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Align class activities with course learning outcomes

September 23, 2014

Skilled teachers identify clear goals (student learning outcomes) for their course, identify and develop learning activities that create opportunities for students to practice and develop skill on these outcomes, and create assessments that are sensitive to the articulated goals (Blumberg, 2009, 2014; Fink, 2003). Instructors should design each course to support the learning outcomes. Introductory courses might identify SLOs at low levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (e.g., retention and retrieval of facts and other content) whereas advanced undergraduate and graduate courses will identify higher-order thinking skills (e.g., analysis, evaluation, synthesis).

Each decision about course design should be driven by weighing the relative contribution of alternative strategies toward achieving the course SLOs. Do the assigned readings provide the necessary content? What types of class activities will best support the learning goals? How much time should the instructor devote to lecture, in-class writing, group discussion, small groups working on problems together, or other learning activities? Should students write a major paper, complete a project, or make a formal presentation in class?

Courses with different goals and learning outcomes require different designs and learning activities. An introductory course might articulate learning outcomes at lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (e.g., SLOs might focus on the retention and retrieval of facts and other content). The appropriate course design might rely on activities that focus on information transmission, such as listening to lectures and reading. In contrast, an instructor will articulate higher-level learning outcomes for more advanced courses (e.g., evaluate evidence related to disciplinary theory, apply disciplinary concepts to solve problems). Courses with higher-level learning outcomes should include learning activities that enable students to practice these skills and receive useful feedback on how they can develop and improve their ability with these skills.

Students learn best when courses are aligned and when instructors clearly explain the relation between intended learning outcomes and the learning activities they include in the course.

For a humorous illustration of a sadly misaligned course, see the Brigham Young University Center for Teaching and Learning video, Professor Dancelot and the Perils of a Misaligned Course.


Blumberg, P. (2009). Maximizing learning through course alignment and using different types of knowledge. Innovative Higher Education, 34, 93-103.

Blumberg, P. (2014). Assessing and improving your teaching: Strategies and rubrics for faculty growth and student learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Center for Teaching & Learning (uploaded December 14, 2009). Professor Dancelot and the Perils of a Misaligned Course.

CUTLA web site (nd). Writing student learning outcomes for course syllabi.

Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Video: Professor Dancelot and the Perils of a Misaligned Course

Updated: 4-1-15 ecr