Constructive Alignment and Technical Training

In Learning

Biggs’ constructive alignment is ideally suited for goal-driven and ‘engineered’ learning design.  Constructive alignment is a technique to ensure that learning outcomes, learning methods, and assessment are all integrated and aligned with each other, resulting in a course design which makes sense to both trainers and participants.

An outcomes-driven model, it’s more flexible, integrated and ‘big picture’ than a competencies-based model.   The Higher Education Academy, Engineering Subject Centre (PDF) is one of many resources that provides a good summary of constructive alignment:

“The basic premise of the whole system is that the curriculum is designed so that the learning activities and assessment tasks are aligned with the learning outcomes that are intended in the course.”

The advantage of developing learning programs using constructive alignment is that it encourages clarity in the design of the curriculum and provides clear linkages between learning activities and assessment events.

University College Dublin points out that Ralph W Tyler formulated the essentials of the model in the 1940s, which were further extended by Thomas Shuell’s Meaningful Learning model in 1992.  Each of these models places designing for purposeful learning at the core of the process:

Tyler (1940s)

Tyler developed a four-part model for delivering and evaluating instruction that became known as the Tyler Rationale:

  1. What educational purposes should the training seek to develop? (Defining appropriate learning objectives.)
  2. How can learning experiences be selected which are likely to be useful in attaining these objectives? (Introducing useful learning experiences.)
  3. How can learning experiences be organized for effective instruction? (Organizing experiences to maximize their effect.)
  4. How can the effectiveness of learning experiences be evaluated? (Evaluating the process and revising the areas that were not effective.)

In this book, Tyler describes learning as taking place through the action of the participant. “It is what he does that he learns, not what the teacher does” (Tyler p. 63).

Shuell (1992)

Shuell’s meaningful learning is typified by five characteristics:

  1. Active
  2. Cumulative
  3. Goal-oriented
  4. Constructive
  5. Self-regulated


Biggs (2003)

Biggs’ constructive alignment links learning activities to assessments, and assessments to outcomes:

  1. Think about what we believe participants should be able to do by the end (intended learning outcomes)
  2. Think about how we might assess those outcomes (assessment tasks and marking criteria)
  3.  Look at what participants need to know and understand in order to achieve those outcomes (concepts, practical skills, content)
  4. Design teaching / learning activities which will help participants develop the understanding and skills they need to achieve intended learning outcomes (teaching/learning activities)
  5. Make the links between intended learning outcomes, assessment and learning activities clear to participants