Begin With the End in Mind

Welcome to Learning Event 2 (#LE2): Beginning with the end in mind

(Need more info about Learning Events in general? Visit the Learning Commons for a full description of this series.)

Learning Event 2 (#LE2) focuses on “backward design,” an approach that emphasizes setting your goals–what you want students to know and be able to do and practiced writing in #LE1–first and then planning assessments and individual lessons. Backward design is a process educators use to design learning experiences and utilize instructional techniques to achieve specific learning objectives.

Definition: Backward design, sometimes called backward planning or backward mapping, begins with the learning objectives of a unit or course, and then proceeds backward to create individual modules and lessons to achieve those desired goals. The thinking behind “backward design” has a long history in education, going back to the seminal work, Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, byRalph W. Tyler in 1947. Then,Grant Wiggins andJay McTighe popularized “backward design” for the modern era in their book, Understanding by Design (1998).

  • Starting with the end in mind helps educators develop a sequence of lessons, problems, projects, presentations, assignments, and assessments that help students achieve the goals of the course.
  • By beginning with the end in mind, backward design allows educators to encourage students to actually learn what they were expected to learn–the learning objectives identified (see LE1 for guidance on developing/revising these) .

Maybe you have already designed and rolled out your course, but need to move your work online. You can start by reconsidering where you want students to be, academically, by the end of the course. When revisiting the activities, assessments, and tools used in your course, you have an opportunity to only focus on aspects ensuring your students can achieve the goals of the course.

If you make changes mid-semester, this is an opportunity to talk with students.

  • You can explain how you’re ensuring the syllabus, course curriculum, and assessments all align to provide a structure that supports their success.
  • Given the challenges you might encounter moving online, you can take a moment to talk with your students about what is most important during the remainder of the semester. Consider this a chance to discuss with your students how you’ll help them achieve and succeed during the remainder of the semester and how they can help one another.

Check out the materials presented below to learn and engage more!


Understanding by Design – Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. “Our lessons, units, and courses should be logically inferred from the results sought, not derived from the methods, books, and activities with which we are most comfortable. Curriculum should lay out the most effective ways of achieving specific results… in short, the best designs derive backward from the learnings sought.”

Understanding by Design (UbD) framework (PDF) – McTighe & Wiggins, 2012. “The Understanding by Design framework is guided by the confluence of evidence from two streams—theoretical research in cognitive psychology, and results of student achievement studies.”

Creating a Course: “Understanding by Design” – Ashley Wiersma. “Learning with understanding is more likely to promote transfer and application than simply memorizing information from a text or lecture..”


Educator Grant Wiggins leads a workshop on UbD to help teachers clarify learning goals, devise assessments that reveal student understanding, and craft effective learning activities. (10:51)
Erica Halverson talks about curricular redesign and how the “backward design” framework can help you think through these issues. (9:36)
How to outline your project assessments using backwards design. (4:46)


What knowledge and skills do students need to reach the desired outcomes for your course?


Examine, review, and/or consider the revision of activities and assessments for your course(s) to ensure they keep the end in mind.

Make it happen:

There are typically three stages of backward design.

  1. Identify desired results (big ideas and skills)
  • What knowledge, skills, and dispositions should students master?
  • What are the big ideas (principles, theories, concepts, points of view) student should understand?
  1. Determine acceptable evidence of learning (assessment)
  • How will you know if students have achieved the desired goals and objectives of the course?
  • What will you accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency?
  1. Design/plan learning experiences (instruction)
  • What knowledge and skills will students need to develop and practice along the way to achieve the desired goals and objectives of the course?
  • What teaching methods, sequence of activities, and resources will students need to achieve the goals of the course?
  • What texts or other materials must students become familiar with in order to master the skills and big ideas you outlined in stage one?

We would love to hear about what you created or implemented as a result of this Learning Experience! Please send an email to if you have something to share!


add google form here