Mapping alignment (literally)

Align Goals & Opportunities-to-Learn


  • Curriculum alignment is the process that (ideally) results in an aligned curriculum.​
  • Curriculum mapping is the process that results in a curriculum map.​

When and how often do you provide students with opportunities to demonstrate their learning?

Curriculum mapping as an equity-centered practice

We "need to consider how curricula are structured to advance student learning and how courses within curricula are linked to help students make connections, transfer learning, and reach the goals we set for them in learning outcomes" (Jankowski & Marshall, 2017, p. 27).

Why does this matter?

When was the last time you thought about what it was like to be a novice in your field?

As experts, many faculty demonstrate their disciplinary mastery “so automatically and instinctively that they are no longer consciously aware of what they know or do” (Ambrose et al, 2010, p. 97). 

Unfortunately, the implicit nature of faculty expertise doesn't always translate directly to clear goals for student learning. Instead, sometimes the very thing that qualifies someone as an expert--unconscious competence-- can lead to disciplinary blind spots, which in turn, may create unintended obstacles for students. 

The iterative curriculum alignment process of reflecting on your expectations for student performance may help bring your implicit expectations about disciplinary knowledge, skills, and abilities to an explicit level.

Curriculum Alignment

We cannot hold students responsible for demonstrating mastery of learning outcomes unless we provide sufficient number and sufficiently varied opportunities for them to achieve those outcomes. This is true at the course- and program-level. Curriculum alignment is an iterative process of examination to determine the degree to which students have equitable opportunities to develop and demonstrate their attainment of the PLOs. 

As Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman (2010) explain: "To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned" (p. 4-6). 

Analyzing program alignment enables faculty to determine the degree to which the curriculum creates opportunities (in classes or other required learning activities) for students to develop mastery of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they will be expected to demonstrate as matriculating graduates. 

Characteristics of an aligned curriculum

  • The relationship between outcomes and opportunities is clear. 
  • Opportunities to learn skills / knowledge related to the PLO are sufficient and sufficiently scaffolded.
  • Opportunities to demonstrate learning of the PLO are also sufficient and sufficiently scaffolded.

Curriculum Mapping

“Mapping is a strategy for visualizing the areas where we think learning is happening as it relates to specific learning outcomes” (NILOA, 2018, p. 7).

The process during which faculty examine the alignment between program learning outcomes and learning opportunities is called curriculum mapping; its end product is a curriculum map, which is a visual representation of the intentional sequencing of learning opportunities across a program.

A strong curriculum map includes:

  • All courses / activities required for the program
  • All program learning outcomes (PLOs) 
  • Clear indication of which required courses / activities provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their attainment of one or more PLOs--including the level of engagement the course provides.

Identifying level of engagement with PLOs

  • Introduce: (I)
  • The course or program requirement introduces a concept relevant to the program outcome; learning activities focus on basic knowledge and skills that support the learning outcome. Often, several courses in a curriculum will introduce an outcome and provide practice and scaffolding to begin to lay a foundation of achievement. Similarly, some courses may be designed to introduce only one outcome.
  • Reinforce: (R)
  • The course or requirement strengthens, supports, and reinforces the development of the knowledge and skills necessary for optimal achievement of the program outcome further along in the curriculum. Foundational knowledge of the outcome was previously (i.e., not concurrently) introduced through other course work in the program’s curriculum.
  • Mastery: (M)
  • The course or requirement provides opportunities for the student to integrate all the knowledge and skills necessary for mastery of the outcome at the end of the program. Instructional and learning activities in the course focus on demonstrating achievement of the outcome in multiple contexts and at multiple levels of complexity. Foundational knowledge and skills related to the outcome had been previously (i.e., not concurrently) introduced and reinforced through various activities and opportunities in other courses in the program’s curriculum.
  • M*
  • The asterisk (*) indicates that the course / experience includes a signature assignment opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery of one or more PLO(s). 

Adapted from University of Rhode Island ( 

  • Does the program provide sufficient (and sufficiently scaffolded) opportunities for students to learn and sufficient (and sufficiently scaffolded) opportunities to demonstrate their learning?​
  • Are the opportunities accessible & transparent for all?​