• Daniel Ednie-Lockett

How many learning outcomes should there be?

Learning Outcomes stand at the centre of any ELICOS course. Learning outcomes differ from Course Objectives. As discussed previously, learning outcomes are specific to their level (i.e. schools cannot use the same learning outcomes in both General English Intermediate and Upper Intermediate). For each week of the course, there need to be specific learning outcomes that are known to both teachers and students, and detailed in the syllabus for that week. Let’s look at some examples from a General English Intermediate course:

L.1 Can listen for the main ideas (gist) and keywords on familiar and some unfamiliar topics.

L.2 Can listen for detailed meaning on a range of familiar and some unfamiliar topics

L.3 Can generally recognise and follow speakers’ attitudes, purposes and inferences

L.4 Can use a range of listening strategies to answer questions with increasing confidence and accuracy

There are only four “can” statements here that are all described in present simple. Each seeks to explain the expected range that students should have mastery of the skill. For example, L1, in the Elementary course, only changes in terms of the types of topics that students are expected to listen for the main ideas. It would be easy to make these learning outcomes more detailed by going into more detail about which topics would be covered. With this description though, teachers and students can generalise this learning outcome to whatever topic they are studying at the time.

Not too few, not too many

Writing effective learning outcomes is a balancing act, if we only had one learning outcome it would look like this:

Listen accurately to main ideas, detailed information, follow speakings attitudes and answer questions on a range of familiar and some unfamiliar topics with increasing confidence

Dividing the task of learning into more discrete and detailed ideas allows teachers to associate a single focused learning outcome to a single classroom task or assessment. If learning outcomes are too broad they become meaningless.

Similarly, if we had more than 20 learning outcomes, it would be difficult for teachers and students to internalise them, and may simply resort to simply following the core textbook and supplementary resources slavishly without seeing the broader goal that they are working towards.

How many types of learning outcomes are there?

All English language courses will have learning outcomes for Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing. These are the four macro skills. Courses can also have learning outcomes relating to knowledge and application of vocabulary and grammar, or they can incorporate them into the learning outcomes of the four macro skills.

Additionally, test preparation courses should have learning outcomes relating to test-taking skills. Similarly, EAP courses have learning outcomes relating to academic skills such as research and referencing. Some of these skills can be included in the relevant macro skill, for example, giving an academic presentation can be included reasonably in speaking.


For each week of the course, the course designer identifies which learning outcomes are relevant, and matches them with the learning activities either in the core text, supplementary activity or assessment.

The easiest way to think of learning outcomes is that you have a deck of cards with different suits and values, they are all different but share some common threads. Each week of the course, you deploy different cards, as it is impossible to focus on each learning outcome each week in a 10 week course. However, over the course of the level, students will see the same learning outcomes come up again and again and have multiple opportunities to master them.

The same Learning Outcomes should come up multiple times within the same level

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