The Backward Design Approach to Curriculum
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The Backward Design Approach to Curriculum

The world of learning is undergoing a rapid transformation, with new technologies emerging and the demand for applied skills on the rise. To keep up with these evolving trends, it's essential to embrace new and innovative learning methodologies. In this article series, "The Future of Learning," we'll explore the cutting-edge approaches that are shaping the future of education and equipping individuals with the skills they need to succeed in an ever-changing world. We would also like to share how at Eskwelabs, we ourselves learn and embody future-relevant skills along with the best practices of entrepreneurship in order for these to reflect on the spirit and culture of our programs.

The demand for applied skills in the industry is blossoming, particularly for fast-moving skills connected to new technologies with constantly evolving tools. This is a challenge for traditional education and training providers who struggle to keep up with the pace of change (Silva, 2009). On-the-job training, coaching, and mentoring are primary means by which workers keep up with these skills (The Economist, 2017). However, the quality varies highly across organizations, and it is not accessible to those who are unemployed, in education, or simply not in a team that invests in such. Apprenticeships are a structured form of coaching and mentoring based on the application of knowledge. This has long been a significant part of the labor market pathway (Dawson et al., 2022). As such, what new learning methods can we use to minimize the time to competency for learners for complex new skills in an information and tool-abundant environment?

Examples of fast-moving skills

At Eskwelabs, we experiment with combining apprenticeship models of learning with bootcamp formats to address this challenge. At the heart of our method is the backwards design approach, which takes as a starting point our learner's ultimate success in their intended future workplace. Backwards design approach is an established model for instructional design with proven benefits (Richards, 2013). In an apprenticeship setting, the end outcome is not a learning outcome, but rather a project outcome. A successful apprenticeship is focused on building an industry-ready deliverable that follows an industry-accepted workflow. This type of design is different from a traditional topic-based curriculum. Learners do not go through a skills curriculum. Instead, they go through a facilitated project workflow, which allows them at every point to learn required skills, but only insofar as it is relevant to their current stage of project work. This type of design is adapted to an apprenticeship setting, because the personnel that can facilitate most company apprenticeships do not have formal training or education skills, but they are deeply familiar with their industry's workflows and deliverables.

Sample Apprenticeship Project for Information Communication

Our results so far are promising.

  • Apprenticeship projects have very little lecture time, improving engagement for learners. Our NPS scores range from 60-90% and our completion scores are near 100%, including for month-long online projects.
  • Apprenticeship projects can be facilitated by those with limited or no teaching experience without jeopardizing the experience of the learners. Successful coaches in apprenticeship projects draw on their prior project experience to facilitate progress in a structured format without the need for guided lectures.This enables a wide pool of potential peer coaches, including from within the same company and team. 
  • Apprenticeship projects can be done for both general workflows (e.g. developing a customer segmentation model for FMCG) and company-specific workflows (e.g. developing a customer segmentation model for FMCG for a specific company using a specific set of tools and a specific process). This makes it adaptable as both a general form of education and as a company-specific form of training and onboarding.
  • Apprenticeship projects have limited reliance on curriculum or materials, allowing for very rapid deployment, keeping pace with changes in technologies or new project needs. This is a good match for the needs of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
  • Apprenticeship projects are a good fit for complex projects that require an array of different tools and concepts. Our experience with data science and analysis has shown a good fit between the nature of apprenticeship projects and the nature of data science workflows.
  • Soft skills, particularly critical thinking and teamwork, are better developed than through self-paced learning. This is supported in the literature from other project-based and apprenticeship models (Critical Thinking in an Online World, 1996). 
  • The structured combination of project and peer-based learning have provided us with strong learning outcomes. Apprenticeship projects as carried out in our bootcamps have led to an 80%+ placement rate (Eskwelabs, 2023).
Sample Outcomes - Time to Competency in terms of project outputs

Apprenticeship projects also have significant downsides. 

  • Apprenticeship projects rely on a very low student ratio. At CoLearn Labs, we operate with 5 learners per coach. The ideal situation is 1:1. This methodology is unlikely to be effective in classroom settings, where 20+ learners will be unable to receive the hands-on guidance to carry out the projects. 
  • Apprenticeship projects are a time commitment. A single project that takes a professional around 3 hours to create might take up 12 hours in the form of an apprenticeship project, simply because of the minimum time required for learners to experiment with and integrate  new tools and concepts.
  • We have only tested apprenticeship projects for deliverables that fall into the following type of work: data analysis, software development, project management, and business strategy. It may not be applicable in other settings. In particular, workflows with undefined deliverables or non-linear work tasks would be difficult to turn into a project. 
  • Apprenticeship projects are suited to replicating real-world workflows, including preparing learners to use external resources or reutilize templates to "punch above their weight" in terms of deliverable quality relative to their experience. However, the focus is on information access and retrieval for purposes of work application rather than memorization, so this is unsuited for intended purposes of closed book exam testing.

We are very excited about the possibilities of apprenticeship projects, particularly as we see the continued acceleration of new tools that can radically transform the way we learn and work, and minimize time to competency in a tool and information-abundant environment. We believe that apprenticeship projects can be one way in which those who have already integrated those new tools into their workflows can quickly onboard others to do so as well, and in a manner that is more user-friendly, more engaging, and faster than a traditional live course, and more effective than a self-paced course.

To learn more about our Learning Sprints and how they can benefit your institution, we encourage you to download our Sprint Catalogue. 

Together, we can bridge the skills gap and prepare future generations for the changing nature of work.

Critical Thinking in an Online World. (1996).

Dawson, N., Martin, A., Sigelman, M., Levanon, G., Blochinger, S., Thorton, J., & Chen, J. (2022). How Skills Are Disrupting Work. In Burning Glass Institute. =

Redeker, C., Leis, M., Leendertse, M., Punie, Y., Gijsbers, G., Kirschner, P. A., Stoyanov, S., & Hoogveld, B. (2012). The Future of Learning: Preparing for Change. JRC Scientific and Technical Reports, 10–16.

Silva, E. (2009). Measuring Skills for 21st-Century Learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(9), 630–634. 

The Economist. (2017, January 10). Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative.