Aligning Outcomes, Assessments, and Instruction

When designing a course, it's essential that the intended learning outcomes, the assessments, and the learning activities are aligned with one another.

Alignment involves the intended learning outcomes, assessments, and learning activities working in tandem. At the start of the course, you convey what you want students to know, be able to do, or value, you design assessments to determine their level of outcome achievement, and you provide learning activities that help students prepare for these assessments.

Alignment triangle

Adapted from Ellis, D. & Light, T. (2006) Teaching Excellence Academy. University of Waterloo

Poor alignment can result in two ways. 

  1. You haven’t provided students with any activities or formative assessments to prepare them for the summative assessments.
  2. Your intended learning outcomes target a certain level of performance regarding Topic X (for example, a level that is high on Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain, such as "analysing") but your assessments and/or instructional strategies are focused on a different level of performance regarding Topic X (for example, a level that is low on Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain, such as "remembering").

A course in which the intended learning outcomes, the assessments, and the learning activities are poorly aligned will result in diminished learning and increased frustration on the part of students (Leber et al, 2018). 

Here’s an example of an alignment chart (courtesy of Clarence Woudsma) in which the instructor shows which assessments relate to which learning outcomes as well as which activities help to support the achievement of each outcome.  Note that a single assessment can connect to more than one learning outcome, and a given learning outcome can be assessed by more than one assessment:

alignment chart

(A larger and accessible PDF of the foregoing alignment chart is available.) 

The section below uses Bloom's Taxonomy to demonstrate how different strategies and assessments align with various levels of the cognitive domain's hierarchy. Examples have been provided for each of Waterloo's six Faculties.

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Cognitive Hierarchy Sample Learning Outcomes Sample Assessment or Activity Sample Instructional Strategy (Course Activity)
Remember Identify the insertion and origin of each muscle of the trunk in the human body Label a diagram, asking students to identify the origin and insertion of the muscles in the diagram Prepare an unlabelled chart and have students group different muscles together by origin/insertion points during a lab with cadavers
Understand Describe the importance of health behaviour in the context of a population health perspective Compare and contrast population- and individual-level behaviour change strategies to increase healthy eating adherence in Canadian elementary school-aged children Instructor provides diagrams and explanation for different behavioural models, and asks students to discuss in groups what behavioural strategies would be most effective for current health concerns
Apply Apply the best practices and protocols associated with therapeutic recreational practices Weekly practical examinations where students must showcase their ability to perform basic therapeutic methods under the supervision of a recreational therapist Undertake a volunteer position in practical experiences under the supervision of a trained recreational therapist
Analyze Analyze data of community engagement within tourism programs Assume the role of a financial board member and analyze engagement statistics between different programs offered within a local community to determine where a given amount of financial assistance should be granted Categorize responses from program reviews 
Evaluate Assess a program’s effectiveness within a public health organization Have students deliver a presentation to the class providing information on a public health program that addresses a health concern within a specific population. A part of the presentation would include ways that the students would improve the program’s effectiveness, or come up with a new program that better addresses the health issue Use a case study to show how a logic model is used to evaluate a program
Create Design an exercise program to address the needs of a specific population, e.g. those suffering from osteoporosis Have students create a 2-week exercise plan that accurately reflects the needs of the required individual Develop sample plans, course notes with descriptions of different exercises, lectures on specific disease characteristics


