Backward Course Design

Backward Course Design (BCD) is a course design framework that embeds learning outcomes and assessment.

  • What do you want to be certain students learn from your course?  
  • How does taking your course contribute to students' learning?

When creating a new course or modifying an existing one, BCD begins with articulating the end goals of the course.  
Constructing these learning outcomes shows students how your course contributes to their development.  It's explicitly stating what successful students can expect to gain as a result of taking it.

Ask yourself, "At the end of my course, what do I want students to know, do, and value?"

                    know…content knowledge


                    value…ways of thinking like a professional in your discipline

Then, answer that question with "At the end of this course, students will [be able to]…" 

The next question to ask is:  "How will I determine how well a student achieves the learning outcomes?"

Once you've written your learning outcome goals for the course, then develop ways to determine how well your students achieved them.  These assessments (i.e., test, paper, project, etc.) require students demonstrate a level of mastery of the subject.  They should reflect the learning outcomes for the course and align with the goals of the academic program.    

Finally, ask, "How will I engage the students to learn the material?"  

  • What activities will you ask students to do so they can be successful on your assessments?  
  • What resources will they need to help them master the outcomes?
  • How will students interact with the content of the course?
  • What will you, as the instructor, do to support their learning?  

Student centered teaching methods contains a list and description of evidence-based, student-centered teaching methods.

The following two videos contain portions of a workshops conducted by Grant Wiggins entitled "Understanding by Design".  They provide an introduction to the thinking used in BCD.

Alignment of learning outcomes, assessments, and activities is an important consideration in BCD.  Think about the alignment of these as you create the course.  If you're modifying an existing course, realigning the outcomes, assessments, and activities can influence student learning.

Where to Begin

  • Focus on outcomes, not processes
  • Start each outcome with an action verb
  • Avoid vague verbs such as know and understand
  • Incorporate a mixture of Lower-order and Higher-order thinking
  • Write the outcomes from the student perspective
  • Check that the outcomes reflect knowledge, skills, or attitudes
  • Try for no more than three outcomes per major topic

Overall questions to ask:

  • How should I design my course to get students to meet the learning outcomes?
  • What would make me unhappy if my students didn't know about it?
  • What do my peers think my course is all about?
  • How do my course learning outcomes align with the program?
  • What are the key principles or concepts that I want to talk about?