Why Backward Design?

Imagine that your students run into each other three years after taking your course. What do you want them to remember most?

Backward design (Wiggins, McTighe) is a framework for designing courses that starts with the intended outcomes and works backwards. Once broader course outcomes are identified the next step is to identify what evidence (in the form of assessments) would demonstrate that these course outcomes have been achieved. Once the assessments are determined, the third step is planning practice activities that will help students practice and receive feedback prior to the assessment. Finally, developing a course schedule and assigning readings and supportive materials/activities that are in alignment across the course. Through this process, the purpose and intended outcomes of the course as a whole are clearly communicated to the learner AND the purpose of each individual activity and assessment are also clear to the learner.

Here is an annotated bibliography of research in the impacts of backwards design.

Featured Resource

Visit UCSD’s Course Mapping Guide below. This tool will help you to create an aligned course design.

Additional Resources

Fink, L. Dee “A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning: This workbook style guide will walk you through the different elements of backwards course design.


Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition (This book is available for loan from the CEILS library, HH 122)

Drawing on feedback from thousands of educators around the world who have used the UbD framework since its introduction in 1998, the authors have greatly revised and expanded their original work to guide educators across the K-16 spectrum in the design of curriculum, assessment, and instruction. With an improved UbD Template at its core, the book explains the rationale of backward design and explores in greater depth the meaning of such key ideas as essential questions and transfer tasks.


Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses 2nd Edition (This book is available for loan from the CEILS library, HH 122)

This edition addresses new research on how people learn, active learning, and student engagement; includes illustrative examples from online teaching; and reports on the effectiveness of Fink’s time-tested model. Fink also explores recent changes in higher education nationally and internationally and offers more proven strategies for dealing with student resistance to innovative teaching.

Tapping into the knowledge, tools, and strategies in Creating Significant Learning Experiences empowers educators to creatively design courses that will result in significant learning for their students.