Outcome-based approach to curriculum and instructional design

When designing a curriculum, a teacher has to take into consideration the interrelationships among different aspects of a curriculum in order to make the teaching effective. In this video, we will look at a curriculum design framework that is found effective in managing the interrelationship among the important aspects of a curriculum. It is called constructive alignment.

“Constructive” means students are the only creator of their own knowledge. Meaning is not something that can be imparted or transmitted from the teacher to the students. Like what the story tells us, the skills and knowledge in digging a hole can not be transmitted to the puppies directly. The puppies have to practice themselves in order to become skillful.

“Alignment” means a teacher’s job is to think about what it takes for students to achieve the learning outcomes and then design the learning experiences to maximize the possibility for students to achieve the intended goals.

There are three major components in the teaching and learning system: the intended learning outcomes, the teaching and learning activities, and the assessment tasks. “Alignment” means to have all three aligned with each other.

In those puppies’ experience, the assessment task is aligned with the learning outcomes. However, the teaching and learning activities are aligned with neither the learning outcomes nor the assessment.

To set up a constructively aligned system for learning, we need to define the intended learning outcome we hope to help students to achieve first. A typical intended learning outcome describes what particular knowledge, skill, or attitude a student should be able to demonstrate at the end of a course or programme.

If constructive alignment is applied systematically in a university, the alignment among the outcomes at the lesson, course, programme, faculty, and university levels is the other type of alignment that needs to be taken care of. There should be alignment between the educational aims or graduate attributes at the university level and at the faculty level. The programme intended learning outcomes should then be aligned with the faculty aims. The course intended learning outcomes should be aligned with the programme outcomes. At last, the intended learning outcomes of each lesson should be aligned with the course intended learning outcomes too.

These intended learning outcomes constitute the principles for the selection of learning activities and the design of the assessment tasks. If the learning outcomes focuses on high-order learning, the whole teaching and learning system would then be tuned to support high-level learning for students. If the learning outcomes focuses on specific attitude or skill, the teaching and learning activities would then be geared to that direction.

In the story about the puppies, for example, the intended learning outcomes the mother dog wants the puppies to achieve is: the puppies will be able to dig holes independently. This is a very skill-focused learning outcome. If a course is developed to address such kind of learning outcome, there has to be opportunities for the puppies to develop the skills. The father dog obviously has different goals in mind. His learning outcomes are very knowledge-focused, understanding of holes, tools, soil and so on. Different intended learning outcomes would lead to different types of learning design.

After setting up the intended learning outcomes, the next step is to select the learning activities to ensure students will be supported to achieve the learning outcomes.

The last step is to design the assessment tasks that can accurately measure the learning outcomes.

This alignment between assessment and learning outcomes is very important. Like what Ramsden has pointed out, assessment drives students’ learning. Students learn what they think will be assessed.

So to ensure that students will achieve what is expected, the assessment has to mirror the intended learning outcomes. It should be designed to measure the desired qualities described in the statements of the learning outcomes. It has to provide transparent criteria for students to understand what is expected and how they will be measured. The aim of the assessment is then not discriminating the learning qualities among students but providing report on the extent to which students have achieve the desired learning outcomes.

With the idea of constructive alignment, the focus in teaching is not what we teach but what our students will do and be able to achieve. It is a useful framework for curriculum and instructional design. In this course, we will discuss in detail how the ideas of constructive alignment can be put into practice. In this module, we will deal with defining learning outcomes and designing teaching and learning activities. For assessment, you can refer to the module specifically on assessment.

Constructive alignment is an example of outcome-based education, proposed by Professor John Biggs and Dr. Catherine Tang.

Biggs, J. (2014). Constructive alignment in university teaching. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 1, 5-22.

Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to teach in higher education. London: Routledge.


About the photo: HKU campus under Red Rainstorm Signal, filmed in 2014.

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