How to Focus On “Backward Design” for Creating Online Courses

As course creators, we often design from the top down. We think we know exactly what our audience needs, and in turn, shape our course content around this framework.

On the other hand, if we rely on “backward design” (where the content is learner-focused), our eLearning will achieve our objectives better and resonate with our audience.

Here’s how to stay focused on the learner and implement a backward design in eLearning.

Ask the Right Question

What do they need to know to be successful? A simple question, but let’s break it down a bit.

Note the qualifier “successful”. This is extremely important. It’s easy to be so close to your content that you lose sight of what your learner’s goals actually are.

I’ve taken many online courses that have completely failed at delivering the content needed to accomplish my goals. Instead, the designer created a course they wanted – not a course that the learner needed. To ensure you’re meeting the need vs. the want, you have to look at things from the learner’s perspective.

  • What is success to them?
  • How is success measured?
  • What is needed for them to accomplish this success

Let the answers to these questions guide all decisions on what content to include and what content to exclude.

Organize the Answers

Now that you have the answers to that all-important question, begin organizing those answers into similar chunks.

Your learner’s success/goals become your learning objectives.

What is needed to accomplish that success becomes your modules/topics?

You’ll begin seeing blocks of content that can be logically grouped to guide the learner along that path of either knowing or doing. Use your learning objectives as buckets to place the “what is needed” topics inside of each bucket.

This is where storyboarding comes in handy!

Knowing What You Don’t Know

If this is your first course or content that you haven’t released into the world before, there’s likely a whole list of things that you haven’t even considered from your learner’s perspective.

How do you answer those questions when you didn’t even know they were questions in the first place?

One of the easiest ways (and one I’d highly recommend) is hosting a workshop or soft launch of your course beforehand. This will quickly reveal what questions and needs your learners actually have, and what components are missing from your course. I bet things will pop up that you never saw coming.

Value this free feedback greatly! It is a direct window into the very customer your course is targeting. If your workshop participants have these questions, you can bet the rest of your learners will have similar questions.

Address any gaps in your content before continuing and go through a few iterations of this process to land on a course that nails, “What do they need to know to be successful?”

The discount for my Instructional Design program expires in 5 days, be sure to grab it before it’s too late. Enter MARCHSPECIAL2021 in the coupon field and start learning today!

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