Backwards design

The educational technology and digital learning wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search


  • Backwards design (or backward design) later renamed to Understanding by Design® is an instructional design method invented by Wiggins and McTighe and is part of their larger Understanding by Design framework.
  • “Backward design begins with the end in mind: What enduring understandings do I want my students to develop?” ([1]). It is particularly suited for teacher designers who think in terms of what they wish to achieve.

More precisely, the understanding by design framework means: 1) focus on teaching and assessing for understanding and learning transfer, and 2) design curriculum “backward” from those ends. Understanding by Design Framework, retrieved March 2018)

The model

The model has 3 stages:

  1. Identify desired results (learning outcomes)
    • “What should students know, understand, and be able to do? What is worthy of understanding? What enduring understandings are desired?” ([2])
  2. Determine Acceptable Evidence (means to assess if learners have learnt)
    • “How will we know if students have achieved the desired results and met the standards? What will we accept as evidence of student understanding and proficiency?”([3])
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction. This includes:
    • definition of knowledge (know-that), skills and procedures (know-how) students ought to master
    • definition of materials
    • definition of learning /teaching activities (scenarios).

Wiggins and McTighe insist a lot on enduring understandings and that go beyond simple facts and skills to include larger concepts, principles or processes.


There exist other variants, e.g. below is a set of steps adapted to specific schoolteachers in a specific environment (see Backward Design Overview & FAQ:

  1. Decide on the themes, enduring understandings and essential questions for the unit.
  2. Design a summative for the end of the unit.
  3. Align the unit with the New York State ELA Standards and choose outcomes, strategies and best practices to teach them.
  4. Choose resources to create a rich and engaging multi-genre thematically-linked unit.
  5. Weave back and forth across the curriculum map to make revisions and refinements.



  • Wiggins,G., McTighe, J. (2006) Are the Best Curricular Designs "Backward"?
  • Wiggins,G., McTighe, J. (2001). Understanding by Design, Prentice Hall. ISBN 013093058X
  • Wiggins,G. & Jay McTighe: (2004). Understanding by Design Professional Development Workbook, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Alexandria, VA.