Step 1: Getting Started with Alignment

Alignment Triangle - the interconnection between Assessments, Learning Objectives, and Instructional Activities. Arrows point out the back and forth relationships between the three triangle points, assessments, learning objectives, and instructional activities.

Alignment refers to the direct link (or relationship) between the learning objectives and the assessments and measurements, resources and materials, learner engagement, and course technology. Under the principle of alignment, these later four aspects of the course are driven by and support the learning objectives.

A student should be able to see the relationship between the course- and module-level learning objectives and the assessments, instructional materials, activities, tools, and media. Learning objectives, learning activities, instructional materials, assessment practices–the many elements of a course–must work well together to make it effective. They must describe measurable outcomes and address content mastery, critical thinking, and learning skills. However, measurable objectives are not very useful unless students engage with learning activities, materials, and other resources that are likely to help them achieve those objectives.

For example, we would not expect someone to learn how to give a persuasive speech solely by reading a written account of how it’s done. Take a look below for another example:

United States History Objectives

Course Level Learning Objective:

Analyze the effects of the Emancipation Proclamations of 1862 and 1863.


Doesn’t Align

An Example of a Module Level Objective

Describe the immediate legal effects of the Emancipation Proclamation in the northern states.

(low- to mid- level objective that helps ensure that students can be successful in meeting the course-level objective)

List the political events leading to the Emancipation Proclamations

(while it may be important, this activity doesn’t help students prepare to complete the stated course level objective; doesn’t prepare students to analyze the effects of the Proclamations)

An Example of an Assessment

Students complete an essay assignment requiring them to do an analysis of the legal effects of the Emancipation Proclamation.

(aligns by specifically assessing the behavior stated in the Course Level Objective)

Students take a multiple choice exam

(no opportunity to demonstrate ability to “analyze” related information; no evidence students can actually perform the behavior described in the stated learning objectives.)

Essentially, instructional strategies pave the road towards the end goals while learning assessments acts as both short stops along the way and the vehicle for learning. By aligning these three components, we ensure that the path to learning is clearly laid out (Green & Johnson, 2010; Horton, 2012).

To ensure that these three main pieces of your course are aligned, ask yourself:

  • What should students know by the end of the course?
  • What kind of activities will help to reinforce their learning?
  • What kind of tasks will help identify whether or not they have mastered the learning goals?

Misaligned courses and activities will result in wasted time, less learning, and may give students the feeling of “busy work” without actually having accomplished anything significant to their learning (Green & Johnson, 2010; Horton, 2012).

Embedded Video Player: 1 – Designing Your Course to Achieve Alignment

1 – Designing Your Course to Achieve Alignment

n/a – Added: 12/11/14

Activity – Alignment

Using the above video as a guide, use this handout to work through the first steps of alignment:


Green, S. K., & Johnson, R. L. (2010). Assessment is essential. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Horton, W. K. (2012). E-learning by design. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

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