Constructive Alignment

It’s a classic education professional buzz word that gets thrown about – but what does it really mean?

Can “Constructive Alignment” better help you answer that question from students “Is this going to be assessed?”

When designing a course, if you are the subject matter expert, an Educational Developer will ask you to:

  1. Create about the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)
  2. Align both the “Teaching and Learning Activities” (TLA) and assessments each reflect the scope of ILOs.

But why do they ask you to do that? It’s based on an approach developed by John Biggs in 1996 at Sydney University.

The ‘Constructive’ part of the buzzword often gets overlooked. A Constructivist model of learning at its most basic theorises that people learn when they reflect on their experiences.

The ‘Alignment’ is conceptual: the TLA (experience) and the Assessment (reflection) both reflect intended learning outcomes at the required depth of understanding (Biggs 1996).

Required Depth

So what does that “at required depth of understanding” mean?

The best way to illustrate is with an example. If an Intended Learning Outcome is to apply a specific theory, then the TLAs should be reflecting the application of theory. Similarly, the process of assessment should equally reflect the application of theory. In this way, the TLA and Assessment align together in approach.

But why’s that so important?

Think about the classic question from students: “Will this be assessed?”

This question reveals the student’s intention on their learning approach. Their strategy is to focus on assessment rather than the safer strategy of engaging in the TLAs (which reduces the cognitive load required).

This may be dispiriting at first – until you realise the Constructive Alignment approach to assessment forces them to engage with all concepts to succeed. So no matter which learning strategy a student chooses, they will be able to achieve the intended learning outcome to the required depth of understanding.

So, for your Constructively Aligned course, you can always answer: “Yes – it will be assessed.”

Read more:

  • Biggs, John. “Enhancing Teaching through Constructive Alignment.” Higher Education 32.3 (1996): 347-64
  • Biggs, J. 2010. SOLO Taxonomy. Accessed 20/4/2019.
  • Biggs, John B., Tang, Catherine So-kum, Society for Research into Higher Education, ProQuest, and NetLibrary, Inc. Teaching for Quality Learning at University : What the Student Does. 3rd ed. Maidenhead: Open UP, 2007.
  • Smith, Calvin. “Design-Focused Evaluation.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 33.6 (2008): 631-45.

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