Assessment is a key component of the curriculum, and therefore consideration of assessment strategies should be integrated into the design process during the early stages of module and programme development. To design effective outcomes-based education the intended learning outcomes, teaching methods and learning activities and the assessment strategy should be mutually supportive. This is known as constructive alignment.
The theory which underpins outcomes-based education - the idea that learning and teaching is organised around enabling students to achieve pre-identified and specific outcomes - was developed by John Biggs in the 1990s.
“Constructive alignment starts with the notion that the learner constructs his or her own learning through relevant learning activities. […] The key is that all components in the teaching system - the curriculum and its intended outcomes, the teaching methods used, the assessment tasks - are aligned to each other. All are tuned to learning activities addressed in the desired learning outcomes. The learner finds it difficult to escape without learning appropriately." (Biggs, 2003: 1)
In other words, when designing a constructively aligned curriculum we should:
- Start by specifying the desired learning outcomes (what do we want our students to know and be able to do?)
- Create an environment that engages students in constructing meaning; thus learning what they are intended to learn through relevant learning activities. (Which teaching methods and learning activities can we use to encourage students to behave in ways that are likely to guide their learning towards achieving these outcomes?)
- Design assessment tasks which allow all students to demonstrate how well they have attained these outcomes and assessment criteria that will differentiate the standard at which the learners have achieved the outcomes. (Which assessment tasks and criteria will tell me that students have achieved the outcomes?)