Match Assessment to Your Learning Outcomes

Photo taken by Les Chatfield. Shared on Flickr Creative Commons with Attribution License 2.0. Taken on April 19, 2005. SOURCE.

“A key to creating effective assignments and exams is the concept of ‘alignment.’ As defined by Ralph Tyler almost fifty years ago, alignment simply means starting with the  ‘desired outcomes’ of the course and working backwards so that the assignments and examinations reflect and support them. In some sense a successful course can be considered as an exercise in reverse engineering. Figure out first where you want your students to end up, and (only) then how best to help them get there…” —Jim Wilkinson

Source: Derek Bok Center, Harvard University

Aligning your assessments with your learning outcomes you created will keep you on-track with developing a purposeful course.

Example: Assessment Options for an Online History Course Unit on World War II

As an example, let’s take a look at an online history course which includes a unit on World War II.

Knowledge (common terms, facts, principles, procedures)

Learning outcome: Identify dates of battles and key leaders in WWII.

Possible assessment methods: Multiple choice questions, matching, true/false, filling out a timeline

Comprehension (understanding of facts and principles, interpretation of material)

Learning outcome: Explain the reasons for the start of the WWII. What did either side hope to gain?

Possible assessment methods: Free response – Write a two-page paper on the reasons that the WWII started.

Application (solving problems, applying concepts and principles to new situations)

Learning outcome:  Mark the location of the WWII battles to a modern-day map of Germany.

Possible assessment methods: Produce a map of where the key battles of the WWII occurred in the year 1941. Graph the losses on both sides for each year of the WWII.

Analysis (recognition of unstated assumptions or logical fallacies, ability to distinguish between facts and inferences)

Learning outcome: Differentiate between facts and propaganda in a speech.

Possible assessment methods: Write an essay answering this question: In this speech by Neville Chamberlain, what unstated assumptions does he make about international relations? How would a leader such as Winston Churchill disagree?

Synthesis (integrate learning from different areas or solve problems by creative thinking)

Learning outcome: Reconstruct a historical position by role playing a key figure from WWII.

Possible assessment methods: Come to class dressed as a leader from WWII. Act as though you were that person and respond to questions as they would. Compose a short speech that they would have possibly said in a press conference after the war ended.

Evaluation (judging and assessing)

Learning outcome: Evaluate why WWII still has a lasting impact on the economy and political identity of Germany today.

Possible assessment methods: Survey German people today on their opinions and summarize the data from articles written by modern Germans regarding the war. Recommend a set of solutions for German governmental leaders to help Germans accept the outcome of the war.

Example: Aligning Goals, Objectives, Learning Outcomes, and Assessment

This table provides examples of goals, objectives, learning outcomes, and corresponding assessments from different disciplines.

GoalObjectiveLearning OutcomeCorresponding Assessment
(Geology)  To develop knowledge, understanding and skills related to the recognition and interpretation of igneous and metamorphic rocks.To explain the different magma geochemistries derived from partial melting of the mantle in different tectonic regime.Students should be able to demonstrate how magma geochemistry relates to partial melting of the mantle by contrasting the outcomes of this process in different tectonic regimes through the critical analysis of specific case studies.Deliver case studies to small groups of students. Small groups prepare a presentation to give to the class using visuals contrasting the outcomes of this process in at least four different tectonic regimes and submit a five-page paper, citing sources appropriately.
(Biochemistry) To explain the biochemical basis of drug design and development.To demonstrate the application of molecular graphics to drug design.Students should be able to apply the principles underpinning the use of molecular graphics in the design of drugs to illustrate general and specific cases through a computer-based presentation.Individually students research a specific drug then develop a presentation showing the steps of drug design with visuals and explanatory text. When finished, students submit by posting a link to the presentation on the online discussion board. Students ask questions of at least two peers.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal design for learning (UDL) is a pedagogical framework that advocates for flexible methods and materials for instruction that support all learners based on cognitive neuroscience.
UDL has three overall guidelines:

  • Provide multiple means of engagement to define the “WHY” of learning.
  • Provide multiple means of representation to define the “WHAT” of learning.
  • Provide multiple means of action and expression to define the “HOW” of learning.

To learn more about these guidelines, review the CAST (The Center for Applied Special Technology) UDL Guidelines.

As you plan your course assessment and content to align with learning objectives, you can offer your students flexibility in learning by planning ways to provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression.

In the Develop module, we will explore types of online learning tools and teaching technologies that can be used for these assessments, and we’ll look at what is recommended for categorizing assignments as graded or ungraded.

Test Yourself

Use the templates above for matching learning outcomes to assessments in your course. Fill in each outcome, then fill in the assessments. Assessments can help meet multiple outcomes. If any assessments do not belong to an outcome, consider why you would want to include that assessment. Is it truly necessary?


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