Backward Design for Instruction

By Krishna P. C. Madhavan1, Sean Brophy1

1. Purdue University

Download (PDF)

Licensed according to this deed.

Published on


Backward design is an instructional design process that focuses on what specific learning objectives need to be accomplished and how learning will be assessed appropriately before the instructional materials are designed. This design process is the complete opposite of what instructors typically do where they select specific instructional activities or tools and then tailor their learning objectives around these activities. Hence the name, backward design. We emphasize appropriate planning before focusing on implementation details. While on the surface, this design process seems to take a little bit more time, in the long run, it saves instructors significant amount of time and also delivers a better quality learning experience. Given the large range of materials available to instructors through the nanoHUB, the nanoHUB Education and Assessment Group strongly emphasizes the need to use this process to deliver better learning outcomes.


The NCN Education and Assessment Group seeks to enable an evidence-based transformation of the engineering curriculum by disrupting less effective pedagogies through the use of NCN resources. We focus on nanoscale engineering and science.


NCN Education and Assessment Group.


Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd Edition). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Brophy, S. (2009). Backwards Design for Instruction. Presentation delivered at the NCN Simulation-based Learning Workshop held in Chicago, IL.
  • Krishna P. C. Madhavan, Sean Brophy (2010), "Backward Design for Instruction,"

    BibTex | EndNote