A learning outcome is a clear and specific statement that identifies what students must demonstrate at the level and standard required to successfully pass their study at program and course levels. (The Learning Outcomes page covers this topic in more detail.)
When you're using the constructive alignment approach to curriculum design, one basic activity is to choose and develop learning activities that are aligned with intended learning outcomes. That is, they are:
- likely to lead to students achieving the specified learning outcomes for a particular teaching session, course or program
- practical and appropriate to use within your current context and with available resources.
Select activities that will elicit actions related to the verbs in the learning outcomes. Learning activities should give students opportunities to develop – and ultimately demonstrate – their learning. Choose or design activities that allow students to progress through a range of levels of complexity as they work towards achieving deeper understanding in a particular area.
Biggs and Collis's (1982) structure of the observed learning outcome (SOLO) taxonomy supports this approach. The SOLO taxonomy provides a systematic way to describe how a student's performance grows in complexity when mastering many academic tasks.
For example, as students progress towards the ability to conceptualise at a higher level, they will need to move through the following levels:
- unistructural – characterised by verbs such as memorise, identify, recognise
- multistructural – characterised by verbs such as describe, list, classify
- relational – characterised by verbs such as apply, integrate, analyse, explain
- extended abstract – characterised by verbs such as theorise, generalise, reflect.
Once you start thinking about how your learning activities can provide students with opportunities to progress through these levels, you might want to change the verbs that form the basis of your learning outcomes.
Aligning learning outcomes with teaching goals
The process of aligning learning activities, learning outcomes and assessment with the course and program goals is called "curriculum mapping". At the program level, these three elements are connected with the development of the program's stated goals or graduate attributes.
With aligning (or curriculum mapping), staff review a given course's:
- learning outcomes
- learning activities and
to identify where and how graduate attributes are taught, practised and assessed within the course. Often this exercise shows that many graduate attributes are already being developed, but not in an explicit way. Mapping can reveal opportunities to align aspects of course design in new or better ways, or to introduce new learning or assessment activities. Curriculum mapping and program review are most successful when faculties use their particular learning and teaching goals as a base.
A completed curriculum map may reveal gaps where you could embed attributes, or identify areas of over-concentration where one aspect of the course is responsible for developing several attributes.
Although you can map individual courses, it is most useful if you conduct course design and mapping as part of a whole-of-program review and revision process. To begin this process, faculties or schools translate university-wide attributes into a set of discipline-specific program attributes.
Once you have mapped individual courses, you can collate the results and map the desired skills, knowledge and attributes across the entire program.
Like course mapping, program mapping can reveal gaps and areas of over-concentration. You will be able to see whether the program currently integrates all its specified attributes and how effectively it does so.
What happens after curriculum mapping?
As one important outcome of this review process, you might revise course and program outlines so that they include clear statements of the graduate attributes each course or program is to develop.
- Graduate Capabilities
- Program-Level Learning Outcomes
- Setting up and revising a course or program
- See Assessment pages for alignment of assessment with learning outcomes
Biggs, J. B., & Collis, K. F. (1982). Evaluating the quality of learning: The SOLO taxonomy. Academic Press.
Loughlin, C., Lygo-Baker, S., & Lindberg-Sand, Å. (2021). Reclaiming constructive alignment. European Journal of Higher Education, 11(2), 119-136. https://doi.org/10.1080/21568235.2020.1816197
Ruge, G. Tokede, O. & Tivendale, L. (2019). Implementing constructive alignment in higher education – cross-institutional perspectives from Australia. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 833-848. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1586842