Cognitive Hierarchy Sample Learning Outcomes Sample Assessment or Activity Sample Instructional Strategy
Remember Name the central characters in Shakespeare’s second tetralogy of history plays Fill in a concept map/diagram connecting the following characters to the following plays: Richard IIHenry IV, Part 1Henry IV, Part 2Henry V Instructor has students participate in a Think-Pair-Share activity where students list as many of the central characters in the assigned plays as possible on their own, and then compare and debrief their answers with a partner
Understand Classify common treatments for mental illnesses Working in groups, students create a short presentation on a specific mental illness and describe effective treatments used in modern clinical settings Instructor provides case studies of different patients with mental illnesses. Then, different treatment methods are presented. Working in groups, the class discusses which treatment methods best match with the case studies and then debrief with the instructor
Apply Apply basic sociological theories to current controversies in society Students work in groups to create a poster board presentation and present their topic of choice, explaining how it relates to a sociological theory Instructor asks students to form groups. Then, each group is assigned a different sociological theory and answers questions relating to their respective theories. Students form new groups with people from other topics and teach each other the theories
Analyze Contrast two different art media within the same historical context Students work in small groups to compare and contrast 2 art media, followed by leading a discussion with the class.The results of the discussion are then presented. Instructor presents two media forms of art, and then asks students to work in groups to analyze each media form and contrast them in as many ways as possible. The instructor will then debrief with the class as a whole, and provide additional knowledge to the discussion
Evaluate Justify why “virtuous” people can disagree on what is the most moral thing to do Students create a blog post describing their opinion on why virtuous people disagree on what is most moral, and what affects their decision-making and their actions Create a classroom discussion among small groups of students to compare and contrast ideas of why virtuous people disagree. Provide readings from Aristotle and lectures on the challenges of virtue ethics
Create Creatively model understanding of German grammar concept to peers Create and film a video in small groups on one grammar topic studied, providing visual aids to assist fellow students in better understanding your topic Make students responsible for a grammatical concept and have them write questions for other students to answer


Cognitive Hierarchy Sample Learning Outcomes Sample Assessment or Activity Sample Instructional Strategy
Remember Describe vectors and vector operations Students answer questions using the Maple TA program, followed by feedback from instructor or TAs Instructor provides animations during class, followed by a Think-Pair-Share activity
Understand Recognize that mechanical engineering solutions need to take into account other considerations, such as societal and environmental impacts Have students present a case study report on a significant mechanical engineering milestone highlighting the societal and environmental impacts that contributed to the completion of the event Class participates in a small one-minute paper in response to a lecture, followed by students pairing up and giving feedback on each other’s paper
Apply Illustrate applications for programming fundamentals and elementary numerical methods within engineering computation Students use programming software developed at the lab, followed by in-class quizzes about using the software Students participate in computer lab activities administered by TAs with instant feedback provided on the code that is developed
Analyze Analyze DC Linear resistive circuits

Students provide in-depth written analysis as part of an introductory circuit lab report

Class participates in interactive Maple TA laboratory sessions while being mentored by TAs
Evaluate Evaluate the analysis and design of core and shell-type transformers using the exact model

Students use the analysis of both transformer types and compare the designs in a group presentation

Students engage in structured and investigation style laboratory sessions with peer feedback on reports
Create Design a  Decision Support System (DSS) based on an incomplete data set while providing sound assumptions, reasoning and alternatives 

In groups, students submit a term project consisting of a project proposal, plan, and presentation 

In-class discussions are facilitated by the instructor as well as brainstorming activities to come up with a project design plan for each group


Cognitive Hierarchy Sample
Sample Assessment or Activity Sample Instructional Strategy
Remember Recall geographic development theories Students complete a fact-based online quiz before the next class Flipped classroom: have students watch a video explaining developmental geography before class, and then have students work in groups to answer questions about the video on scratch-score cards in class
Understand Explain different aspects of weather and their effects on the subsystem of a natural environment Matrix Activity: in groups of 2-4 students, create a table with information to outline effects of various weather events on different subsystems. Have pairs or groups compare their matrices and hand in the completed matrices at the end of class Students are given a handout and a presentation on different ways that weather affects subsystems
Apply Practice natural resource management methods and environmental decision making Lab report: students interpret the results collected from the field trip and how environmental quality is impacted by their management practices Instructor leads a series of field trips to study local ecosystems and practice ecological management methods
Analyze Compare and contrast how the Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Assessment Act are applied in different controversial scenarios

Students engage in a debate between two different interpretations of the Environmental Protection Act and the and Assessment Act

