Exploring Understanding by Design – UbD

Last week I developed a learning goals outline for my proposed course using Fink’s “A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning”. The learning goals outline I created consists of a concise, 3-column table which organizes learning goals, activities and assessments. This week I’ve had the opportunity to explore “Understanding by Design” (UbD) by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. This course design method focuses on “good” design and considers curriculum, assessment and instruction. It emphasizes the importance of deepening understanding and avoiding the “twin sins” of design – activity-focused teaching and coverage-focused teaching. UbD is “backward design” where you first identify the desired outcomes then plan the assessments and learning activities that will enable you to reach those outcomes.

I think both Fink’s and UbD design methods are effective for creating significant learning within a unit or course. Fink’s supplemental worksheets that explore the learning environment, situational factors and questions for formulating significant learning goals are very helpful and significantly aid in the development of a 3-column table that is simple and straightforward. However, I really appreciate UbD and it’s attention to understanding “understanding” as well as the thoughts about transferability and how each effects overall course design. In my opinion, Fink’s guide and UbD are both valuable resources for designing courses for significant learning.

 Transfer is our great and difficult mission because we need to put students in a position to learn far more, on their own, than they can ever learn from us. –Wiggins & McTighe

 Here is my UbD design template for my course Intro to Mobile Learning in Higher Ed:


Unit Title: Intro to Mobile Learning in Higher Education

 Established Goals:

  • Identify and understand the basic concepts of mobile learning
  • Understand how to implement mobile learning into their own courses and learning environments.
Understandings: Students will understand that…

  • Mobile learning is a current trend in Higher Education.
  • There are many mobile applications that can increase collaboration and communication among students, peers and faculty.
  • Digital literacy is an important factor in successfully implementing mobile learning.
Essential Questions:

  • What is mobile learning and how can it create significant learning environments for my students?
  • Which mobile applications will work best for assessment? For learning activities?
  • How can I use mobile applications for relevant, authentic learning activities?
  • How will mobile learning impact my students’ learning in the classroom?
Students will know:

  • Best practices for using mobile applications in their courses and learning environments.
  • The importance of digital literacy and mobile learning in relation to collaboration.
  • Process of developing a knowledge base and compiling resources for mobile learning and applications in an ePortfolio.
  • How to locate, install and use mobile applications.
  • Latest trends, common definitions, and types of mobile applications used for teaching/learning.
  • Pedagogical implications of mobile learning.
Students will be able to:

  • Design mobile activities and assessments using best practices.
  • Determine which mobile applications align with specific activities and learning objectives.
  • Integrate what they’ve learned about mobile learning into their course curriculum by designing learning activities and assessments using mobile applications.
  • How to use a variety of mobile devices- smartphones, tablets.
  • Find technical support for mobile applications.


Performance Tasks:

  • Write a reflection on current trends, relevant mobile applications, and basic concepts with regards to mobile learning in higher education.
  • Develop a mobile applications and learning objectives and activities outline.
  • Create a mobile learning and assessment activity. Share and provide peer feedback, revise if necessary.
  • Write a reflection on digital literacy and the impact of mobile learning for collaboration.
  • Create ePortfolio
Other Evidence:

  • Required online discussion posts, which includes replying to two peer posts.
  • Set of best practices and annotated bibliography of significant sources.
  • Blog posts of performance tasks in ePortfolio: reflections and outlines.


