Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Constructive alignment

“Constructive alignment is an outcomes-based approach to teaching in which the learning outcomes that students are intended to achieve are defined before teaching takes place. Teaching and assessment methods are then designed to best achieve those outcomes and to assess the standard at which they have been achieved (Biggs, 2014).”

Outcomes based teaching and learning is based on meeting set standards of teaching and learning to ensure students meet the requirements for a degree. Assessment is marked against criteria referenced to the outcomes (Spady, 1994). In constructive alignment, assessment is aligned to the intended learning outcomes and students construct knowledge through teaching and learning experiences. Students show evidence of how they meet the outcomes through assessment where they show construction of knowledge and skills. Teaching provides the opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning.

The focus in constructive alignment is on what and how students learn, rather than on the topic the teacher teaches. The action verb in a learning outcome describes to students what they should perform to achieve the intended learning outcome (for example, “apply procedures” or “compare theories”). Learning activities are what the student undertakes to meet these learning outcomes and students construct knowledge and skills based on the learning activities. Assessment shows how well they have learned from the activities. Student-centred, active learning activities provide opportunities for students to construct new knowledge.

This video is a 19 minute demonstration of two different types of students we often encounter in universities and how constructive alignment can help both to learn.

Constructive alignment is relevant for individual subjects as well as at the course level. Analysis of learning outcomes and levels of thinking for a subject informs the rationale for assessment and the design of structured learning opportunities to develop skills and knowledge throughout a subject. SOLO taxonomy or Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy are two taxonomies on which to base development of learning activities. This interactive table from Indiana State University is a great way to get some ideas for learning outcomes. Ideally, students should experience a range of learning activities, developing from a lower order of thinking to a higher order of thinking across the subject and ultimately, the degree.

This slide show explains the process of constructive alignment simply.

This video explains the process of constructive alignment simply.

It can be helpful to use a table or a spreadsheet to visualise the alignment within a subject, as in the following example. Start with the subject learning outcomes then identify the assessment that meets the learning outcome. Then identify the learning experiences or activities that enable students to meet the assessment that meets the outcome.

Alignment design table

Subject Learning Outcomes

Assessment meeting the subject learning outcome (describe HOW the assessment meets the learning outcomes, not the actual task)

Learning experiences / activities that enable students meet assessment requirements

Students will be able to explain how constructive alignment enhances student learning, and design a subject using the principles of constructive alignment

Students examine and analyse subject learning outcomes and develop

a) aligned assessment tasks to meet the content and level of thinking of the learning outcomes, and

b) teaching and learning experiences that students will engage in to achieve the learning outcomes

Students will learn about constructive alignment through

  • reading information,
  • analysing subject learning outcomes,
  • referring to AQF and taxonomy tables,
  • matching outcome terminology and intent with the tables,
  • writing sample assessment tasks,
  • matching syllabus to outcomes,
  • developing active, student-centred learning and teaching experiences   to develop student knowledge

To ensure that students are experiencing structured learning activities that develop skills and knowledge throughout the subject, it’s a good idea to insert a column next to the learning outcomes to identify whether they first meet the level of learning required by the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) and another for the level of thinking required by the outcome (refer to Bloom's Revised Taxonomy, SOLO taxonomy and Krathwohl and Anderson's table).

Subject Learning Outcomes

AQF

Level of thinking

Assessment meeting the subject learning outcome

Learning experiences / activities that meet assessment requirements

Students will be able to explain how constructive alignment enhances student learning, and design a subject using the principles of constructive alignment

* cognitive, technical and creative skills to investigate, analyse and synthesise complex information, problems, concepts and theories and to apply established theories to different bodies of knowledge or practice

Understand concepts, Explain concepts.

Apply concepts to  create procedures

Students examine and analyse subject learning outcomes and develop

a) aligned assessment tasks to meet the content and level of thinking of the learning outcomes, and

b) teaching and learning experiences that students will engage in to achieve the learning outcomes

Students will learn about constructive alignment through

  • reading information,
  • analysing subject learning outcomes,
  • referring to AQF and taxonomy tables,
  • matching outcome terminology and intent with the tables,
  • writing sample assessment tasks,
  • matching syllabus to outcomes,
  • developing active, student centred learning and teaching experiences   to develop student knowledge

A further column can be added to identify all resources needed to support the learning activities. For example, readings, texts, or online links. By matching all the columns, the subject is adequately assessed, taught and learnt at an appropriate standard for the level of the degree.

Subject Learning Outcomes

AQF

Level of thinking

Assessment meeting the subject learning outcome

Learning experiences / activities that meet assessment requirements

Resources

Students will be able to explain how constructive alignment enhances student learning, and design a subject using the principles of constructive alignment

* cognitive, technical and creative skills to investigate, analyse and synthesise complex information, problems, concepts and theories and to apply established theories to different bodies of knowledge or practice

Understand concepts, Explain concepts.

Apply concepts to  create procedures

Students examine and analyse subject learning outcomes and develop

a) aligned assessment tasks to meet the content and level of thinking of the learning outcomes, and

b) teaching and learning experiences that students will engage in to achieve the learning outcomes

Students will learn about constructive alignment through

  • reading information,
  • analysing subject learning outcomes,
  • referring to AQF and taxonomy tables,
  • matching outcome terminology and intent with the tables,
  • writing sample assessment tasks,
  • matching syllabus to outcomes,
  • developing active, student centred learning and teaching experiences   to develop student knowledge
  • AQF handbook, Taxonomy table,
  • Mapping template,
  • Biggs: Teaching for Quality   Learning at University,
  • Assessment 2020,
  • First Year Principles,
  • Threshold Learning Outcomes,
 

Further resources

Chapter 6, from Biggs' seminal work on constructive alignment

Revised Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

References

Biggs, J., 2011, http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/constructive_alignment.html

Biggs, J., 2011, http://www.johnbiggs.com.au/solo_taxonomy.html

Biggs, J. (2014). Constructive alignment in university teaching. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1, 5-22.

Braband, C. (2009). Teaching teaching & understanding understanding. Retrieved on November 16, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMZA80XpP6Y

City University of Hong Kong. (2011). What is Outcomes Based Teaching and Learning (OTBL)? Office of Education Development and General Education. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from http://www.cityu.edu.hk/edge/obtl/elearn_tool/p3.htm

Dawson, P. (2012). Constructive alignment and learning outcomes. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs4WLm0uC2k

Iowa State University. (2017). Anderson and Krathwohl’s Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retrieved from http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/effective-teaching-practices/revised-blooms-taxonomy

Spady, W. 1994. Outcomes Based Education: Critical Issues and Answers. American Association of School Administration: Arlington, Virginia.

TEQSA. (2012). Higher education standards framework. Retrieved November 16, 2017, from Department of Education: http://www.teqsa.gov.au/regulatory-approach/higher-education-standards-framework