EdTech Learning Tech Thought Bubble

Tech for Learning: Learning Pathways

This is the first post in a series about moving the conversation around technology in education from Administration to use for Learning.

My first idea for a specific learning technology is around the idea of creating learning pathways.

I’ve always liked the idea of mapmaking as a way to generate understanding, whether it’s the journey you’re on, mapping where you’ve been or attempting to work out where you need to go. I’ve used this in workshops quite a bit and I find it’s an incredibly useful way of making sense of the world or the context in which you find yourself. Making a map allows you to place yourself in a broader context, which helps you understands and become more self aware. It allows you situate yourself and helps define areas to improve, or gaps in skills and knowledge, and importantly to identify what is unknown and unexplored.

A map gives you a sense of direction of where you are and where you could go.

For me this is is a key concept in the process of learning, it’s about developing a sense of self in order to conduct and pursue learning on our own terms. It’s how we become self directed learners and make learning an integral part of who we are and what we do.

The Pathways Tool is not about making maps retrospectively though, it’s about being able to plot our a map during the process, as it happens. It’s a place to record the way you’ve gone about understanding a topic. By recording distinct actions, decisions and activities along the way you can start to connect points and map out that journey. And this is, I guess, where technology can really come to play, but also now open content, content that’s web based, as well, is that what it allows you to do is create a collage of that learning journey.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this would be to walk through the process.

A Learning Journey

To start off in a traditional course I might read a module or topic text that’s provided to me by my teacher. As I go through it I might highlight a few key points in that document. I might make a comment or two, ask myself some questions and start to think about where I go to next.

From there I might use those highlighted key points to structure some web searches. From those searches I can click through a bunch of links and find other resources. There might be podcast, a video, a few articles online and some research papers. As I go through this process I’m mapping my consumption of these different ideas. I’m taking notes throughout the process, I’m creating context for myself.

The Pathfinder allows you to create marker points along your learning journey, they’re contextual and personal. Your annotations and commentary contribute to fleshing out your map. They act like coordinates and provide a starting point, simple data points that you can reference later. At this point it’s just data, we’ll transform it later. These data points could be constructed as simple xAPI statements – Actor, Verb, Object– which can be contextualised with metadata (when, where, what, why). You can start to think about how granular you may need to be be, but it would allow you to record that you watched certain amount of this video, or read these sections of this document, or spent this much time reading that document.

Now the point of most journeys isn’t to map them, but to build an artefact that is assessed. But if you think about the idea mapping the journey and the pathway travelled on top of your assessment task, not only are you producing an artefact, but you’re also supplying the supportive proof. The assessment task might be to produce an essay, what a learning pathway can do is not just help with the development of that essay plan and the content that goes in there, it also maps the thinking and the process behind how the students got there. When we think about how much time and effort we’re spending on plagiarism tools, and a hyper-surveillance process to stamping it out, a pathway tool would allow you to clearly show, demonstrate and declare this is the journey that I’ve been on it provides a much richer proof that benefits not just the student but the institution as well.

Mapping out these journeys also becomes a powerful tool when they can be saved, aggregated and shared over time. 

Learning is a a lifelong journey and it’s something that you want to come back to repeatedly, certain topics that need revisiting, then a pathway allows you to come back not to a list of resources but the process as well. You can take a journey forward, or in a different direction and start to thread journeys together.

If you wanted to help other people to learn you could simply share your journey, highlighting waypoints, key areas, resources and activities. It’s so hard to teach someone without spending a vast amount of time thinking about it, a learning pathway could provide a far less onerous and informal way of sharing how and what you learnt.

The ability to aggregate these pathways too, say being able to see the pathways of a whole class, then a teacher can start to visualise and understand how their students are actually learning, and importantly where they are learning. A teacher may find that the whole class went to a particular online resource to understand this topic, and they did so without instruction or communicating it. A pathway may also uncover new resources that explain a topic differently and surface interesting information and information that students are keen to consume. Another potential us is to find out if students are heading in the wrong direction. These journeys are not just about the final destination, their power is in mapping out the process to get there. What pathways did they choose? What decisions did they make along the way? A teacher can use these pathways to understand their students and how they have gone about things, and intervene if a course correction is required. It’s a way that we can understand the process rather than relying on the abstracted artefact and provide more support for learning, rather than just punishment of plagiarism.

The reality is that learning is a black box at the moment. We’re really not sure when and how things work, we’re dealing with multiple layers of abstraction. We simply don’t know what the journey is or what decisions do students make, yet we see fit to judge and punish them on those abstractions. A Learning Pathway system is about breaking that black box open, not to provide greater opportunities for surveillance, but for student to take control of learning and become more proactive with it. Its a learner centric system that could benefit institutions, but it doesn’t have to. Learners as individuals could use this and share it with one another. It’s a tool that while individually focussed could be a way to simplify social learning practices, sharing your maps with other learners and discovering new things.

If you’re interesting in developing something like the Learning Pathways – lets talk. Get in touch in the comments, on twitter or via email


By Tim Klapdor

Passionate about good design, motivated by the power of media and enchanted by the opportunities of technology.

4 replies on “Tech for Learning: Learning Pathways”

Some poignant points here Tim. The idea of the students self evaluating their progress is a particularly useful consequence of the mapping process, as its potential to be a very powerful assessment for learning tool. Great stuff

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