The Office of Faculty Development

Backwards Design and Goal Setting for Learning

Backwards design refers to planning for your lesson (or course) with the learning goals or objectives in mind first.  Using backward design, the teaching cycle begins by identifying desired learning outcomes, selecting assessment to determine if these outcomes have been met, then to plan the learning activities to support students to meet the outcomes (Wiggins, McTighe 2005).  At Chico State, we identify student learning outcomes (SLOs) as part of this planning process.  These SLOs guide program assessment for the campus and guide instructors in planning for their courses.

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    Examine selected research on goal setting and student learning outcomes:

    Developing Student Learning Outcomes. California State University, Chico.

    (2016). Student Learning Outcomes & Alignment (Google Slides). (Google Slide)

    Hanover Research. (2014). The impact of formative assessment and learning intentions on student achievement. District Administration Practice. (PDF)

    Osueke, B., Mekonnen, B., & Stanton, J. D. (2018). How undergraduate science students use learning objectives to study. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education19(2), 10-1128. DOI: in new window)


    Ready to apply what you have learned about SLOs and goal setting to your planning? Here are some ideas and strategies to get you started:

    1. Determine the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) for your course.  These are often already chosen by your department.  If you are teaching a course that does not yet have SLOs, determine what they will be.
    2. Determine what activities or assessment instrument(s) you will use to assess whether students have met the identified learning outcomes.
    3. Plan the learning activities in which students will participate to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to demonstrate that they have met the learning outcomes.
    4. Consider developing semester and/or unit plans as a resource.  This can help you with planning, adjusting these plans (as you assess your students on an ongoing basis), and keeping yourself focused on your desired learning outcomes.
    5. Complete the teaching cycle: Facilitate your planned learning experiences, reflect on the outcomes of students as they engage in the planned learning experiences and assessments, apply what you have learned about your students and their learning experiences to plan for future lessons (and semesters).  
    6. At all points in the teaching cycle, apply the principles of universal design for learning such that all students may access the content and demonstrate their understanding/skills.
    7. Let your students in on the “secret”.  That is, share your rationale, purpose, and desired outcomes with your students as part of their learning experiences.  It helps for students to know where they are going and why!