• Daniel Ednie-Lockett

Are Learning Outcomes specific to their level?

Short answer is YES. The longer question is to what extent should they be similar. Teachers in an ELICOS provider inevitably teach multiple levels of the one course such as General English (GE) and often teach other courses such as English for Academic Purposes (EAP) or test preparation courses such as IELTS.

If the layout and structure vary significantly from level to level, teachers (and students) need to spend more time learning and comparing the learning outcomes. Ideally the major changes in the learning outcomes from level to level within the same course should relate to degree.

The following learning outcome is taken from a General English course, from the Intermediate level:

W.4 Can generally link between simple and some more complex ideas coherently and cohesively

As can be seen, the word ‘generally’ is used to moderate the frequency with which students at this level can write coherently and cohesively. The phrase “simple and some more complex ideas” delineates the expected type of content that students at this level will be writing about. This allows teachers to identify students that are only writing about simple topics to be below the expected level, despite the fact that those students may be consistently linking those simple ideas competently.

Let’s look then at what the equivalent learning outcome for the level above in Upper Intermediate:

W.4 Can link between complex ideas coherently, cohesively and with few inappropriacies

We can see the frequency of errors are limited to a “few inappropriacies”. In Intermediate, as expressed with the word “generally” students could potentially have some areas of their writing that weren’t fully coherent or cohesive, and still be acceptable for that level.

It’s important to realise that students at lower levels will make mistakes, and that making mistakes and having them corrected is an important part of the process of learning and development. As a result, learning outcomes need to be realistic. If we compare the previous two learning outcomes with their equivalent at the Pre Intermediate level:

W.4 Can generally use a range of basic linking between ideas coherently and cohesively

We can see that the requirements to be progressing are significantly lower. The phrase “generally” again gives students leeway to make errors. The bigger difference between Pre Intermediate and Intermediate is in the complexity of content. This assumes that students will continue to make regular mistakes while transitioning from relatively straightforward links to bringing together more complex ideas in writing.

Granularity and Uniformity

The overall structure of the learning outcomes from Pre Intermediate to Upper Intermediate remains consistent, the differences are in the frequency of errors and the degree of complexity of the ideas expressed. Only modifying the degree of attainment in learning outcomes makes it easier for teachers and students to internalise and follow the broader goals of the course.

Learning Outcomes across levels should be both granular and have common threads that make them easy to identify

For more information about learning outcomes and how to apply them to English language courses (ELICOS), please email