Constructive Alignment

Constructive alignment questions the effectiveness of the hierarchical model of learning and teaching; where a teacher imparts ‘knowledge’ onto a student who subsequently remembers it; by remembering it they ‘learn’ it. The means of assessing the effectiveness of this learning is through examination or essay. I see this as a ‘linear’ learning process, from A to B, from not ‘knowing’ something to ‘knowing’ something; it seems a ‘closed’ learning framework.

Constructive alignment flips this model; it established a ‘circular’ learning process, an ‘open’ learning framework. It can be defined by three questions:

01. “What do you want to learn?
02. “How are you going to learn it?”
03. “Did you learn it? Reflect and evaluate on your learning process”

By identifying the intended learning outcome (ILOs), the student / teacher works backward creating and defining a series of teaching / learning activities (TLAs) which assist in achieving the intended learning outcome. The assessment tasks (ATs) of this process are aligned with both the learning outcome and learning activities. It is ‘circular’ through this interconnection. This iterative ‘open’ framework encourages the student to reflect and evaluate on their progress and development throughout ensuring ownership and authorship of the learning process.

An example could be learning to swim; learning to swim requires swimming lessons; each lesson introduces a new swimming activity, these encompass new techniques, over time culminating in the ability to swim. The swimming instructor ‘teaches’ the student swimmer to swim by swimming. Constructive alignment activates the verb expressed within the ILO; learning to swim by swimming.

On the Foundation course Units 5&6 occur when students specialize within their chosen pathway, it comprises of 7 one week projects designed to introduce fundamental approaches and principles of Graphic Communication and Design (GCD);problem solving and visual communication through understanding typography, book design, information design, layout, branding, packaging, concept development and critical thinking.

The ‘Book’ one-week project reflects the constructive alignment system. The ITO is to design and make a book; through practical workshops (book binding, layout techniques) and setting relevant research tasks (identifying relevant artists or designers who have used books within their practice) and introducing specialist language and concepts (navigation, double page spread, crop, layout) equips the student with the necessary elements to achieve the ITO. It also is open for discovery of new unintended outcomes as it encourages serendipity.

The ATs are constant throughout the learning process; the students keep a reflective journal to evaluate and reflect and iterate as they see fit. At the end of the week all books are exhibited, each student assesses each others work based upon the assessment criteria specified in Units 5&6 (ideas development, research, production quality, clarity of communication…) a group crit is held to discuss the outcomes.

Jerome Bruner’s Spiral Curriculum supports and expands Constructive Alignment. Bruner identifies that learning through enquiry enables effective ‘intuitive’ and meaningful understanding. Introducing the fundamental principles or elements and the connections between them creates a ‘spiral’ learning model, as each project always negotiates one or more of these fundamental principles, through repeating them deeper understanding emerge. I intend to put into practice these systems in the briefs I am currently writing for Units 5&6, I am very much looking forward to putting theory into practice.


  1. Hi Paul – great stuff – the examples you’ve chosen to illustrate constructive alignment work well. I wonder if contrasting one of these with an example of *unaligned* teaching might go even further to clarify the importance of CA and – perhaps – how easy it can be to slip out of alignment! What do you think…?

  2. Hi Paul,

    I see we are both finding ourselves re-thinking our forthcoming Unit 5&6 projects in the light of what we are beginning to learn on this course. I’m not yet familiar with the notion of Jerome Bruner’s Spiral Curriculum, but it seems to support my already intuitive judgement that students learn better through the act of making and problem solving driven activities. Good stuff Paul!

  3. Hi Paul, I’ve just read Anne-Marie’s blog and it seems that Constructive Alignment has struck a chord with all of us. You talk about getting the students reflecting and evaluating their learning – this is something I need to do more of in my sessions. I have been thinking about how in introduce methods in order to assess the students learning on an ongoing basis – to ensure that they are reflecting and evaluating how they are getting on, and I am interested in experimenting with getting the students to compile a reflective journal, as you are doing in your unit 5 & 6. The students I teach are young, some fresh out of school, so these concept of ‘reflection’ is completely new – and fairly alien – to them. I am doing an upcoming session on developing a USP for a brand, and I think I will get them to asess each other’s ideas first before doing a group discussion – some great tips in your blog, thank you Paul!

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