Structural relationships within your design  

What is It?

Alignment is the idea of “critical course elements working together to ensure that students achieve the desired learning outcomes.”
The concept of alignment is  central to  the Quality Matters curriculum. According to  Quality Matters, successful courses are  built upon a foundation of solid, measurable course and module learning objectives. Every decision an instructor makes about  instructional materials, course activities, and course tools ought to then align with the learning objectives and support appropriate assessments. This design structure, like an architectural structure, lays the skeleton for  a quality learning experience.

The QM alignment diagram

How Can I Use Alignment  in My Course?

A useful design exercise, one that you would do if you were seeking QM certification for your course, is to explicitly identify each course-level learning objective, and then each module-level learning objective (see measurable learning objectives for help creating those). Identify which module-level learning objectives support which course-level objectives. Do your objectives align? Are there inconsistencies or holes that you could work on?

Next, consider your activities. Is each course- and module-level learning objective supported by an appropriate activity? For instance, if one of your objectives is for  students to  apply the scientific method, do you support that with appropriate materials and activities? Frequently, the process of explicitly identifying the relationships between learning objectives, materials, activities, technologies and assessments reveals areas where you might consider revision, especially for the sake of alignment.

Would you like help reviewing  your course for alignment and other keys to successful student learning? Consider talking to an instructional designer or doing a Quality Matters self-guided review!


Here are a few tools and practices which you may find helpful when evaluating and designing for alignment:

  • UAF is a QM member institution. As a faculty member, you have  free access to the full library of QM research and support materials.
  • Create a working document to help plan your course alignment. Google Docs (Template 1; Template 2; Template 3) or Sheets (Template) can be a great place to collaborate with your designer, or with a colleague.
  • A mind mapping tool such as can be helpful for brainstorming your learning objectives and activities.

Questions and Considerations

Must everything align? Recent debates in online learning circles have questioned the focus on objectives and alignment, calling instead  for messiness, emergence, and/or not-yetness.  According to Amy Collier, a leading thinker in this debate,  “Not-yetness is not satisfying every condition, not fully understanding something,not check-listing everything, not tidying everything, not trying to solve every problem…but creating space for emergence to take us to new and unpredictable places, to help us better understand the problems we are trying to solve.” Read more here.

In Practice

Your  measurable learning objectives support your  course materials, tools, and activities, which should then support your assessments.

Using the tool of your choice (Google Doc, mind-map, yellow sticky notes, or plain paper) make a list your course level objectives, followed by your module level objectives. Next to each course level objective, note which module level objectives apply (ie.  Formulate original research hypotheses. (MLO 6, 9, 12, 13)). This can be thought of as the relationship between structural elements within  your course.

Now, comb through each course and module objective.  Is  there an associated activity? Is there an associated assessment? Are they appropriate? Do you have assessments or activities without corresponding objectives? If so, consider why. Do you want to keep them or should they be pruned? Be creative. What alternative activities and assessments can support the same  objectives?

ED F653 Instructional Design

Course Objective
  1. Evaluate and enhance Personal Learning Environments
Lesson Objective
  1. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your PLE
  2. Select appropriate sources to enhance your PLE

Write a one-page reflection paper to address your strategies for continued growth through participation in your PLE. Include progress you made this week in establishing or freshening your Twitter, Diigo and Google+ accounts as well as any other online services or venues in which you participate. If applicable, recount any challenges you faced and what methods you used to overcome them.

ATM 101 – Weather and Climate of Alaska

Course Objectives
  1. Define, describe, illustrate and test the scientific principles that underlie the structure and behavior of the atmosphere
  2. Employ the scientific method in weather and climate (i.e., meteorology), and show how weather and climate science is conducted
  3. Describe and analyze the weather and climate of Alaska, compare it with weather and climate around the world, and identify how it is connected to the global patterns of weather and climate
  4. Plan, conduct, evaluate, and explain, benchtop experiments, weather measurements, and weather observations made with their own instruments
  5. Acquire, organize, analyze, evaluate, combine and use meteorological data from multiple sources
  6. Create their own meteorological reports and present them to their peers
  7. Compare their reports with reports from peers and evaluate the reports of peers
Lesson Objectives
  1. Identify the geography and climate region of their local site using Google Maps
  2. Compose and deliver a screencast presentation of their site and meteorological report.
  3. Compare their meteorological report with the report of a peer

Screencast 2:2. Once you have conducted your weather observations, it is time to create the screencast report as directed in the investigation manual. (Note: An  investigation manual if provided to students which describes how to take the first measurements of the weather using the instruments included in a  kit. Students will record observations using the attached worksheets. There are two appendices: Appendix 1 is an explanation of how to account for magnetic declination when making compass readings, and Appendix 2 is a chart of the Beaufort Scale. Tutorial videos on using the instruments can also be found in the Investigation Videos folder.

Watch: Alignment in the Quality Matters Program

This brief video describes alignment and how it is achieved within the Quality Matters program of course review.

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UAF Instructional Designers

This page has been authored collectively by the experts on the
UAF Instructional Design Team.
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