“Alignment” is the term within the field of instructional design that explains the relationship and degree to which course learning objectives, assessments, and pedagogical activities reinforce and build upon each other. Alignment is frequently referred to within the “Backward Design” model from Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s work Understanding by Design, and is used by many Teaching and Learning Centers as a guide and provide graphics of a triangle to illustrate the relationship between course objectives, assessments, and pedagogical activities (Wiggins and McTighe, 1998). One might think that aligning an existing course or designing a new one is linear, but what tends to happen is a cyclical process of shifting and settling as instructors map out their course to ensure that what they are asking students to do is authentic to their own pedagogical strategies, modalities, and disciplinary methods.

Course Objectives: Through this model, one might start thinking about “alignment” by first considering the course objectives, which should contain measurable and specific verbs that will allow an instructor to “see” change in student behavior, skills, or learning. To brainstorm “good” course objectives, an instructor might reference Fink’s Taxonomy or Blooms Taxonomy. Here is a helpful resource from our Center about writing Course Objectives:

Assessments: While an instructor is thinking through those course objectives, they will certainly consider how they will be able to “see” that change through the work students produce. What will students “do” to demonstrate to an instructor that they have met or mastered a learning objective?—these are the assessments. Now, an instructor might consider whether those assessments should be formative or summative depending upon the course objective. Here is a guide about authentic assessments: somewhere in Canvas

Pedagogical Activities: These activities are what students will read, watch, practice, and reflect upon within and outside of class meetings to prepare for assessments. Finding activities that will reinforce course objectives and lead students to the assessment associated with that course objective is the goal here. Here is a guide about selecting pedagogical activities that helps instructors choose ones that will help them reinforce the course learning outcomes and lead to better students success on assessments.

When a course objectives, assessments, and pedagogical activities are “out of alignment” it may mean that students motivation will wane throughout the semester or students may not be prepared for what a final assessment is asking them to demonstrate. A good example of misalignment from Carnegie Mellon University’s Teaching and Learning Center ( is: “Your objective is for students to learn to apply analytical skills, but your assessment measures only factual recall. Consequently, students hone their analytical skills and are frustrated that the exam does not measure what they learned.” Quote is referring to the age old, “This isn’t what my instructor taught us in class, or this wasn’t covered in the homework.”

Here is a table that presents examples of well aligned course objectives using verbs from Blooms Taxonomy, assessments ideas, and pedagogical activities courtesy of the Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University (

Type of learning objective Examples of appropriate assessments
Objective test items such as fill-in-the-blank, matching, labeling, or multiple-choice questions that require students to:

recall or recognize terms, facts, and concepts

Activities such as papers, exams, problem sets, class discussions, or concept maps that require students to:

summarize readings, films, or speeches

compare and contrast two or more theories, events, or processes

classify or categorize cases, elements, or events using established criteria

paraphrase documents or speeches

find or identify examples or illustrations of a concept or principle

Activities such as problem sets, performances, labs, prototyping, or simulations that require students to:

use procedures to solve or complete familiar or unfamiliar tasks

determine which procedure(s) are most appropriate for a given task

Activities such as case studies, critiques, labs, papers, projects, debates, or concept maps that require students to:

discriminate or select relevant and irrelevant parts

determine how elements function together

determine bias, values, or underlying intent in presented material

Activities such as journals, diaries, critiques, problem sets, product reviews, or studies that require students to:

test, monitor, judge, or critique readings, performances, or products against established criteria or standards

Activities such as research projects, musical compositions, performances, essays, business plans, website designs, or set designs that require students to:

make, build, design or generate something new