Learning outcomes are presented as a tool that can enhance teaching and learning in higher education, in particular by fostering student‐centred learning. However, the ways in which this change can and should take place and the specific kinds of enhancement involved are often unclear. This article analyses common claims about the advantages of learning outcomes for teaching and learning and their relationship to student‐centred learning. The potential links between these concepts are investigated, based on interviews with teachers and students from a range of degree programmes at Norwegian and English universities. The interviews with 29 teachers and students suggest that learning outcome approaches are influencing course planning and some aspects of teaching practice, supporting more transparency and clear communication with students and offering a way to address particularly weak or traditional teaching. However, there is limited evidence that learning outcome approaches promote student‐centred learning, and the analysis identifies several tensions between the challenges student‐centred learning ideals pose to traditional teaching practices, in terms of transferring power and choice to students, and perceived pressures to specify and assess learning outcomes. It also suggests that teachers’ and students’ beliefs about the conditions and practices that lead to the most satisfying and successful elements of learning in degree courses are unlikely to be addressed through either learning‐outcome or student‐centred reforms.