Comparing 3 Column Table to Understanding by Design 2.0

In using Fink’s 3 Column Table and the UbD Template it is clear there are similarities and differences between the two, but both are useful in designing and planning for courses. Of the two, I prefer Fink’s 3 Table Column in designing a course because it focuses on connecting Learning Goals, Assessments, and Learning Activities while still allowing flexibility. This is helpful because it allows the teacher to observe the major components of the course and how they tie into the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Each section of Fink’s 3 Table Column builds on the previous section and ushers the learners to the BHAG. It starts with fundamentals, moves to application, then integration stages, and has room to include additional stages such as human dimensions, caring, and learning how to learn. This process is important to start with because it breaks down the course into chunks, with each chunk gradually building on the previous, always moving toward the BHAG. After the teacher decides on learning outcomes for each section that tie into the BHAG, the teacher moves to link assessments to the learning goals one row at a time. This strengthens the unit because it shows that the students will be properly assessed on the learning goals of the course. Only after the teacher has selected the ways to assess the learning outcome can the teacher list learning activities that will build up to the assessment. Completing each row before moving to the next section is important because it follows a backward design process, starting with the end and moving to the beginning. By completing each section the teacher is creating a strong plan that supports the BHAG, ensures that learners will be accurately assessed, and ensures the learners will have accurate learning activities to be successful for the assessment. Overall, Fink’s 3 Column Table is my favorite planning tool because it is a blueprint that focuses on the big picture (the BHAG) and moves strategically through well thought out developmental stages. The 3 Column Table is a strong plan but still allows tweaking or tailoring to specific learning needs that occur on the way to achieving the learning outcome.

In comparison, while Fink’s 3 Column Table focuses on courses or units the Understanding by Design (UbD) system is useful because it focuses in depth on a specific lesson. Therefore the UbD can be used to compliment Fink’s 3 Column Table, because it serves a very different purpose: the UbD allows the teacher to very specifically plan learning lessons. Similarly to Fink’s, the UbD is broken into 3 phases, it begins with starting with the end in mind (Desired Results), moves towards assessments (Evidence), then looks at the learning activities (Learning Plan). While each stage is similar to Fink’s 3 Column Table, each section requires more specific planning. For instance, in the Desired Results stage there are 3 sections within this stage for the teacher to plan: Transfer- what the student will be able to do independently, Meaning- what the student will understand and what essential questions will help lead them to understanding, and Acquisition- what students will know and what they will be skilled at. This requires more planning for the teacher but helps the teacher identify all the specific learning outcomes of the student. After a teacher completes this section, he/she will be very clear about the learning outcomes and expectations of the lesson. Next, very similarly to the 3 Column Table, the UbD template follows the backward design process and moves to how the learners will be assessed. One difference is it allows for the teacher to list assessment evidence as well as evaluative criteria, again allowing the teacher to be more detailed in planning for the lesson. Next the teacher is given the opportunity to list the specific lesson plans for the lesson. This section can be as specific as teacher would like, but should follow the backward design process by focusing on preparing students for the planned assessment. After its completion, the teacher will have a very good blueprint for the lesson that will lead students to the learning outcomes.

To clarify, Fink’s 3 Column Table and the Understanding by Design Template are similar in that they start by looking at the big picture (learning outcomes), move towards assessment, and then allow planning for learning activities. This follows the backward design process and helps ensure that students will work toward the learning outcomes. Fink’s 3 Column Table is ideal for planning units or courses is for those that like to plan in chunks to allow themselves a little flexibility in transitions and day-to-day activities. On the other hand, the UbD template focuses on specific lessons within the course or unit. It allows the teacher to specifically plan for how instruction and learning activities will lead to accurate assessment and targeted learning outcomes. Both of these planning documents should be considered for effectively designing a course.

In reflecting on these two templates, both have influenced me in how I will design and plan for courses in the future. One thing that rings loud and clear about planning courses is to start with the end in mind: think about the learning outcomes, then how these can be accurately assessed, then begin to plan learning activities to prepare students for the assessment which show mastery of the learning objectives. Of the two templates I prefer to use Fink’s 3 Column Table because I am very much a big picture type of teacher, or one that likes to be able to adapt and tweak plans while still focusing on the end learning results. I find that some of my best teaching ideas and connections come in these flexible ‘Aha!’ and ‘What if..’ moments. However, though I like to adapt lessons on the fly I still recognize the benefit of the UbD template. I specifically like the first Desired Results section as it allows the teacher to think about every type of learning outcome angle the students will have. I plan to use Fink’s 3 Column Table along with this section so that I can accurately list the learning outcomes of courses and individual lessons. I will then consult Fink’s 3 Column Table for Assessments and learning activities so that I may keep a little flexibility in my lesson planning. While I feel this is the best option for my teaching style because it allows detailed planning and flexibility, I recognize that other teachers may vary in their desired course planning methods. That is why I am excited to share both of these methods with colleagues, so they may be able to find their unique planning strategies and find success in planning for courses.

Links to Planning Examples:

Fink’s 3 Column Table: Unit 1 Geographer’s Eye

Understanding by Design: Spatial Analysis Lesson



Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. John Wiley & Sons.

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


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Sadhguru. (July 20, 2015). When is it okay to compare yourself to others?. Found at Accessed on 7/7/17.

2 thoughts on “Comparing Course Design Methods

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