From Diversifying Economic Quality: A Wiki for Instructors and Departments
Backward course design is a method of designing educational curriculum by setting learning goals for students and then planning learning activities and appropriate assessment methods. This is contrasted with traditional course design where textbooks and learning activities are chosen first to create a syllabus without identifying learning goals. Backward design was first introduced to curriculum design in 1998 by McTighe and Wiggins. See Wiggins' website.
|Traditional Course Design||versus||Backward Course Design|
|Starts by choosing textbook and content to cover, then formulating a syllabus and preparing homework & exam papers||Starts by creating learning goals for the course, designing assignment to measure if goals are being met, and then preparing classroom material|
|Instructor centered - not giving students necessary information about what they should learn from the course||Student centered - explicit learning goals inform students what is expected of them in the course|
The central idea in backward course design is to "teach toward the "end point" or learning goals" whereas in traditional course design there is "no formal destination identified before the journey begins." 
Grant and McTighe (2010) offer a 3-stage design process for backward course design.
|Stage 1||Stage 2||Stage 3|
|What long-term learning goals are sought after?||What performances and assignments will reveal evidence of targeted knowledge?||What activities and lessons will lead to the achievement of results in stage 1 and success at assessments in stage 2?|
|What essential concepts will students be required to explore in the course?||What criteria will be used to assess performance in light of the desired results from stage 1||How will the course be structured and sequenced to optimize time and achievement?|
|What factual knowledge and skills should students acquire from the course?||What other evidence (quizzes, problem sets, presentations) will be collected to achieve desired results?||How can the course be tailored to the different needs, abilities, and interests of students?|