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What is Constructive Alignment?

Constructive alignment a simple but powerful course design idea. To quote Biggs:

We should design learning activities and assessments so they support students in achieving the learning outcomes (Biggs 1996).

Achieved by aligning the course intended learning objectives (ILOs) with the planned teaching and learning activities and the planned assessments.


The diagram below gives an example:

  • Intended learning outcome (ILO): Students should be able to apply knowledge of plasma electrolyte levels to diagnoses of kidney disease;
  • Activities: Have students apply knowledge of plasma electrolyte levels to diagnoses of kidney disease; and
  • Assessments: Test students' abilities to apply knowledge of plasma electrolyte levels to diagnoses of kidney disease.

Why use constructive alignment?

  • It makes your course coherent, ensuring that the students are learning, and you are assessing, what you intend for them to learn.
  • It helps students to see value in the activities, and fairness in the assessments
  • It enhances the chances of student success in developing the relevant learning outcomes.

Constructive alignment ensures that the “learner cannot escape without learning what is intended”;
they are trapped in a web of consistency between learning intentions, activities and assessment
(Biggs, 2003).

Quick guide 

  1. Write intended learning outcomes (ILOs) that are
    1. relevant
    2. concrete and achievable, and
    3. simple and active – with one verb in each 
  2. Create learning activities that require students to engage each verb in the ILOs
    1. Practical ILOs require practical activities (ability to do..x,y,z)
    2. ILOs about facts require activities that involve recall of facts (ability to name/recall facts x,y,z)
    3. ILOs about integration/application of knowledge in practice require activities that involve application of knowledge in practice (ability to apply theory in practice)
    4. ILOs about reasoning require opportunities to practice reasoning, etc. (ability to problem-solve/analyse/diagnose…etc)
  3. Design assessment tasks and types that
    1. match, mirror or emulate the ILOs and their associated verbs
    2. can be assessed using rubrics for grading performance criteria and standards (Biggs, 2014, p. 8).

Personal practice check 

  • Are my intended learning outcomes (ILOs)
    • relevant to students’ future professional practice?
    • concrete, achievable and
    • expressed simply, in active language?
  • Do my learning activities help students to achieve the intended learning by requiring them to action the verbs in the ILOs?
  • Do my assessments require the demonstration of the abilites expressed in the intended learning outcomes?


    Further reading 

    Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32(3), 347–364.

    Biggs, J. (2003) Teaching for Quality Learning at University (2nd ed.). Buckingham: SRHE and OUP.

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

    Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Part 2: Designing constructively aligned outcomes-based teaching and learning. In Teaching For Quality Learning At University (4th ed., pp. 113–277). McGraw-Hill Education.

    Delany, C., & Golding, C. (2014). Teaching clinical reasoning by making thinking visible: An action research project with allied health clinical educators. BMC Medical Education, 14(1).

    Hays, R. B., Hamlin, G., Crane, L., Hays, R. B., Hamlin, G., Crane, L., Hays, R. B., Hamlin, G., & Crane, L. (2015). Twelve tips for increasing the defensibility of assessment decisions Twelve tips for increasing the defensibility of assessment decisions.

    Langendyk, V., Mason, G., & Wang, S. (2016). How do medical educators design a curriculum that facilitates student learning about professionalism? International Journal of Medical Education, 7, 32–43.

    Prosser, M., and Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding Learning and Teaching: The Experience in Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE and OUP.

    Smith, C. D. (2008). Design-focused evaluation. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(6), 631–645.