Backwards Design – Instructional Design Worksheet

My Instructional Design Worksheet is a planning document that collects and organizes the high level design information for a class. I follow a model called backwards design which focuses on the end results, then designing the training to meet those results.

While my examples focus on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) training, which is common practice in manufacture and sale of food products, no knowledge of these practices or the food manufacture industry are necessary to understand the design principles at work.

What problem is this training trying to solve?

Backwards design starts with the most important question: “What problem does this training try to solve?”. This gives the designers a goal to strive for and a yardstick to judge whether or not the training was successful. Without a clear goal, design becomes guesswork and it’s often not apparent if the training accomplished anything or not.

GMP EXAMPLE: Employees and contractors are not following GMP policies for gowning and tool maintenance. This could cause us to fail the upcoming audit. 

In this example, employees not following the procedure isn’t the actual problem. It’s possible they’re not following it because it’s impractical or outdated. If we continue to delve into why this is a problem we eventually get to the real pain point: non-compliance could cause the client to fail the audit.


Theme and Mood

It’s important to agree on the theme (the story you’re telling with the training) and the mood (the overall voice and feel of the course) so stakeholders aren’t surprised by the final product. An onboarding training meant to feel like you’re joining a family is a different project from one that’s meant to impress you with the organizations history and credentials.

GMP Example: Theme and mood
Theme: GMP practices are important and easy to follow.

Mood: Warm and welcoming. “You have a problem to solve” not “You are a problem.”

People respond better when the training focuses on them and their needs. The goal of the training might be to achieve organizational goals, but the training isn’t written for the organization, it’s written for the learners.


Essential Questions

Essential questions and learning objectives form the backbone of a good training. I work with clients to develop a list of questions that include things the learners might ask, and measurable objectives that will be learned or able to be performed after the training, then we review the list together.

GMP Example: Essential Questions

  1. Why are GMP procedures important?
  2. How do I gown appropriately for the production floor?
  3. How do I sanitize my tools for the production floor?

In this example, I would probably push back against question A. It’s important to provide context for what you’re learning, but too much emphasis can be placed on this section, which doesn’t provide learners with new skills. This topic is often a much higher priority to management than it is the actual learners. This kind of Essential Question/topic is also often a sign of attempting to address a motivation gap through training. Training should be focused on addressing knowledge or skill gaps, which can be taught; motivation, not so much.


Learning Objectives

Having clear, measurable learning objectives is what separates design from guesswork.  I phrase these in the “learners will be able to…” format because it keeps the focus on skill building, rather than a simple info dump. I avoid verbs that you can’t see happening like “know” or “understand.” I can’t verify if someone understands something, but I can verify that they can explain it or perform it. This may seem a little nitpicky, but having measurable objectives is the only way to know if your training is effective or not.

GMP Example: Learning Objectives:
At the end of this training…

  1. Learners will be able to identify all items required for Stage 1 gowning.
  2. Learners will be able to explain the 4-step process for sanitizing tools.
  3. Learners will be able to achieve goals 1 and 2 2 weeks after the initial training.
  4. Learners will be able to achieve goals 1 and 2 4 weeks after the initial training.

In this example it’s not only important that employees learn the procedures, but that they retain that information. The last two learning goals make sure this is achived. It’s easy to drop the ball after the major part of the project is finished or a training session is complete, so setting these long-term objectives early makes it clear from the start that there will be follow up and maintenance.