The Case for Learning Outcomes
Updated: Jan 6, 2019
Why not just structure a course around a textbook where completing each chapter is tantamount to completing the course. One answer is that regulators (rightly) require that ELICOS courses have clear learning outcomes for each course. Making the case for them from an educational perspective rather than a purely compliance one is an important task if teachers are expected to implement them weekly.
Graves (2000) points out that designing goals for courses is ‘one of the hardest aspects of course design for the teachers’ (p.73). It is essentially a ‘trees and forest’ problem where teachers have certain pages of the core textbook and assessments (the trees) to complete on a weekly basis. To consistently attach these discrete and easily isolated activities to nebulous course objectives and learning outcomes requires a whole course perspective (the forest). Teachers are unlikely to focus on the forest, unless it helps them in their daily grind to decide on what they will teach, how they will teach it and the students in the classroom.
The easiest thing is for teachers to stick to the textbook and for students to focus only on the task at hand. For teachers, easily unpacked learning outcomes are a tool of empowerment. Ideally, teachers return to the learning outcomes as a way of framing learning activities and assessments. If we take a reading activity as an example, teachers can explain that the reading on traffic is contributing to students ability to read for detail, R2.
Students search for structure and constructs. That is one reason why textbooks teach tenses with metalanguage like present perfect and past simple. These constructs give students a reference point that allows them to interpret and categorise the language that can at times appear as an amorphous blob. Similarly, empowering students with learning outcomes provides them with a reference point to compare themselves, and a target to pursue. It can also inform their self-study.
While assessments are relatively low stakes for ELICOS students, the level that a student is in (Elementary, Pre Intermediate etc) is of exceeding importance to students self-confidence. A student who levels up is affirmed and elevated by this change. The higher level promises new challenges, new friendships and a chance to keep forging a path ahead. For students who are “stuck” in a level that the believe is too low for them, there is a persistent danger of frustration, occasional listlessness and the slow burn of unfulfilled potential.
Students pay attention to that are cognisant of the learning outcomes can see the method of the madness of why some students are being elevated, and others held back. It gives them a reference point in a world that arbitrarily divides the haves and have nots.
For more information about learning outcomes and how to apply them to English language courses (ELICOS), please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Graves, K. 2000. Designing Language Courses: A guide for teachers. Newbury House Teacher Development.