Logic tells us we should start at the beginning, so each component of a project is built upon the information that came before. But what if changing up that expectation could breathe new life and infuse fresh thinking into your instructional design?

Author and inspirational speaker Dr. Stephen Covey popularized this idea in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. He explains that to “‘Begin with the End in Mind’ means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.” Applying this approach to instructional design means knowing where you want to end up before you begin a project. This keeps you on a clear path without veering off into fruitless, time-wasting directions.

Identify Results before You Start Designing

A benefit of thinking from end to beginning is you can structure your design based on the results you intend to achieve. Ask yourself, “What do participants need to be able to do as a result of this course?” That way you’ll create targeted instruction geared toward result-driven outcomes. This approach also avoids the temptation to add too much extraneous information, which learners may not actually need to achieve the necessary results.

Create the Assessment First

When you start with course expectations in mind, you can build the learning objectives and content around achieving those expectations. Along these lines, you can try working backward by creating the assessment first. Once you have the completed assessment, you can use it as an outline for developing your content. This way, when you complete the course, you can feel confident that your objectives align with how the course material is presented. This sets up a clear path to success for designers and learners.

For a quick reference to the key concepts of backward design, refer to the infographic 3 Stages of Backward Design.

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