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What is constructive alignment?

What is constructive alignment and how does this guide our design and delivery practice? Read this short article to find out more.
Chess pieces on a board lined up in the starting position

Constructive alignment

Constructive alignment was first discussed by Professor John Biggs as a strategy guiding the design of programmes of learning. It focuses on the teaching and learning activities, intended learning outcomes (ILOs) and the assessments that relate to these ILOs.

Constructive alignment draws on two areas of learning: constructivism (the concept of learners constructing their knowledge through learning activities) and alignment with defined ILOs. This approach requires teachers to ensure ILOs and the learning activities they are planning are deliberately aligned.

“In constructive alignment we systematically align the teaching/learning activities, and the assessment tasks to the intended learning outcomes, according to the learning activities required in the outcomes” (Biggs & Tang, 2007, p.7).
Constructive alignment requires teachers to be honest and fair with their learners. It’s also important to build trust with learners so they can be confident in their learning. “If we tell students that we want them to achieve something (ILOs) and then assess them against assessment criteria that do not match, they will feel cheated and will become cynical strategic surface learners.” (Houghton, 2004b).
The model following demonstrates alignment between the ILOs, the learning activities and the assessment of learning.
“Constructive alignment encourages clarity in the design of the curriculum, and transparency in the links between learning and assessment. In a truly Constructively Aligned curriculum it facilitates deep learning as the activities are designed for that purpose. This should improve the quality of learning and graduates in our profession” (Houghton, 2004b).

How do we achieve this?

In order to achieve and maintain constructive alignment, teachers should:

  • start with the ILOs.
  • carefully plan and communicate ILOs that cover what the learners should expect
  • create assessments that directly relate to the ILOs, and that allow students to demonstrate achieving these
  • design teaching and learning activities that engage learners in constructing the knowledge required to achieve the ILOs.
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