identify a gap in performance and you feel that an educational activity is one approach to bridge that gap. Now what? You have a topic but what is the best way to tackle this subject in an educational activity. Try working backwards!

When designing continuing education using backwards design, planning starts with the end in mind. This process, as defined by Wiggins and McTighe in the book What is Backwards Design? (1998), begins with determining the outcomes first and progressing backwards. This process gives a clear focus on understanding the big ideas and main points of the educational activity. It’s a process that involves planning from outcomes rather than planning towards outcomes.

3 — Identify Desired Outcomes (Goals/Objectives)

Before designing any course content, you first need to determine the course objectives. Objectives are concise, measurable statements that start with an action verb, such as administer, analyze, construct, etc. Effective learning objectives will drive effective content.

To identify the learning objective, ask yourself probing questions such as:

· What are the desired outcomes you want your participants to reach/display?

· What do you hope that the students will have learned after participating in this activity?

· What skills, knowledge, competence will promote better performance and best practice?

2 — Determine Assessment Strategies (Assessment/Evaluation)

The next stage of this process includes planning and creating assessments, such as post-tests, self-assessments, writing assignments, etc. In this phase you would determine how you will measure the participant’s progress towards the desired outcomes. You need to ensure that your assessments match the learning goals (objectives) you set in the previous step.

To determine how you will collect this evidence, ask yourself these questions:

· What will you accept as evidence of participant’s understanding and skill?

· What criteria is used to access the work?

· Will the assessment distinguish between participants that understand from those who don’t?

1 — Devise Methods (Activities/Content)

In the final stage, the focus is more on instructional strategies and learning activities. Your course should be both engaging and effective. An engaging design stimulates students to actively take part, whereas an effective design includes appropriate evidence that desired results have been achieved.

To establish effective learning activities, ask yourself these questions:

· What is the recipe will reach the end product?

· learning activities will lead students to reach the desired outcomes?

· What materials and resources are best suited to achieve these goals?

· What facts, concepts, principles, and procedures will participants need to display?


“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.” Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This is the essence of this strategy towards content creation. Backwards design emphasizes the importance of questions when designing content to promote enduring learning. While using the process it is also important not to forget the qualities of good education. Education should be fair and balanced, relevant and current, and evidence-based.

Tidbits from a former provider


Wigging And Mctighe (1998) What Is Backwards Design? Boston, Ma: Pearson

Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic. New York: Free Press