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Alignment in Course Design

​​The concept of alignment refers to how critical course elements work together to promote students' achievement of the intended learning outcomes. The learning outcomes form the spine of a course​, holding together the corresponding elements that must be aligned. The key question then is how do the course's assessments, instructional materials, and learning activities correspond with one another to aid students in achieving the learning outcomes?

Course Blueprint

A course design blueprint can help instructors visualize how their outcomes, assessments, instructional materials, and learning activities correspond to one another. You can download a template (Word) to use as an aid for planning your course. (Note that the first page includes a table for organizing your course by learning outcomes, and on the second page the table is organized by week, unit or module. Simply choose one organizing principle and delete the table you do not need).​

Example of Strong Alignment

Learning Outcomes Acceptable Evidence Instructional Materials Learning Activities

Students will be able to apply one or more literary theories or concepts to analyze at least one of the required texts for this course.

Textual analysis of at least one of the required texts that includes a cogent application of an appropriate theoretical lens.

Relevant chapter(s) from Theory of Literature (Fry 2012); PDF of how-to guide for writing textual analyses; Relevant mini-lecture & handout on literary theory; Examples of previous students' successful textual analyses

Quizzes on assigned literary theory readings; Student discussion leaders for in-class discussions; Student proposals for analyses submitted to professor for early feedback; Peer review of first draft of analysis; Option to revise & resubmit final paper 

The above example shows strong scaffolding and alignment. The acceptable evidence asks students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they need to possess in order to meet the learning outcome. The instructional materials and learning activities are scaffolded—moving from simpler to more complex, building on prior knowledge, providing feedback and offering opportunities for revision—to help students successfully complete the assignment. Further, multiple modes of learning such as readings, discussions, writing, and receiving feedback, are offered to students. You may recall that using multiple means of representation in your learning materials—such as mini-lectures, readings, videos, etc.—and having students engage in multiple means of action and expression in your planned learning activities—are core principles of the Universal Design for Learning framework.

Example of Weak Alignment

Learning Outcomes Acceptable Evidence Instructional Materials Learning Activities
Students will be able to apply one or more literary theories or concepts to analyze at least one of the required texts for this course. Book summary of at least one of the required texts. Required texts. Lectures. Reading quizzes.

The above example shows weak alignment. Asking students to summarize a book is a lower-order learning task compared to asking them to analyze a text (remember Bloom's taxonomy). One good rule of thumb in determining if there is strong alignment is to ensure the same learning dimension outlined in the learning outcome is being used in the assessments, instructional materials, and learning activities. For example, lectures and reading quizzes are good for establishing or verifying factual knowledge but less appropriate for evaluating students' ability to analyze texts using theoretical lenses.

Levels of Alignment

You may recall how learning outcomes can operate at levels higher and lower than the course level. If you've established more granular learning outcomes in your course, for instance for individual modules or weeks, ensure they correspond to your course-level learning outcomes. The same holds true for any learning outcomes you've identified for individual assignments. You'll want to make sure they connect with the unit-level outcomes you've identified. Finally, remember to consider the program and university-level outcomes. Your course's learning outcomes should correspond to those as well, but in more detail.