Instructor asks students to discuss in small groups the five most important concepts expressed in a particular section of the Environmental Protection Act or Assessment Act, and tp then present their conclusions to the class
Evaluate Assess a current environmental health program for its effectiveness within its targeted population, as well as for areas of improvement

Group project: use a Program Logic Model to evaluate the success of a particular environmental program and present findings to the class

Case studies outlining successful programs and their strategies on targeting environmental health challenges are presented to the class
Create Design a site plan for a small scale development including the aspects of terrain, microclimates, and infrastructures

Site Plan: Students work in group to create a site plan that illustrates the details of a new development through diagrams and photos as appropriate. The report provides clear justification for choices in the design with respect to terrain, microclimates, and other existing infrastructures.

Students visit prospective sites for their site plan project, collecting pertinent data


Cognitive Hierarchy Sample Learning Outcomes Sample Assessment or Activity Sample Instructional Strategy
Remember Recall the laws associated with probability and various statistical models Multiple-choice questions addressing differences in statistical models and problem solving Lectures introducing different statistical models, readings, and sample clicker questions
Understand Discuss the importance of design for a single-table database Import data into an existing database and create a simple report using the report wizard Lab exercises to practice various steps; lectures to introduce data management; readings
Apply Relate finance and mathematical models to data sets Report written about which financial model best fits with different data sets and why Lecture and readings on different financial models, case studies, data analysis practice questions in class
Analyze Interpret a company’s financial statements to determine credit risk

Provide students with sample data from a company and assign an analysis report within small groups

Case studies, lectures introducing credit risk analysis
Evaluate Assess characteristics of a subpopulation to predict life expectancies

Provide sample data from a subpopulation affected by different health and environmental characteristics and medical history

Case studies of different population risk evaluations and assessments, lectures on medical statistics and health evaluation
Create Design a new monetary system to approve sample funding proposals within the Faculty of Mathematics 

Provide sample funding proposals from students within the faculty of mathematics and have students devise a new financial system/rubric to determine funding eligibility

Lectures on introductory financial management and business models, readings, sample rubrics


Cognitive Hierarchy Sample Learning Outcomes Sample Assessment or Activity Sample Instructional Strategy
Remember Recognize causative agents of common infectious diseases Clickers: students answer short quizzes to assess their knowledge of reading material before classes Instructor has class complete brainstorming activities to come up with different causative agents, and then debriefs with the class to fill in remaining material
Understand Recognize physics concepts in medical imaging, nuclear medicine, and other radiation therapies Written exam questions addressing how the physics concepts are connected to modern day applications Guest lecture with demonstrations of modern day applications of physics in readings and lectures
Apply Calculate the behaviour of basic chemical reactions Practice questions in Maple TA with feedback Molecular modelling software and demonstration of calculations to lead to accurate predictions
Analyze Examine phenotypic data and deduce possible modes of inheritance, (e.g. dominant, recessive, X-linked)

Analyze data sets from Drosophila genetic crosses and propose possible inheritance patterns 

Lab experiments demonstrating modes of inheritance with video animations to be watched before the lab

Evaluate Interpret data collected using hydrological field method techniques

Tutorial field exercises requiring students to collect and interpret water quality data

Hands-on demonstrations of field exercises with detailed manuals on basic field techniques
Create Develop a hypothesis and design an experiment to test the effect of a mutation in a plant gene 

Written report describing the experiments designed and the interpretation of possible results

Modeling and practice of experimental designs with investigation lab experiment components

Further Resources


  • Biggs, J. & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university (4th ed.). Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.
  • Leber, J., Renkl, A., Nückles, M., & Wäschle, K. (2018). When the type of assessment counteracts teaching for understanding. Learning: Research and Practice4(2), 161-179.
  • Maki, P. (2010). Assessing for learning: Building a sustainable commitment across the institution. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

teaching tipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Aligning Outcomes, Assessments, and Instruction. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo. 


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