Backward Design…Have I Found My Answer?

Backward Design: Start at the End

My vague thesis idea, at this point, is to look at online learning, in the form of MOOCs and for-profit online courses, and figure (1) why they are so successful, and (2), how online learning in higher ed can mimic their success. And by success I don’t only mean enrollments, but also student success rates going way up in terms of retention, completion and graduation.

I was reading Pat James’ blog post, Why Our Work as Online Educations Matters, and she began talking about the differences and similarities between face-to-face (f2f) and online classes. She also started talking about the reasons for these similarities and these differences. Her second point, “Changing the method causes a critical use of outcome-based design,” got me thinking. When designing a online class, you can’t just think of how you will asses students’ learning, you also have to think of how they will complete the assessment. And this doesn’t stop at grades and rubrics. For online educators, this means literally how. Can they complete the assessment with the software required of the course? If they use the computers on campus because they can’t afford their own, can they still complete their assignment? If their tech-savviness is not the highest, will this assignment be accessible to them?

The questions can sometimes shape our courses by shaping the assessments we use to assess outcomes–which is where we began, but might not always be where we end up.

So, the light bulb that went off in my head was this: what if, for-profit online courses, for example, are also using this form of backwards design by starting off with what people are interested in learning and letting that and technological constraints shape the course rather than some tried and true online learning pedagogy (does one even exist?).

Maybe higher ed and for-profit are not as dissimilar as a thought, or maybe they are in the process of moving in the same direction as we speak. In any case, I think Backwards Design is going to be huge piece of the answer to my questions.

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