Model for matching learner and tutor expectations

We often talk about managing learner’s expectations, whether that be around attendance, achievement, career aspirations, university choices, further training or life generally. But the major issue with this is that we as educators are ‘managing’ someone else’s expectations, when we don’t necessarily have a true understanding of what is occurring with that person, writes Dr Duncan Cross, Associate Teaching Professor at the University of Bolton.

There are lots of reasons for this, but for many, this occurs as a difficult conversation where we are seen to be dictating rules or predicting futures based on what we have experienced with the learner either behaviourally or through submission of work.

These conversations are often not true dialogues, but they are one-sided giving feedback, setting out the expectations or ‘rules’ that the learner must abide by if they want to continue on their educational/training pathway.

While we may have targets and KPIs to meet, life isn’t that simple, and the learners can feel invalidated or ignored when they are not part of that conversation. And we feel exactly the same when it happens to us.

I worked with a fantastic team supporting refugee healthcare professionals for several years, and part of my role was teaching English and clinical communications. From this I came across a model that was used for medical student training called ICE from the health belief model (Becker and Maiman, 1975).

ICE stands for Ideas, Concerns and Expectations. For example, if you’ve been to the doctors you will probably have been asked:

Idea: What do you think is wrong?

Concern: What are you worried about?

Expectation: What are you expecting me to do today?

This gives the doctor a really good idea of what’s going on with us, and whether we’ve spent a lot of time on google misdiagnosing our condition and how they can respond and manage our expectations. But the problem with this is we feel managed and very often dissatisfied.


ICE and managing expectations

In 2017 I gave a TEDx talk on ICE and rethinking the student journey; the main point is not really about us managing expectations but matching them so that we have a shared understanding of the situation and then we can make a plan going forward.

The ICE model of communication gives a framework for a discussion that allows exploration and management of not only the student’s ideas, concerns and expectations of their studies and how life may impinge on those studies, but also the management of the tutor’s ICE.

Each person in this relationship has the ability to allay and manage ideas, concerns, and expectations by contributing to the discussion in a meaningful manner through active listening and participation. Through this, we not only manage expectations but we also match and manage our mutual expectations through the alignment of a narrative that clarifies our perception and reality of our situation.

For me, we need to be transparent in our communications with learners and have an open conversation around using the model, why we are using it and explaining that they can initiate a conversation using the model too. We then go through ICE together sharing our perspectives which then can create a shared perspective and action plan.


How to use the model

Personally, I like to have a worksheet with three columns, on the left the learner perspective, on the right the tutor perspective and the central column is completed together for a shared perspective or way forward. This can also be used with colleagues to support shared understanding and matching and managing expectations in the workplace.

It's important to think about the types of questions that you might ask in situations related to study or the situation, for example:

Idea – Why do you want to do this course?

Concern – Are you worried about anything on the course?#

Expectation – What do you expect to do for the course? Or what support do you expect

Most importantly, we then must engage in a dialogue around mutual expectations to ensure everyone is working towards the same goals; if we use the model as a checklist, it achieves nothing. It’s a tool to start a conversation.

So how can you use the model? Some examples of how the model could be used can be seen below:


Learner perspective 

Shared perspective

Tutor perspective 


Learner is homeless and has been sleeping rough and couch surfing 

Student has spent 3 days on a couch and ideally needs to get support to find somewhere 

Student has been sleeping in class and disengaged with  the programme and college generally 


Doesn’t have a home and can’t see how they would get one 

Student has nowhere to permanently live  and is only guaranteed 3 days on a couch. Student is using money to get to college and is not eating 

Not going to pass, is disrupting class and will impact on class rate 


Kicked out of college and is going to end up on the streets permanently 

Tutor and college to engage emergency support to gain either temporary housing with a long-term plan or permanent housing and to find out about additional financial support. Student to engage in process and keep tutor informed 

Student will fail and leave college 



Learner perspective 

Shared perspective

Tutor perspective 


Always late because they have to take sibling to school as lone parent is sick 

Tutor takes into consideration personal circumstance for marking attendance and student is less disruptive when joining the group 

Learner always late and disrupts other learners when they arrive 


Worried about parent, and that they may have to look after their sibling more and that their plans might have to wait 

Worried about continuation of studies and impact on after programme plans 

Having an impact on their attendance and funding, and potential achievement 


They want to continue but know they might have to drop out 

Tutor and student to explore options for alternative study patterns and support that may be available 

Student will be on time