Backwards Design – Performance Assessment Activities

Once I’ve identified the actual objectives for a training, the next thing I think of is an assessment activity. I imagine an activity that learners could perform that would serve as proof that they’ve mastered that particular lesson. My goal is to make it as active and as close to a real world situation is possible. When it’s difficult to simulate real world conditions in the training environment, I rely on engagement techniques such as social learning, storytelling and good old fashioned “getting up and moving around.” Unless you’re training students to pass tests, a multiple choice assessments are almost never the right answer.

The assessment activity informs how I design the lesson plan. I take the assessment and break it down into skills learners must understand to master the assessment; this becomes the content for the lesson. Backwards design ensures that every part of a training is focused on achieving the goals you set out to accomplish. This makes training much more effective and engagingthan starting with some neat ideas for a class and then putting together an inauthentic test on whatever material seemed good to you at the time.

Assessment Example: Consequences and Social Pressure

A lack of consequences is one thing that can make an assessment inauthentic. Often there are no real consequences when a learner participates (or doesn’t participate) in a training activity. When there are consequences it’s usually something artificial like lost points or a lack of a participation certificate. People don’t get points when they’re doing their actual job and no one hands them a certificate each time a task is completed.

This example introduces similar consequences to the real environment including social pressure (if we don’t do a good job, we’ll let someone down.)

Learning Goal: Students will be able to fill out (diagram/form/template) in a clear and actionable manner


  1. Break students up into at least 2 groups. Groups should be no larger than 5, but there’s no upper limit on the number of groups.
  2. In groups, students fill in the (diagram/form/template) for their given example scenario (minimum of 2 scenarios needed).
  3. Groups rotate clockwise.
  4. Groups read the (diagram/form/template) that the other group has written and attempt to plan/complete the next step in the work process. If they don’t understand something they should assign one person to take down questions.
  5. Groups can send a representative with questions to the group who wrote the original (diagram/form/template). That group must pull someone off of the work they’re doing to answer those questions.
  6. After the work is done, groups rotate back to their original positions and make notes on whether or not the other group did what they had in mind.

Here, the consequences of not being clear with the original document are similar to what’s encountered in the work environment i.e. you have to stop doing what you’re working on to explain things.