Backward Design: A Novel Way to Design Training

Instructional design is the process of analyzing performance problems, then developing instructional products aimed at resolving the problem through skills development and knowledge transfer (Reiser, 2001a). Strategies to accomplish this goal are known as instructional design models. While there are several popular models, to chose from, I believe most developers have a favored model that the follow. Beginning in the 1960’s, a framework for thinking about instructional design began to germinate (Rieser, 2001b). One of the earliest, and most common models is ADDIE, even though Michael Molenda (2003) reported that he could not find an originating source for ADDIE, and believes it is simply a generic framework for the instructional design process in general. Since then, several other models have evolved. One of these is the backward design model.

The Backward design method was introduced by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2005) in their book Understanding by Design. This model has been used in the education, manufacturing, and medical fields (Bruce & Doherty, 2011), and is a three-step approach for planning instruction. During the first stage, the goal is to identify the desired outcomes. During the second stage, it is important to determine how you will know the students have achieved the desired results. Then, and only then, during the third stage, do you think about how the content will be delivered and plan instruction. According to Fox & Doherty (2011), the reason to use backward design is to shift the focus from a a specific instructional method to the learning objectives and to increase intentionality. They reason that traditional methods often fall short of solving performance problems because of the their tendency to focus on how the content can be delivered. Backward design overcomes the shortcoming by shifting the focus to the desired result and forcing the developer to be more intentional about the instructional methods used in a backward designed course.

Prior to this assignment, I had not heard of the backward design instructional method. What I like about the model is that it places the focus on what is most important, outcomes. Working in a business environment, I know how important it is to be able to show that training has made an impact toward improving performance and resolving problems. By starting with the objectives and outcomes in mind, I believe it is easier to backwards engineer a viable solution and to gain stakeholder buy-in for innovative ways to deliver training. The development team I work on recently began moving away from using ADDIE toward using SAM due to it SAM’s iterative nature. So these two models are the ones I am most familiar with. I do spend most of my time in the analysis phase trying to understand exactly what the stakeholders want and identify learning objectives, so in many ways I am primed to move toward the backward design approach. I have several training projects in my pipeline for the rest of the fiscal year and I am going to experiment with using the backward design approach on one of them. I am curious to discover how this differs from what I am already doing by heavily focusing on the A in ADDIE.

Although I plan to experiment with the Backward design approach, my intention is to still apply social constructivism theories to the actual design of the instructional methods and learning activities. The difference between an instructional design method and the learning theory is that the instructional design method provides you with a framework by which to approach the development of the training content, while a learning theory provides you with research-based concepts and methods for developing specific learning activities. In my experience, I have found that the focus of the instructional design method is the course developer and the focus of the learning theory is the learner. It is important to differentiate between the two only in terms of developer understanding. Stakeholders do not need to know, and in most cases that I have been involved with, don’t care about the instructional design method or learning theories. What they care about is what is included in the training, how will it be delivered, and how will the learning be evaluated.


Fox, B. E., & Doherty, J. J. (2011). Design to learn, learn to design: Using backward design for information literacy instruction. Communications in Information Literacy, 5(2), 144-155. Retrieved from

Molenda, M. (n.d.). In search of the elusive ADDIE model – molenda_03.pdf. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from$file/molenda_03.pdf

Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: part I: A history of instructional media. Educational Technology Research & Development, 49(1), 53–64.

Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: part II: A history of instructional design. Educational Technology Research & Development, 49(2), 57–67.



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