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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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