Using constructive alignment in your education

Constructive alignment by Biggs & Tang (2011) is a principle you can use to shape your education. Constructive alignment is about purposefully connecting learning objectives, learning activities and assessment with each other. The goal of this triangular relationship is making sure all aspects of education work towards the same objective.

An infographic about constructive alignment, the triangular relationship between learning objectives, learning activities and assessment.

A triangular relationship

The focus of constructive alignment is on what and how students learn. The learning objectives are set before the course starts and helps you, as a lecturer, to determine what learning activities students are going to undertake. The learning objectives also form the basis for how you design the assessment. The assessment shows students to what extent they have achieved the learning objectives.

By aligning the learning activities and the assessment to achieve the same objective, you guarantee students will focus on matters relevant to the end goal. This is the central idea of constructive alignment: creating an environment that supports that what and how students learn will lead to the intended results.

Learning objectives

The learning objectives are central in making sure your education is aligned. Learning objectives express what actions and skills you expect students to have mastered by the end of the period. Think of, for example, applying a certain theory or being able to analyse a certain type of case study. This means learning objectives always contain a verb. Furthermore, they describe what content students will be occupied with.

Learning activities

Learning activities are the activities students undertake in order to master the learning objectives. Think of, for example, self-study and making assignments during a seminar. With these activities you build the course programme. The learning objectives describe what final level you expect of students. You design learning activities that work towards that level step-by-step. As a lecturer you take care of instructions and guidance, such as explaining a new subject or giving feedback on intermediate assignments.

Assessment

The assessment is meant to judge to what extent students have mastered the learning objectives. The learning objectives offer support when determining what the assessment will be. By having the actions and skills mentioned in the learning objectives return in the assessment, you create alignment. When designing assessment assignments and criteria, it might be helpful to think about how you want students to convince you they’ve mastered the intended knowledge and skills.

Education design

You can achieve constructive alignment by having the actions mentioned in the learning objectives return in the learning activities and assessment. When designing aligned education, you might work like this:

  • Create the learning objectives in the form of an action students are going to perform with certain content. Also describe what level is expected of students and, when relevant, in what context students need to be able to perform the action.
  • Design assessment in which students are going to perform the actions mentioned in the learning objectives. Assess students based on how well they operate according to the objectives. This forms the basis for the assessment criteria.
  • Use learning activities that fit within the actions and content mentioned in the learning objectives. Complement these activities by offering the instructions and guidance students need to carry out these activities in the best way possible. 

Because the learning objectives and assessment focus on the same content and actions, students are offered the chance to develop the dimensions they are eventually assessed on and which the programme values. 

Contact

Do you have any questions or do you need more information? The Teaching Information Point of your faculty will be happy to assist you.