Constructive alignment

The design of learning outcomes form the foundation for a system of learning, where outcomes are mirrored in learning and teaching activities as well as assessment tasks.

  1. Learning outcomes of a unit align with course learning outcomes.
  2. Learning outcomes for each week of a unit should align with unit learning outcomes.
  3. Learning outcomes for a session/ class  should align with the learning outcomes devised for each week of learning.  In this way, learning outcomes inform students of what is expected of them in terms of performance across a learning sequence within a class/ teaching session, unit and course.

The process of designing a system of learning in this way is called constructive alignment. Constructive alignment is based on the premise that students construct knowledge through intentional activities aligned in purpose to meet the desired outcomes and intentions.

The key to constructive alignment is the intentional connection between learning outcomes, assessment and teaching and learning activities.

Diagram adapted from Biggs, 2003


Biggs (2003) states that there should be logical alignment between all three elements (learning outcomes, assessment tasks and learning activities), and that it does not matter where the design point starts.

If students are to learn desired outcomes in a reasonably effective manner, then the teacher’s fundamental task is to get students to engage in learning activities that are likely to result in their achieving those outcomes… what the student does in determining what is learned is more important than what the teacher does.” (Shuell, 1986, p.429 cited in Biggs, 2003, p.26)

Start with assessment

Assessment is “a strategic tool for enhancing teaching and learning” (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002, p. 8) that “lies at the heart of the learning experience: how learners are assessed shapes their understanding of the curriculum and determines their ability to progress” (Jisc, 2010, p. 5). Therefore, commencing with learning outcomes and their alignment with assessment allows for a student-centred approach to designing your unit.

How academic staff view teaching and learning    How students view teaching and learning
What course content should be taught?
What should students learn?
    In what ways am I going to be assessed?
What do I need to know?
What teaching and learning methods are appropriate?
How can student learning be assessed?
Re-positioning assessment as a strategic tool for enhancing teaching and learning What then are the learning objectives?
What approaches to study should I adopt?
Assessment can be the final consideration for staff in the design of the teaching and learning process   Assessment is usually at the forefront of students' perception of the teaching and learning process

(adapted from James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002)

There are a number of different ways that alignment can be mapped to assist in curriculum design and planning, but all rely on the identification of strong and carefully constructed learning outcomes.

Take these four steps

  1. Identify the learning outcomes
  2. Determine the evidence that will show that the learning outcomes have been achieved (or the assessment regime)
  3. Identify the tasks and activities that will need to be undertaken to provide the evidence for the learning outcomes
  4. Design the student and teacher experiences and activities to support achievement of the learning outcomes and assessment