Working Backwards from Learning Goals and Objectives

Learning goals, also known as course goals, define the general purpose of a course and paint the big picture.  From the broad course goals flow more specific and concrete learning objectives.  The learning objectives must to be constructed in ways that allow both teacher and student to assess whether the objectives have been met during the course of study.


Getting Started


Beginning with the End in Mind


  • Knowing what you hope to accomplish sets the stage for iterative improvements in the teaching cycle. The process can be thought of as Backward Course Design which is just that – begin with the end in mind. What are the intended learning objectives for your course? How will you know that students have learned what you intended for them to learn?
  • If you define the outcomes clearly enough, the learning activities that are most salient should become readily apparent, and the assessment strategies much more focused. Ask yourself: What skills will demonstrate achievement of the learning objectives? What content is required to support the development of these skills? What are the desired long-term learning outcomes (i.e. what do you want your students to remember in 30 years?)

Establishing a Context for the Course


  • To establish a backdrop for all that follows, some find it helpful to draft a course ‘story’ that one might tell on the first day of class. Some questions to help frame the story include: why is it exciting (or important though not so obviously exciting)? Why should students care? What is the course and what is it not?
  • From this departure point, a logical next step is to describe the intended learning objectives for the course that will help you and your students to achieve your overall course goals. Each component in the course should link back to those overarching goals.

The Benefits of Backward Course Design


  • During the course design process, the content should be distilled and prioritized. The learning outcomes will become underlying themes which thread the course together. Backward course design will allow you to create a road map: where are we now and where are we headed?
  • When students understand the course goals, they can then understand how each assignment will help them work towards these. Students will be able to see the road map of the course and identify the relevance of each activity, exam, quiz, or assignment.

Additional Resources


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