I have long advocated, in consonance with sound learning principles, that in a good design process works backwards:
- start with the desired outcomes as capabilities,
- align assessment to the outcomes,
- and then design the learning experience to achieve those outcomes.
This shouldn’t be new. Recently, I was pointed towards Wiggins & McTighe’s Understanding by Design, which turns out to be a curricular approach predicated on just such lines. I am of mixed feelings.
First, I am thrilled to see someone in formal education talking about looking at more meaningful outcomes, particularly aimed at “clarify learning goals, devise revealing assessments of student understanding, and craft effective and engaging learning activities”. This is something I’ve been trying to argue for in my work with formal education, e.g. with publishers, schools, and more. It’s a more enlightened approach to design.
On the other hand, it’s sort of like my reaction when we investigated what should be covered in continuing medical education and were told that we should proselytize evidence-based medicine: “what have they been doing ’til now?!?!” I continue to be amazed at how folks go about things in ways that do not reflect what we understand about doing things well. And what I’ve seen of their 6 Facets of Understanding seem a bit vague (and mea culpa, I have not read their thorough exposition, but it seems like YAT, Yet Another Taxonomy), though I’m perfectly willing to be wrong about that.
Interestingly, they apparently do not recommend applying this approach to individual lesson plans, and instead constrain it to curriculum level goals. I can see how the focus should be on the goal, not the time-frame, and I personally believe in spreading out learning over a longer period of time.
It’s nice to have another label to attach to good design, so I laud the initiative, and hope we can get more good design, and more understanding, in our schools and everywhere else.