Texas Tech University

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Secrets of Online Course Quality: Alignment

Quality in an online course is measured by high student achievement of the stated course objectives. Alignment is when course activities and assessments specifically support and measure each of the stated objectives. (Note that it is okay and common to have various activities and even assessments support and/or measure more than one objective.)

The Worldwide eLearning Instructional Design (ID) Team uses the following method to determine alignment:

  • Objective: “At the end of the course/module the student will be able to”  (verb)  (knowledge and skills).
  • Activities: “Activities that support the student to do a”  (noun version of the verb) of the (knowledge and skills).
  • Assessment: A  (noun version of the verb) of the (knowledge and skills).

For example, if the verb in the course/module objective is “describe”, then the activities should focus on having students do a description, and the assessment should be a description.

It's generally intuitive in a face-to-face course to demonstrate the verb along with the presentation of the knowledge and skills. Demonstration of the verb in addition to the knowledge and skills is not intuitive in an online course because of the transactional distance between the instructor and student. Transactional distance makes it necessary to explicitly instruct everything. The big takeaway of this article and the secret of high student achievement is, “Don't forget to explicitly instruct students how to 'do the verb' as well as presenting the content of the knowledge and skills!”

It can be challenging to track and make sure all of the verbs and knowledge and skills have been addressed. To help solve this problem,  instructional designers typically use a numbering method. For example, if the verb in the first objective is “list” and the verb in the second objective “explain”, then all of the activities and assessment criterion that support “listing” can be labeled “1”, and those that support “explaining” can be labeled “2”. Labeling can go down to specific sentences of instruction and assessment items, but usually labeling occurs at a higher level. A course is considered to be aligned when each number for each objective also shows up at least once in the labeling of course/module activities and assessments.

An objective of this article is for the reader to be able to align an online course. To that end, this article has demonstrated how to do alignment through various uses of verbs and nouns in objectives, activities, and assessments. But the assessment of the objective of this article will only occur when the reader uses this newly acquired knowledge and skills to align the verbs and nouns in their own online course. Let us know how it goes!


The Worldwide eLearning Instructional Design (ID) Team consults in collaboration with faculty and course developers to create quality online courses. The ID Team is well-versed in the best practices of instructional design, universal design for learning, educational technology, and issues such as compliance with the American Disability Act and copyright regulations. ID Team members are available for consultation by appointment: contact us via email or phone, (806) 742-7277, if you need further assistance.