Align activities and assessment with constructive alignment
Constructive alignment considers learning to be efficient when the learning activities and the assessment are in line with the learning objectives. This page discusses how to achieve this alignment.
Educational psychology distinguishes learning in two broad models: the objectivist perspective, and constructivism (Jonassen, 1991). Objectivists state that information exists as an individual entity (object) that is unrelated to the ‘knower’, whereas the constructivist paradigm stresses the individual construction of knowledge based on individual learning processes and the unique, personal experiences of the learner (Duffy & Jonassen, 2013). Constructivist theories have been adopted as the leading paradigm in most learning frameworks (e.g. Biggs, 1996). This perspective states that the effectiveness of teaching (i.e. attaining learning objectives) is based on choosing the appropriate teaching and learning activities which correspond with the selected cognitive levels (i.e. Bloom’s taxonomy).
Constructive alignment is at the heart of solid course design (Biggs, 1996; Cohen, 1987). The constructive alignment principle views the student as the centre of the learning process and considers learning to be efficient when the learning activities (i.e. what the student does) and the assessment are in line with the learning objectives. The first step in designing a well-aligned course is to formulate clear learning objectives (LO). Second, the system requires the identification and design of learning activities that elicit the same type of cognitive abilities from the student. Finally, the same process applies for the selection of appropriate assessment tasks that mirror the learning objectives.
Issues related to misalignment
Sometimes, due to various reasons, a mismatch between the three different legs occurs. When such a misalignment occurs, it frequently leads to two problems. Students tend to focus on the assessments and their outcome, and from their perspective, the learning objectives will not provide them with any clarity as to how they will be evaluated. A problem for the teacher that ensues from misalignment is that the teacher cannot tell whether the learning objectives are met. In practice, this could manifest itself in a multiple-choice mid-term exam about a learning objective that asks a student to create.
In case of a misalignment between the learning activities and the assessment, the learning activities don’t provide the students with an opportunity to practise their learning objectives realistically and on the same cognitive level, which in turn results in an unfair assessment and a minimal learning effect. In practice, this could mean that most teaching and learning activities are designed as either a lecture or a tutorial resulting in misaligned courses.
In order to safeguard the learning effectiveness, four major steps in a specific order should be taken: 1) the learning objectives should be clearly defined 2) choosing learning activities that will lead to those LOs 3) Assessing students' actual learning outcomes to see how well they match what was intended 4) arriving at a final grade.
Constructive alignment table
All these principles are represented in a so-called constructive alignment table, which provides a good overview of the educational design.
Lesson plan guidelines
|Bloom level||Teaching & Learning activities||Formative assessment||Summative assessment|
Student is able to design a constructive alignment table
1) Student reads one-pager on constructive alignment principles
2) Student relates LO’s to LA’s
3)Student fills out partially designed CA table
4) Student designs a tabl
|Feedback on partially and fully designed table Direct online feedback on LO-LA exercise||Student is presented with a fictional educational case and is asked to design a constructive alignment table accordingly|
- Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher education, 32(3), 347-364.
- Cohen, S.A. (1987). Instructional alignment: Searching for a magic bullet, Educational Researcher, 16(8), 16-20.
- Duffy, T. M., & Jonassen, D. H. (2013). Constructivism and the technology of instruction: A conversation.
- Jonassen, D. H. (1991). Objectivism versus constructivism: Do we need a new philosophical paradigm? Educational technology research and development, 39(3), 5-14.