Creating a Learning Activity

This is the third of three “backward design” tutorials in the following sequence:


In the “backward design” approach to creating courses, you first decide what you want your students to learn, and you formalize your decisions in your statements of learning expectations. Then you decide how you’ll measure whether students have learned what you intended, and you create your assessments accordingly. Finally you decide what kinds of activities will guide the students to meet the learning expectations. If you follow this process, your expectations, assessments, and activities are in alignment.

What You’ll Learn

By the end of this tutorial you will be able to choose learning activities that align with your stated learning expectations.


The following graphic has been modified slightly from the graphic you viewed in the previous tutorial to show that the assessments and teaching/learning activities influence each other in an iterative fashion.

Graphic showing that intended learning outcomes lead to assessment, which leads to teaching and learning activities, which influence assessments.

Image adapted from Figure 1: A Basic Model of an Aligned Curriculum in Using Biggs' Model of Constructive Alignment in Curriculum Design.

Book cover of Teaching for Quality Learning at UniversityAlso take a look at the examples of learning activities in Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does by John B. Biggs and Catherine So-Kum Tang, available at Cline Library.

By now you should recognize that aligning expectations, assessments, and activities leads to a more effective, learning-centered curriculum, class, module, unit, or lesson.

Let’s revisit the table of examples from tutorial 2, Assessing Student Learning, and complete it by adding some learning activities.


My hope is that by the end of this course students will be able to …

How will I know if this goal has been reached?

What will students have to do to accomplish this?

Students will be able to identify the main signs and symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Students will pass a multiple-choice test.

Students will read chapter 4 of the textbook and will explore the National MS Society’s web site. Then students will work in groups to complete a glossary of the signs and symptoms of MS. Students will complete an online matching exercise in identifying symptoms of MS.

Students will be able to write an acceptable research proposal in the discipline.

Students will submit a 1,000-word research proposal that describes their topic and research methodology and includes a preliminary literature review of at least 5 relevant peer-reviewed articles.

Students will read chapters 3 and 4 of the textbook. Students will also attend a library session on research and content access. Students will then conduct library research and obtain, read, and annotate at least 5 peer-reviewed resources. With a group of peers working on a similar research topic, students will share their resources and share their draft research methodologies for peer review.

Students will be able to demonstrate effective oral and visual presentation skills.

Students will develop and deliver a 15-minute in-class presentation that includes audio or visual supporting materials.

Students will watch two videos on effective public speaking and effective use of audio and visual presentation materials. Students will watch and peer-assess a presentation, identifying strengths and weaknesses. Students will then use these assessments to develop a peer rubric for their own presentations. Working in pairs, students will deliver 5-minute practice presentations to each other and will use their peer rubrics to assess each other’s performance and provide feedback.

These examples are drawn in part and adapted from Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does by John B. Biggs and Catherine So-Kum Tang.

Sometimes you might decide to use several different kinds of learning activities to guide students toward meeting one of your learning expectations, especially if you've written a complex expectation. So how do you decide on your learning activities?

Consider the skills needed for a student to meet your learning expectation. Then consider how you can provide opportunities for students to develop and practice those skills.

Also consider how you will assess the students, and then choose activities that let students practice the what you expect them to demonstrate in your assessments.

For example, if you plan to assess students by administering a final exam, let students first take practice quizzes or self-tests. If your assessment consists of a large project, have students analyze examples of previous successful projects, and let students work on smaller pieces of their overall projects while you provide guidance and feedback along the way.

Activity: Write the Building Blocks of a Learning Activity

To devise a suitable learning activity, first think about the implications of your learning expectations. Answer the following questions for one of your learning expectations.

Note: If you want to keep a copy of your answers, click the Show Answers button near the bottom of this page, and then print the resulting page.

Activity: Describe Your Learning Activity

Consider your responses to the questions in the previous section, and also look at the examples in Teaching for Quality Learning at University: What the Student Does. Then write a description for one or more learning activities for the learning expectation you analyzed above.


My hope is that by the end of this course students will be able to …

Describe the type of quiz, proposal, presentation, paper, project, etc., that will indicate to you and the students whether the learning expectation has been met.

What will students have to do to accomplish this?


Now self-assess the feasibility and appeal of your proposed learning activity. Answer the following questions, and use your responses to adjust your learning activity accordingly. Sometimes you might instead adjust your assessment or your learning expectation as needed to bring all three elements into alignment.

Further Reading and Activities

The example activities described in this tutorial can be implemented in Blackboard Learn. For more information on organizing and building your course in Bb Learn, see

Icon for podcast series Tuesday Tips on Teaching with TechnologyIn an episode of the podcast series Tuesday Tips on Teaching with Technology, John Doherty and Wally Nolan of NAU’s e-Learning Center discuss planning your course content. Check out Episode 7, Planning Your Course Content. Also listen to Episode 19, Pre During Post, Part One, and Episode 20, Pre During Post, Part Two, for ideas on activities that students can do before, during, and after class.

Now that you have some ideas for your learning activities, see the e-Learning Center’s tutorials and training schedule for more information on how to implement the activities in Blackboard Learn.


For more information on this topic, contact the e-Learning Center at We are also on Twitter ( and Facebook (, and we blog at