Course Design (Webinar, Teaching & Learning with Technology)

Review this document to learn the foundations of course organization in this planning-centered material on how to develop your course using backward design. 

Your Instructional Design Partner will work one-on-one with you to support your course design. Find your Instructional Design Partner’s email address on the Teaching and Learning with Technology website. Scroll down and look for your department or academic component to identify the email address for your Instructional Design Partner. Send an email to set up an online or in-person meeting.

Backward Design Overview

Learn how to approach your course planning using Backward Design, a process where the instructor begins with the course objectives and designs backward from there. Backward Design can help bring more intentionality, transparency, and efficacy in achieving learning outcomes to instruction.

Step 1: Summarize Your Goals

  • Think about what you want students to leave class knowing or being able to do​.
  • What are the big ideas and concepts your students should retain after the course? ​
  • Start with a 1-sentence Mission Statement for your course

Step 2: Write or Review Objectives

  • Consider adding Course Level Objectives and Module Level Objectives​
  • Course Level Objectives are goals for the entire course​
  • Module Level Objectives should build toward Course Level Objectives

Step 3: Determine Acceptable Evidence

  • Before you plan your materials and activities, reflect on what would constitute evidence of student success.

Step 4: Create Instructional Materials and Activities

Consider how you will convey the necessary information and skills to students​. Instructional materials might include: ​

  • Lectures (written, video, or in person)​
  • Readings​
  • Graphs, Charts or Tables​
  • Videos

Step 5: Assess Student Success

  • Assessment determines whether the learning objectives have been met. ​
  • All objectives and assessments should be clearly stated throughout the course.​
  • Evidence is not necessarily grades. It could be shown in oral and written work, interpretations, application of knowledge, demonstrations of perspective, displaying empathy, and showing meta-cognitive awareness.

Step 6: Reflect on Instruction

  • Since instructor planning has been intentional, assessing what can be improved is essential to the process​
  • Instructors can continue to plan and implement their role strategically

A Note about Adapting Course Material You Already Have

  • Go back to Learning Objectives as you review your materials
  • Break your materials down into smaller sections
  • Turn longer text into checklists, bullet point lists, and simple review sheets
  • Keep only content that is relevant to your Course Objectives and consider moving the rest to an Appendix

Next, we will work through each step of Backward Design in more detail. Download the Course Design Worksheet to follow along.

Write Your Course Mission Statement

The Course Mission Statement is similar to a thesis statement for an essay or a mission statement for a business. It should summarize your goals for the course and use clear language to state what students will be able to do or know at the end of the course.

Example:  At the end of the course, students will have a clear understanding of what constitutes effective writing and how to engage in the writing process themselves. 

Write or Review Objectives

Use your mission statement to write clear objectives for your course. A well-designed course will include both course-level objectives and module-level objectives. Course level objectives are goals for the entire course. Module-level objectives should build toward course-level objectives. 

As you write objectives, keep in mind that you should use words that layout measurable actions. Words that are not measurable are learn, know, and understand. 

Action verbs to use when writing course objectives
Know Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create
  • Define
  • Identify
  • Describe
  • Label 
  • List
  • Name 
  • State
  • Match
  • Recognize
  • Select
  • Examine 
  • Locate
  • Memorize
  • Quote 
  • Recall
  • Explain
  • Describe
  • Interpret
  • Paraphrase
  • Summarize
  • Classify
  • Compare
  • Differentiate 
  • Discuss
  • Distinguish
  • Extend
  • Predict
  • Associate
  • Contrast
  • Demonstrate
  • Solve
  • Apply
  • Illustrate
  • Modify
  • Use
  • Calculate
  • Change
  • Choose
  • Show
  • Sketch
  • Complete
  • Construct
  • Interpret
  • Produce
  • Analyze
  • Compare
  • Classify
  • Contrast
  • Distinguish
  • Separate
  • Explain
  • Select
  • Categorize
  • Connect
  • Differentiate
  • Divide
  • Order
  • Appraise
  • Reframe
  • Criticize
  • Evaluate
  • Order
  • Appraise
  • Judge
  • Support
  • Compare
  • Decide
  • Assess
  • Defend
  • Estimate
  • Measure 
  • Predict
  • Rank
  • Design
  • Compose
  • Create
  • Plan
  • Combine
  • Formulate
  • Invent
  • Hypothesize
  • Substitute
  • Compile 
  • Construct 
  • Develop 
  • Organize 
  • Arrange


  1. Demonstrate active reading strategies
  2. Analyze written works for their structure and rhetorical effectiveness
  3. Demonstrate an effective process for inventing, drafting, revising, and editing written work
  4. Write clear essays in accordance to academic writing conventions

Create Instructional Material

Consider how you will convey the necessary information to students. Think about the best methods of instruction to accomplish your objectives. For example, if your objectives is for students to be able to write essays, instructional materials should focus on the writing process. 

Consider also the order of your instructional materials. They should build knowledge and skills sequentially. 


  • Lectures (written, video, or in person)
  • Readings
  • Graphs, charts, or tables
  • Videos

Create Learning Materials

Consider what kind of learning activities will help students learn skills and knowledge needed to achieve learning objectives. Think carefully about how activities will help students meet learning objectives. For example, if your objective is for students to be able to write essays, asking students to take a quiz is probably not a helpful learning activity.


  • Quizzes
  • Practice Problems
  • Games
  • Presentations
  • Essays or Papers
  • Free writes
  • Worksheets
  • Lab Projects

Assess Student Success

Assessment determines whether the learning objectives have been met. All objectives and assessments should be clearly stated throughout the course so that students know how they are being assessed. When assessing mastery, consider whether someone not familiar with the course would be able to say whether a student was successful based on the work they've submitted. 

Example:  Evidence is not necessarily grades. It could be shown in oral and written work, interpretations, application of knowledge, demonstrations of perspective, displaying empathy, and showing meta-cognitive awareness

Reflect on Instruction

According to the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching, "Learning assessment is like a magnifying glass we hold up to students' learning to discern whether the teaching and learning process is functioning well or is in need of change" (2019). Since instructor planning has been intentional, assessing what can be improved is essential to the process. Instructors can continue to plan and implement their role strategically. Backwards design is a cyclical, rather than a linear process. 


  1. What worked in the course?
  2. Did the majority of students meet the learning objectives?
  3. What might be improved? Instructional materials? Activities?


Bowen, Ryan S., (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Combs, K., GIbson, S., Hays, J., Saly, J., & Wendt, J. (2008). Enhancing curriculum and delivery: linking assessment to learning objectives. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33:1, 87-102, DOI: 10.

Dixson, M. (2010). Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 10, No. 2, June, pp. 1 – 13.

Herrington, J., Oliver, R., & Reeves, T. (2002). Patterns of Engagement in Authentic Online Learning Environments. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 19, no. 1, 279-286.

Vai, M., & Sosulski, K. (2015). Essentials of Online Course Design: A Standards-Based Guide. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis.

Wroten, C. (2014, 01 09). 4 Tips For Content Chunking In e-Learning. Retrieved from eLearning Industry:

Support Options

  1. Information on How to request a Canvas Sandbox course is available.
  2. Contact an Instructional Design Partner to create learning activities for students, training to use Canvas features, or talk about effective ways to design your Canvas courses. 
  3. To request technical support, submit a Technology Service Desk email to start a ticket. 


Article ID: 103019
Wed 3/25/20 1:57 PM
Thu 4/2/20 8:07 AM