Week 2: Overview

Approaches to Design

1. Outcomes-based Design

In the past, an instructor would be assigned to teach a course and focused first on selecting a textbook and identifying the major topics and concepts that needed to be covered. This often resulted in content-based, transmission model of delivery courses.

As perspectives on how people learn evolved, and with the renewed focus on adult learners, design of learning moved to an "outcome-based learning" approach. The instructor assigned to teach a course would begin from what the learner would be expected to know, believe, do by the end of the course. Learning outcomes were considered, a textbook would be selected, and the instructor would consider how to engage learners and how to assess their learning.


Most course outlines in higher education now include learning outcomes (although some still use the language of "objectives") and course design has become "outcomes-based". 

An associated concept articulated by John Biggs, an Australian-born professor and writer, referred to the value of making the assessment and teaching strategies coherent with the stated outcomes; this concept is known as "constructive alignment."

An "aligned" curriculum is developed from intended learning outcomes, followed by logically connected learning/teaching activities and assessments (including formative and summative or evaluative instruments). The design process is not linear but an integrated flow that is always measured against the intended outcomes for learners.

This outcomes-based approach is used in many educational institutions and is often guided by the specific approach developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. You may hear this referred to as Understanding by Design or Backwards Design. While design still begins from a focus on the learner, the UbD framework and the "backwards" approach help designers overcome the limitations of focusing on content or outcome statements alone.

To learn more about the process of backwards-design (outcomes-based) from the perspective of a designer, take a few minutes to watch the video from Cindy Underhill, an award winning educator and designer from the University of BC (click on the image to open the Youtube video.)

a description of the backwards design process


The Backwards Design Process, Cindy Underhill, Potentially Coherent Youtube channel, CC-BY Attribution-Reuse allowed

Culatta, R. (2015) Transformative Learning (Jack Mezirow) Instructional Design.org. Retrieved from http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/transformative-learning.html

Smith, M.K. (2002) 'Malcolm Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy', the encyclopedia of informal education, http://infed.org/mobi/malcolm-knowles-informal-adult-education-self-direction-and-andragogy/

University of Alaska Fairbanks, eLearning & Distance Education, iTeachU, Pedagogy Resources:  Backward Design, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, Retrieved Nov 2017 from https://iteachu.uaf.edu/backwardsdesign/

University of Athabasca, Community of Inquiry Model (website). Retrieved from https://coi.athabascau.ca/coi-model/

University College Dublin Teaching and Learning, Using Biggs' Model of Constructive Alignment in Curriculum Design, Becoming a Better University Teacher, Creative Commons 3.0 Unported License. Retrieved from http://www.ucdoer.ie/index.php/Using_Biggs'_Model_of_Constructive_Alignment_in_Curriculum_Design/Introduction

Additional references:

Fallahi, Carolyn (2011) Using Fink's Taxonomy in Course Design, Association for Psychological Science

Fink, L. Dee (2005).  A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning (pdf), Dee Fink & Associates. Retrieved from https://www.deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf