What is constructive alignment?

When you start teaching a course, or you are tasked with some redevelopment such as changing an assessment, you may ask yourself: “Where should I start?”. Let’s start with constructive alignment, arguably one of the most fundamental, yet also most powerful, concepts of teaching and learning design.

Evidence-base

According to Biggs and Tang (2011), constructive alignment has two aspects. The constructive aspect refers to students constructing their own meaning through relevant learning activities. The alignment aspect refers to teachers’ work:

  • Designing learning and teaching activities that scaffold students to achieve learning outcomes.
  • Creating assessments that assess student’s abilities to meet the requirements of these same learning outcomes.

The learning outcomes, the teaching and learning experiences, and the assessment tasks need to be all aligned and coherent (Biggs, 2012).

How to ensure constructive alignment?

To ensure constructive alignment, follow the below suggestions (Lasrado & Kaul, 2020):

  • Create learning outcomes that clearly inform students what they will be expected to know and be able to do.
  • Design assessment tasks to enable students to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes.
  • Design learning activities that are aligned with assessment tasks and designed to support students to achieve the learning outcomes.

Five Top Tips

  • Use action verbs to clearly state learning outcomes (e.g. summarise, explain, apply, evaluate, create, adopt). Learning outcomes should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-appropriate).

  • Design learning activities that scaffold toward learning outcomes and assessment. Students learn best when they actively and/or collaboratively work on well-designed learning activities. Where applicable, these activities should be situated in real life/work contexts.

  • Create assessment tasks that guide students toward the learning outcomes and align with learning activities. Where applicable, use authentic assessment tasks.

  • Provide on-time and effective feedback that reflects students’ progress towards learning outcomes.

  • Double check and triple check the alignment: learning outcomes – learning and teaching activities – assessment tasks.

Useful Resources

For further information about constructive alignment, visit Good design: using constructive alignment from Future Learn, at UNSW.

References

Biggs, J. (2012). What the student does: Teaching for enhanced learning. Higher education research & development31(1), 39-55. https://doi.org/10.1080/0729436990180105

Biggs, J. B., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university. McGraw-Hill Education.

Lasrado, F., & Kaul, N. (2020). Designing a curriculum in light of constructive alignment: A case study analysis. Journal of Education for Business, 95(6), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1080/08832323.2020.1732275