Backwards Design

For me, ideal pedagogical design of a technology enhanced learning experience must begin with the end, i.e: backwards design. Primary goals and outcomes must be established.

Following this, we set out how we will know these goals have been met. This may include formal assessments, conversations with students, self reflections etc.

Finally we must select the appropriate tools to develop the students’ understanding. These tools include all different forms of technology including computer software, digital instruments, manual tools (such as microscopes, prisms, models), instructional approaches, and ways of thinking. It is important to consider all types of technology (especially the cognitive/pedagogical ones) so that we do not fixate on the most exciting tool but instead the most effective tool. To select the best tools we will need to consider a number of factors. These include:

  • The composition of the class: There interests, beliefs, conceptions/misconceptions, interests, familiarity with the proposed technology, etc.
  • Our own abilities with a given technology
  • availability of a given technology
  • Relationship of the technology to the field/topic (is the technology authentic to this discipline?)

Once the goals, assessment, and tools/methods have been established, we have a sound basis for a technology enhanced learning environment.



  1. Hi Daniel,
    I agree with the backward design, for the most part, the problem I see that pops up with this is the educator who knows where they want to be, designs their lessons and use of technology, but do not leave time or are not prepared for the eventuality that what they chose did not work. For backwards design to be effective there needs to be a continuous feedback loop of what is working and what is not. If it is working great, if not what are our contingency plans. Even if there is no specific contingency in place the understanding that intervention is needed and accommodated for is so important. I have heard a lot of staff who just followed their original path sit back at the end of a unit and say, “hunh, I have no idea why these kids don’t get this, the unit went well”. Did it go well or did it run smoothly? In education, those are two very different questions.

    1. I am certainly not advocating a blind adherence to a design produced from this method. The design is simply a framework. I would even say that there is a hierarchy of flexibility within this model with goals being the most firmly established (often mandated by curriculum), assessment having some flexibility, and instructional methods and tools having the most.

      The points above to consider when choosing an approach may change daily and certainly require constant re-evaluation. It really isn’t the same group of students that walks into my science 6 class at the beginning of December as it is at the end of the month 🙂

  2. Hi Daniel,

    I really enjoyed the points you made, especially your comments around the use of different forms of technology to ensure that we are using “the most effective tool” rather than “the most exciting tool.” I think it is easy for all of us (both as educators and as students) to focus in on the more exciting tools, or better promoted tools, or “flashier” tools to use in our classrooms (or to complete our projects) which can happen at the expense of more effective technology as you point out. I really appreciate the factors you have given in order to determine which tool(s) should be used in a specific case. While I recognize that students “love” certain technologies, I am not always convinced that they will use them as effectively as they could to demonstrate their learning (iMovie has fallen into this category for me). Depending on class composition, interests, learning styles and so on, we may choose our technologies very differently from one term/year to the next, even if we are teaching the exact same courses/outcomes.

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