Teaching Essentials

Constructive Alignment

What is Constructive Alignment?

Constructive alignment is a learner-centered approach to course design; it focuses on what the student does rather than what the instructor will teach (Biggs & Tang, 2011). Using constructive alignment provides a richer, deeper learning experience to achieve established learning outcomes and avoids simply covering content. A well-aligned course creates a clear pathway between what students will have to do in the course and how they will achieve the required standards.

There are three elements to consider in constructive alignment:

  1. Learning Outcomes: What do you want your students to do or know?
    Using concise verbs will lead to clear, measurable learning outcomes that communicate exactly what students will be required to do and know within the course. More information about how to write strong, accurate learning outcomes can be found in the RRC Polytech Learning Outcomes Manual.
  2. Feedback and Assessment Methods: How will you and your students know what they’ve achieved the learning outcomes? How will you communicate with them about their achievement?
    Assessment should be connected to the learning outcomes. Aligning assessment to learning outcomes will let you and the students know that the targeted learning outcomes have been achieved.

    Authentic assessment asks learners to demonstrate a task that is as close to a real-world application or actual industry task. The criterion that you use to assess the task should be connected to a learning outcome.
  3. Teaching and Learning Activities: What teaching strategies will you use to support students in achieving the learning outcomes? The teaching and learning activities you provide to students should meet the outcome(s) and prepare the student for the assessment. The action verbs used in the learning outcomes can guide the selection and development of the type of content and appropriate teaching and learning activities.

Additional Considerations for Constructive Alignment

Other factors you may need to consider when aligning your course include: accreditation standards, faculty requirements, course goals, and the nature of your content.

Constructive alignment is a dynamic process where each of the elements are interrelated. Making changes to one element will have an impact on the other elements; this means you will likely need to make revisions to the other parts of your course as well in order to keep your teaching well-designed and well-aligned.

Example of Good Constructive Alignment

Learning OutcomeAssessment MethodTeaching and Learning Strategy
Explain a variety of theoretical approaches in assessment.Essay assignment in which students must explain and compare two different theoretical approaches in assessment.Students work in groups to summarize the facts of different assessment approaches.
Interpret simple residential blueprints to identify material required for a job.Test question where students must create a materials list based on a simple blueprint.Students work in pairs to read blueprint and develop materials list based on a sample residential blueprint.
Analyze types of monetary systems.Students present a comparison of the three most common types of monetary system.Role play activity where students are placed in 3 groups, one for each system. Each group must procure goods & services in the custom of their assigned monetary system. Students debrief and share their experience within the systems.

Examples of Misalignment

Learning OutcomeAssessment MethodTeaching and Learning Strategy
Identify the contents of medical emergency kit used when responding to a medical emergency.Matching question on test asking students to match the name of equipment used in a medical emergency kit with its defined use.Students practice using various pieces of lab equipment contained in a medical emergency kit.

In the preceding example, the teaching and learning strategy is misaligned. The outcome asks students to simply identify the contents of the kit (Remember), while the teaching strategy has students use the tools (Application). It is not that the teaching strategy is a bad one, but it is not aligned to this learning outcome’s content and level.