Structural relationships within your design
What is It?
Alignment is the idea of “critical course elements working together to ensure that students achieve the desired learning outcomes.”
The concept of alignment is central to the Quality Matters curriculum. According to Quality Matters, successful courses are built upon a foundation of solid, measurable course and module learning objectives. Every decision an instructor makes about instructional materials, course activities, and course tools ought to then align with the learning objectives and support appropriate assessments. This design structure, like an architectural structure, lays the skeleton for a quality learning experience.
How Can I Use Alignment in My Course?
A useful design exercise, one that you would do if you were seeking QM certification for your course, is to explicitly identify each course-level learning objective, and then each modul-level learning objective (see measurable learning objectives for help creating those). Identify which module-level learning objectives support which course-level objectives. Do your objectives align? Are there inconsistencies or holes that you could work on?
Next, consider your activities. Is each course- and module-level learning objective supported by an appropriate activity? For instance, if one of your objectives is for students to apply the scientific method, do you support that with appropriate materials and activities? Frequently, the process of explicitly identifying the relationships between learning objectives, materials, activities, technologies and assessments reveals areas where youmight consider revision, especially for the sake of alignment.
Here are a few tools and practices which you may find helpful when evaluating and designing for alignment:
- UAF is a QM member institution. As a faculty member, you have free access to the full library of QM research and support materials.
- Create a working document to help plan your course alignment. Google Docs (access template 1) (access template 2)
- (access template 3)
- or Sheets (access template ) can be a great place to collaborate with your designer, or with a colleague.
- A mind mapping tool such as Mindmeister.com can be helpful for brainstorming your learning objectives and activities.
Questions and Considerations
Must everything align? Recent debates in online learning circles have questioned the focus on objectives and alignment, calling instead for messiness, emergence, and/or not-yetness. According to Amy Collier, a leading thinker in this debate, “Not-yetness is not satisfying every condition, not fully understanding something,not check-listing everything, not tidying everything, not trying to solve every problem…but creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve.” Read more here.
Your measurable learning objectives support your course materials, tools, and activities, which should then support your assessments.
Using the tool of your choice (Google Doc, mind-map, yellow sticky notes, or plain paper) make a list your course level objectives, followed by your module level objectives. Next to each course level objective, note which module level objectives apply (ie. Formulate original research hypotheses. (MLO 6, 9, 12, 13)). This can be thought of as the relationship between structural elements within your course.
Now, comb through each course and module objective. Is there an associated activity? Is there an associated assessment? Are they appropriate? Do you have assessments or activities without corresponding objectives? If so, consider why. Do you want to keep them or should they be pruned? Be creative. What alternative activities and assessments can support the same objectives?
Watch: Alignment in the Quality Matters Program
This brief video describes alignment and how it is achieved within the Quality Matters program of course review.
Ally, M. (2004). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. Theory and Practice of Online Learning, 2, 15–44.
Blumberg, P. (2009). Maximizing learning through course alignment and experience with different types of knowledge. Innovative Higher Education (34)2, p. 93-103.
Fink, D. (2003) A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003
Alignment: Further Resources
UAF Instructional Designers
This page has been authored collectively by the experts on the UAF Instructional Design Team. Let us know if you have suggestions or firstname.lastname@example.org