Summary of Learning Activities:

  1. Begin with an entry question (What is mobile learning and how can it transform my course?) to hook students into considering their current knowledge and thoughts about mobile learning in Higher Ed.  H
  2. Introduce the Essential Questions and briefly describe the Performance Tasks.  W
  3. Students respond to Week 1 Discussion prompt regarding their previous knowledge, ideas, and thoughts about mobile learning.  W, E, R
  4. Students will review relevant online data sources about current trends in mobile learning in higher education.  E
  5. Students will research and review articles, videos, and other online resources on mobile applications, definitions and mobile learning concepts.  E
  6. Students respond to Week 2 Discussion prompt regarding learning objectives, mobile applications, and best practices.  E, R
  7. Students will read assigned course reading about mobile applications and how to choose those that best support learning activities and objectives. Develop an outline of your findings. E, O, E-2
  8. Students will research for best practices of using mobile devices and applications in a classroom setting. Provide an annotated bibliography of significant sources.  E, O
  9. Students respond to Week 3 Discussion prompt about using mobile applications for learning and assessment activities and their possible impact on the learning environment.  E, R
  10. Students will design a learning and an assessment activity, relevant to their own course, which integrates mobile technology and applications. T, R
  11. Students will read course materials about ownership of learning, development and personalization of ePortfolios and how to organize their artifacts in their blog (performance tasks and other evidence of learning).  E, O, T
  12. Students will respond to Week 4 Discussion prompt regarding digital learning and the importance of collaboration. E-2, R
  13. Students will read and review current articles and video resources about digital literacy and the impact mobile learning has on communication and collaboration among students, peers and faculty.  E
  14. Students respond to Week 5 Discussion prompt about the significance of an ePortolio and knowledge base for resources.  E, R
  15. Students will develop and refine the ePortfolio/blog, build the knowledge base and compile all their resources for mobile learning.  T, R, O
  16. Students will post outlines, reflections, and activities as blog post entries.  O

UbD Template

WHERETO is an acronym for considering and self-assessing the key elements and logic of a learning plan:
Where: ensuring that the student sees the big picture, has answers to the “Why?” questions, knows the final performance expectations as soon as possible
Hook: immersing the student immediately in the ideas and issues of the unit, engaging the student in thought-provoking experiences/challenges/questions at the heart of the unit
Equip & Experience: providing the student with the tools, resources, skill, and information needed to achieve the desired understandings; and successfully accomplish the performance tasks
Rethink: enhance understanding by shifting perspective, considering different theories, challenging prior assumptions, introducing new evidence and ideas, etc. Also: providing the impetus for and opportunity to revise prior work, to polish it
Evaluate: ensuring that students get diagnostic and formative feedback, and opportunities to self-assess and self-adjust
Tailor: Personalize the learning through differentiated instruction, assignments and assessments without sacrificing validity or rigor
Organize: Sequence the work to suit the understanding goals (e.g., questioning the flow provided by the textbook, which is typically organized around discrete topics)


Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


Hello! I am currently an eLearning Support Specialist at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. I just completed the Digital Learning and Leading program at Lamar to earn my M. Ed. degree. Thank you for visiting my site!

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Posted in Creating Significant Learning Environments
5 comments on “Exploring Understanding by Design – UbD
  1. […] During the first week of this semester I studied “A New Culture of Learning”. Built on constructivist theories, the “new” culture of learning emphasizes the importance of a learning-based approach where the teacher becomes a mentor and students learn by doing. The next week I reflected on my learning philosophy, my beliefs about how we learn, and how it influences my leadership, teaching, and learning environments. In the third and fourth weeks, I studied course design and created two course outlines using both Fink’s 3-column table from “A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning” and the “Understanding by Design” (UbD) template. […]


  2. […] then plan the learning activities and assessments that will allow the learners to reach them. My original UbD template for my course organized the course building process into 3 stages: desired results, assessment […]


  3. […] am hoping to one day become an instructional designer in my division, therefore my experience with UbD and Fink’s 3-column table will be invaluable when creating online classes for significant […]


  4. […] am hoping to one day become an instructional designer in my division, therefore my experience with UbD and Fink’s 3-column table will be invaluable when creating online classes for significant […]


  5. […] Learning Environments (CSLE). In the CSLE course, I learned a backward design method using Understanding by Design (UbD) that allowed me to create a course design template for my mobile learning course. I also used […]


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