Aligning Assessment with Learning Outcomes

Jessica Kalra

Outcome-based teaching and learning (OBTL) is a process of curriculum design that starts with the development of outcomes statements that define what our learners should know and/or be able to do at the end of a course or program. These outcomes explicitly describe how the student will demonstrate their knowledge or skill, and can therefore act as a guide for the learner to direct their learning. Using OBTL to design the curriculum for our courses can help to focus our efforts on the process students go through to develop skills and knowledge in a way that deemphasizes the product and reduces the tendency towards academic misconduct behaviours.

OBTL starts with developing thoughtful and explicit learning outcomes. Recall, learning outcomes are the expectations we have of our students when they have completed a task, a module, a course or a program of study. A learning outcome describes what we expect our students to know, or to do with this knowledge once they have completed a subset of learning. The following section assumes that the reader has developed learning outcomes for their course and aims to provide some guidance on how to align assessments with learning outcomes to promote deep learning and support academic integrity.

The procedure of aligning assessment to learning outcomes is part of a larger process known as course alignment which thoughtfully examines the connections between course learning outcomes, assessment tasks, learning activities and learning tools and resources. There are many tools that can help with the process of alignment such as the course planning and alignment table constructed by Natasha Kenny and Gavan Watson from the University of Guelph. Key to aligning learning outcomes and assessments is to ensure that the assessment is designed to evaluate students’ performance at the same level as the expectations outlined in the learning outcome. Bloom’s taxonomy is the most well-known hierarchical model used to classify learning outcomes by cognitive complexity and is useful for the purpose of aligning assessments with learning outcomes. Another example is the Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome (SOLO) taxonomy that looks at how learning progresses when considering both the complexity of the ideas and concepts as well as the relationships between them.

When we start curriculum design with learning outcomes, the assessments for those learning outcomes can be planned from the standpoint of how learners will demonstrate learning and how instructors can measure learning. For example, in first year biology, upon completion of the course, students are expected to use sterile techniques when working in a laboratory setting. In order to effectively assess this learning outcome, we would look at the action the student is expected to perform as well as the level the student is expected to perform at. If students are expected to be able to use sterile techniques, an aligned assessment task may require the student to conduct a simple experiment in the lab using this technique in front of an evaluator.

The table below describes learning outcomes that are common to the departments and programs at our institution and lists examples of assessments that can be used to measure the learners ability to achieve each outcome (adapted from Nightingale, 1996).

Communication Skills
  1. Written work (essay, report, reflective paper, etc.)
  2. Oral presentation
  3. Group work
  4. Discussion or debate
  5. Observation of real or simulated professional practice
Critical Thinking Skills
  1. Comparative or persuasive essay
  2. Report
  3. Analysis of a case study or problem
  4. Resource review or commentary
Research and Analysis Skills
  1. Annotated bibliography
  2. Project or thesis
  3. Applied task, case or problem set


Problem Solving Skills
  1. Case study
  2. Problem-based learning
  3. Create a proposal for a real-world problem


Demonstration of Knowledge
  1. Written examination
  2. Oral examination
  3. Descriptive or expository essay
  4. Report
  5. Comment on the accuracy of a set of records
  6. Devise an encyclopedia entry
  7. Produce an A–Z of …
  8. One-minute papers during class time
  9. Short answer questions: True/False/ Multiple Choice Questions (paper-based or computer-aided assessment)
Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Skills
  1. Journal
  2. Portfolio
  3. Learning contract
  4. Group work


Encouraging Academic Integrity Through Intentional Assessment Design Copyright © by Jessica Kalra. All Rights Reserved.

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