1. Make specific learning goals
The first part for the process has two steps:
- Plan what the students should learn in the course
- Make specific learning goals for each teaching unit
Backwards design begins with planning what the students should learn. For many teachers, it is advisable to start with the list of learning outcomes described found on the course pages, under the heading “Learning outcome”.
The National Qualification Framework for Lifelong Learning (NQF) provides guidelines for the descriptions of the learning outcomes for courses and study programs, and the learning outcomes is a contract between the University and the students. The learning outcomes should include knowledges, skills and general competencies.
Verbs for learning
In course planning, it is helpful to focus on the verbs in each of the learning outcomes. The students should not only acquire knowledge, but also use their knowledge in different ways. Verbs such as analyse or discuss provide important information about what students should learn to do in the course.
The verbs describe an increasing complexity of student learning and development, both within a subject and through a whole degree. For example, it is easier to identify something by using terms and concepts than it is to analyse and interpret a data set, which in turn is less complex than developing new knowledge.
The model The structure of observed learning outcomes (called the SOLO taxonomy) sorts the different verbs in the context of student learning. In order to facilitate in-depth learning and general competence, it is important to develop learning outcomes, teaching methods, and assessment forms that are at the qualitative end of the taxonomy.
Examples from courses
- Human Rights at The Faculty og Law
- Health Economics at The Medical Faculty
- Ethnography at The Faculty of Social Sciences
- Counselling and innovation at The Faculty of Education
- Media, War and Journalism at The Faculty of Humanities
- Interaction Design at The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences
The learning outcomes are descriptions at an overall level. In order to specify the course planning you can make specific learning goals to detail each of the learning outcomes.
The specific learning goals help you plan each teaching unit and make choices about assessment forms. The specific learning goals can also help students understand how to emphasise different parts of the course curriculum.
In defining specific learning goals you can specify what it means to “be familiar with” a particular subject area. Does "be familiar with" mean that students should be able to reproduce terminology, or should they use use theories and concepts to compare and analyse a text or phenomenon?
Learning outcomes and learning goals provide a clear direction for the teaching, and are central to designing good assessments. They also help you select relevant activities in lectures and seminars, as well as planning good instructions for laboratory exercises, field work and other assignments.
Example of specific learning objectives
In the example below, a learning outcome is specified as four different learning goals. Each of the four points can be covered by a teaching unit or activity. Notice that the verbs in the four learning goals indicate an increasing complexity in students' learning and are distributed across the SOLO taxonomy.
- After completing the course, students should be familiar with the major theories of learning
- Students should be able to describe the five most important theories of learning
- Students should be able to identify learning theories from texts and examples
- Students should be able to discuss learning theories in the context of digital teaching
- Students should be able to reflect on their own learning process
Questions for planning:
- Do the learning outcomes described on the course pages match your course?
- Do the learning outcomes cover knowledge, skills and general competence?
- Do the learning outcomes cover both simple and more complex skills?
- How do the learning outcomes fit into the study program?
- How can you use the learning goals in conversations with students about their learning and professional development?
- How can you use the learning outcomes to plan assessment forms and teaching activities?