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English Language Teaching Global Blog

What are Student Learning Outcomes?


Confused man holding basketball and baseball batLawrence Lawson returns in the second of a series of posts on English for Academic Purposes to shed light on student learning outcomes and their importance for the classroom.

Imagine your favorite game. Imagine that you know all of the rules and understand its complex moves. Now imagine that you don’t understand why anyone plays the game. How does one win? Are there even winners? What’s the point of the game? Who cares?

But you care, right?

Whether it’s winning, exercise, or competition, games need a purpose. The concept is similar in the language classroom. Students want to know the point. They want to know the “why” even when they understand the “how.” In the classroom, the point is known as the learning outcome (LO), and to be successful, students need to know it.

“Why study the present continuous?” one student might ask.

“Because our learning outcome is to write a paragraph about what you are doing right now,” a teacher might reply. “To do that, you need to know what the present continuous is and how to use it.” Knowing the LO gives this student an understandable reason for his/her work in the classroom.

Research from the University of Miami finds that “students are more likely to master subject matter if clear expectations are communicated to them for how they will be asked to demonstrate… learning.” In other words, students need to know the “why” of what they’re learning. How will the teacher, and the students themselves, know when they’ve learned it?

LOs provide the clear target that everyone in the classroom recognizes as the learning goal from the beginning of the lesson.

Some teachers put their LOs on the board at the beginning of each lesson. Others tell their students the LOs or highlight them in the textbook – if the textbook has LOs. How do you communicate learning goals to your students? If you use LOs, how do your students respond to these “clear expectations”?

Can LOs help teachers manage time more efficiently in the classroom? Can LOs help students be successful? How can we make effective LOs for our classrooms? What are your thoughts?

Lawrence Lawson is a key contributor to the new course series from OUP called Q Skills for Success. See how Q Skills for Success incorporates student learning outcomes.

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Author: Oxford University Press ELT

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4 thoughts on “What are Student Learning Outcomes?

  1. An excellent question. When I make a syllabus for a class, I always include “You will be able to…” statements like “You will be able to talk about movies”. Then, before each lesson I tell the students again. This post makes me think I could do a little more. Maybe I’ll try passing out a 1/4 sheet of paper at the beginning of the class. On it could be the learning outcome for the day and a question that asks the students to rank how well they think they’re able to do it at the end of the lesson. For example:

    Goal for the day: To be able to talk about movies.
    Question at the end: How well do you think you’re able to talk about movies?
    1) I can’t talk about movies.
    2) I’m OK at talking about movies.
    3) I can talk about movies really well.

    I wouldn’t even necessarily need to collect them. The goal is just make sure they know the point of each day. I think this would do that.

    Anyway, I’ll be interested to hear what others think:)


    • Jeremy,

      Thanks for your comments.

      Considering LOs in this way changed my practice in the classroom as well. When I first started teach, I posted an agenda for the day–as most teachers do–and ticked off items as we completed them. It was a good way to track progress during the lesson, but I found that it was mechanical and wasn’t helping students see the lesson as a whole package that led toward some end.

      The change I made is similar to what you suggest. At the beginning of each class, I post the LOs for the lesson. Then, at the end, I change the LOs to “I” statements, and have the students rate, 1-5, whether or not they can do that thing on “exit slips”–pieces of paper they drop in a box as they leave the class.

      Self-report data isn’t always the best sort of data, but I find that it helps me gauge where the students are at—and they’re usually pretty honest.

      As an example, here are my LOs and “I” statements for yesterday’s lesson–the first of the new semester:

      By the end of class today, you will:
      Know more about your classmates and your teacher.
      Describe important parts of our course and syllabus.
      Identify important sections of our BlackBoard site.

      I know more about my classmates and my teacher.
      I can describe important parts of our course and syllabus.
      I can identify important sections of our BlackBoard site.


  2. Hello
    I agree with you. LOs provide the clear target for everyone in the classroom. It helps teachers also to shorten the time of explanation .

    • Mr. Saeed,

      I agree. LOs definitely help out with time-management in the classroom. As well, they help get everyone in the classroom–students and teachers–on the same page. In that way, everyone in the classroom knows why each section of the lesson is important and works fruitfully on the task.


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