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Good design: using constructive alignment

In the first course of this program, Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, you were introduced to the theory of constructivism.

While constructivism is not a specific pedagogy, it may support a specific pedagogical approach to teaching. In this step we introduce you to the concept of constructive alignment as a design model for learning. Constructive alignment is one example of a pedagogical approach based on constructivism. UNSW has adopted this approach, for course and program level design, mapping and review and it also supports the Integrated Curriculum Framework (refer to Step 1.11).

Constructive alignment is about defining the learning outcomes and aligning them with teaching and assessment strategies (Biggs, 1999). It will help you select your course content and plan the learning activities. Success can then be measured through assessment of a student’s achievement of the learning outcomes.

A good starting point is to ask yourself the question:

‘What knowledge do I want my students to be able to apply when they have completed my course’?

This question will inform your course’s learning outcomes and assessment tasks. It will also help you determine the appropriate learning activities and resources required to achieve the learning outcomes. The three essential components in your course are the:

  • learning outcomes
  • learning and teaching activities
  • assessment tasks.

Biggs Constructive Alignment Copyright © UNSW Sydney

Constructive alignment in practice

What does constructive alignment mean in practice? When following a model of constructive alignment for designing a course ask yourself these three questions:

1) What do I want students to learn?

2) What teaching methods and curriculum design will I use to encourage students to behave in ways that are likely to achieve these outcomes?

3) What assessment tasks and criteria will tell me that students have achieved the outcomes?

Talking point

View section 4 “The solution” of the “Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding” video (0:00- 3:40 minutes).

Do you agree, or disagree, that constructive alignment is the solution to good curriculum design? Post your vote with a sentence to justify your position.

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic on using constructive alignment there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf for this step.


Biggs, J. (1999). What the Student Does: teaching for enhanced learning. Higher Education Research & Development . 18, Issue 1.

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

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Educational Design in Higher Education

UNSW Sydney