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