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National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

Occasional Paper 26 - Aligning Educational Outcomes and Practices


DQP Cover

Hutchings, P. (2016, January). Aligning educational outcomes and practices. (Occasional Paper No. 26). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).


In NILOA's twenty-sixth occasional paper, author and NILOA senior scholar Pat Hutchings discusses alignment of learning outcomes and provides examples of how campuses are approaching and facilitating the alignment process.

Paper Abstract

The notion of alignment has become increasingly prominent in efforts to improve student learning today. The term, as used in this paper, refers to the linking of intended student learning outcomes with the processes and practices needed to foster those outcomes. Alignment is not a new idea, but it has become more salient as increasing numbers of campuses have devised institution-level learning outcomes, and as frameworks such as the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ (AAC&U) Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs), Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP), and Tuning USA have become widely known and adopted. It has also become more important as students swirl through multiple institutions, stop out and return, and take advantage of the growing set of providers offering courses, badges, and certificates. Seen from this perspective, alignment is a much-needed counter to fragmentation and incoherence.

But achieving alignment isn’t easy. In 2013 only four in ten institutions reported that the learning goals of all of their academic programs were aligned with the institution’s stated learning outcomes. Drawing on work by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), this paper explores what campuses can do to facilitate this process in a way that makes a difference in the experience and achievements of learners. Specifically it reviews the use of curricular mapping as one prominent approach to achieving alignment; explores another approach that emerges more directly from the interests and work of faculty; proposes a number of implications for approaching the work of alignment; and concludes with an examination of the roles that students can play in our thinking about alignment. The aim of the paper is to begin to “crack open” this topic in ways that recognize its multiple levels, full range of contributors, and complexity.

Biography of the Author

Pat Hutchings joined the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 1998, serving as a senior scholar and then as vice president, working closely with a wide range of programs and research initiatives, including the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. She has written widely on the investigation and documentation of teaching and learning, the peer collaboration and review of teaching, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Recent publications, drawing from Carnegie's work, include Ethics of Inquiry: Issues in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (2002), Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (2000) and, co-authored with Mary Taylor Huber, The Advancement of Learning: Building the Teaching Commons (2005). She continues to work part-time with the Foundation on a broad range of higher education issues. She was chair of the English department at Alverno College from 1978 to 1987 and a senior staff member at the American Association for Higher Education from 1987-1997. Her doctorate in English is from the University of Iowa.


For more information on assignment design and NILOA's assignment library initiative, read the 2014 report below:

Hutchings, P., Jankowski, N. A., & Ewell, P. T. (2014). Catalyzing assignment design activity on your campus: Lessons from NILOA’s assignment library initiative. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).