Aligning learning objectives, course materials, activities, and assessments ensures that they reinforce one another for the purpose of learning (see Blumberg in References). If one or more of these key course elements is misaligned, learning will not be optimized (see Biggs in References).  

Consider the example in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Misaligned course elements

Clearly, in this example, the assessment essay will not give the instructor information about a learner’s ability to compare economic systems.

Instructional designers (IDs) readily see the need for alignment when designing courses. However, achieving alignment when designing a course can be an elusive and frustrating task for many subject matter experts (SMEs).

The storyboard system presented below is a tool that might help your SMEs achieve alignment simply by filling in the blanks.


The Graduate School of the University of Maryland–Baltimore (GS-UMB) is a relative newcomer to online learning. In the last several years, the university has made investments in ID staff and technology in order to jump-start its entrée into online learning. Helping faculty make the transition to online course development requires bringing them up to speed on current pedagogical strategies, including the concept of alignment.

In our experience, however, attempting to train many busy faculty members on the nuances of pedagogical and instructional design concepts has proven to be a challenge. IDs would engage in one-on-one consultations offering guidance to SMEs before sending them off to plan their courses. However, upon reviewing faculty attempts at planning courses, we routinely found assessments that did not match learning objectives. In other instances, assessments were simply missing, and frequently course materials did not support the objectives.

How could fully aligned courses be developed, given these constraints?

A solution

The IDs set about devising a three-part course planning system formatted as Microsoft Word documents. This easy-to-use planning framework can be uploaded to file-sharing platforms like Google Docs, or emailed between SMEs and IDs.

The storyboard templates, with sample planning information, are shown here.

Part 1—Course-level learning outcomes (see Figure 2)

Figure 2: Part 1 helps faculty identify the new skills, behaviors, or attitudes that students will acquire upon completing a course

Part 2—Objectives and assessments (see Figure 3)

Figure 3: Part 2 enables faculty to record learning objectives within each course module or unit. Then they can associate a learning outcome (from Part 1) and identify an assessment for each objective.

Part 3—Resources and activities (see Figure 4)

Figure 4: Part 3 ensures proper alignment of course materials (readings, etc.) and practice activities with each listed objective

Special features

The storyboard templates include embedded hyperlinks that give users just-in-time information about Bloom’s Taxonomy and how to write learning goals. You can easily add additional links to “help” topics using the hyperlink feature in Word.  

There are also several built-in drop-down lists that expedite the planning process. Selectable lists for learning objectives (LOs), assessment types, and activity types are available in the current version. All lists are easily modified using Word’s built-in Developer feature. (Note: An ID must populate the LO drop-down list in Part 2 using the completed LOs from Part 1 for this drop-down to function properly. This is a copy-and-paste procedure that can be completed in minutes.)

Selectable list example (see Figure 5)

Figure 5: Drop-down lists speed the planning process. In this example, the learning objectives from Part 1 populate the drop-down list and help SMEs match the objectives with supporting learning outcomes.

The planning process using the storyboard system

Kicking off a new course at GS-UMB begins with a brief consultation between an ID and SME in order to explain the three-phase planning methodology using the template system. Faculty are encouraged to approach the planning process iteratively: first by listing the learning objectives, next by identifying module-level objectives and assessments, and finally by identifying resources and activities. Between steps, SMEs and IDs touch base to ensure that each phase is complete and that alignment has been achieved. This process can take days, weeks, or months, depending on the SME’s schedule.


Once the three storyboard parts are complete, the ID will have a complete road map to begin developing the course. The extra time and focus spent on creating a complete and aligned course plan will save many hours in the development phase. Tight planning also ensures that the final product will be a quality learning experience for students.

Using the storyboard planning system facilitates collaboration between SMEs and IDs when planning and developing courses. If you would like to download the storyboards, you can do so from the UMB website.


The storyboard system is based on a storyboard grid adapted by Jennifer Bopp, manager of instructional design at Anne Arundel Community College, from the work of Dr. Joan D. McMahon, professor emeritus at Towson University and Quality Matters trainer.


Biggs, John. “Aligning Teaching and Assessing to Course Objectives.Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: New Trends and Innovations. University of Aveiro. April 2003.

Blumberg, Phyllis. “Maximizing Learning Through Course Alignment and Experience with Different Types of Knowledge.Innovative Higher Education, Vol. 34, No. 2. June 2009.