Learning Theories



Watch overview videoBackward Design (3:54)


The Backward Design allows instructional designers, educators and or instructions the ability to create a course, unit or lesson based on a three-stage process.  Developed by Wiggins and McTighe, the main idea of this design is based on starting with your end goal first and working backwards to unveil what your learners need to know in order to attain the goal.  The learner’s knowledge and understanding are assessed through activities provided. it is equally important to collect evidence throughout this process instead of at the end to witness their comprehension of the content.

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Identify Desired Results

Establish your desired outcome also consider the goals and curriculum expectations.  Focus on the “big idea” like theories, points of view or concepts. Key questions here are What do you want your learners to know? and What is important for them to know?

Guideline 2 – Identify What is Acceptable Evidence

At this stage, assignments and specific tasks are thought out so that learners will be able to practice and demonstrate their skill and understanding.  These could include a combination of opportunities like tests, quizzes, papers, presentations, small and or large group activities projects and so much more.  This is also a chance to assess and reflect if the activities will develop learner’s understanding and competencies through the collection of evidence. Key questions here are What is the evidence of understanding? and How will you know if learners have achieved the desired results?

Guideline 3 – Design the Learning Experiences

Once there is a clear understanding of the outcome, goals and how the learners are going to tested activities can be designed.  The activities should be developed to help learners achieve the learning outcomes but also designed to comprehensively work on assessment tasks. Keep in mind that the learners should walk away with an understanding of the content from the planned activities.  This is successful when the learner can transfer the content to new situations or scenarios.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – Backward Design Explained

This video provides a framework on how to use the backward design to create post-secondary courses with instructions on how to create objectives, choosing learning activities as well as designing assessments.

Example 2 – Youtube Professors Explanation of Backward Design

This video provides examples of examples professors use to create their backward design models.  They discuss and use in detail units or lessons of what their goals are for their students to make a deep connection to the instruction.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – UDL in classrooms

This resource allows educators to learn how to create an inclusive environment using the backward design model.

Resource 2 – The Logic Of Backward Design

This website gives a step by step process of how to create a backward design.  This guide leads one through from the beginning of the design all the all to the end and also provides process sheets.

Resource 3 – ASCD Understanding By Design

This website provides overview frameworks, articles and books that explain the understanding by design framework.

Resource 4 – Education.com 

This website provides lesson plans in various subject areas.  It also gives a quick overview of the learning objectives but also gives the instructor the chance to create with templates provided.


ASCD (2020). Understanding by Design. [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/research-a-topic/understanding-by-design-resources.aspx

Backward Design. [Web page]. (2017, September 16). Retrieved from https://www.learning-theories.com/backward-design.html

Graff, N. (2011). “An effective and agonizing way to learn”: backwards design and new teachers’ preparation for planning curriculum.  Teacher Education Quarterly, 38(3), 151-168.


Submitted by Jamila Bentham

Contact Info: jamila.bentham@ontariotechu.net

I am an Early Childhood Educator working in the full-day kindergarten program.  I am also currently in the MEd program at Ontario Tech U. I am interested in technology in education especially at the kindergarten and primary levels.



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