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Backward design is a strategy instructors can use to maximize the likelihood that students achieve the desired goals for the course. Imagine instruction is like archery. The teaching strategies and instructional materials are bow and arrows, and what we want students to get out of the course is the target. Backward design helps make sure the arrows are actually aimed at the target. When instructors design their teaching without the target in mind, they often miss the mark.

For example, many instructors would like for their students to develop critical thinking skills. If all of the course is mistargeted toward covering factual knowledge, students won't learn to think critically about the facts they are learning, how those facts came to be known, how the facts relate to one another, and how they can apply their factual knowledge in new contexts such as the next class they take.