Designing personalized paths for students is no easy feat. There are certain challenges that teachers encounter along the way, including finding the right technology to support personalized paths.
But let’s rewind a little bit to see what we are dealing with here. First, personalized paths are part of a larger strategy for personalized learning (PL). Learning paths have been identified as a key component of PL, along with competency-based progression and flexible learning environments.
According to the RAND corporation cited above, “personal learning paths allow for flexibility in the specific paths students take through content to enact their educational plan, while still holding them to high expectations.”
That is a great description, but I also like to think of paths as treasure hunts, where the ultimate goal is for the student to be in charge of their own success in learning, with the help of the teacher and their peers.
For example, some students in a class need to learn the core competencies and like to go through a predefined map. Others find little gems along the way that they have to collect, such as learning more about a particular concept that sparks their interest. Also, some milestones on the learning map are required to be completed in order, but in some cases students can also go from point A to C and then to B, and that is perfectly fine.
All of this and much more can be achieved using an LMS, which is our topic for today!
Why personalized learning paths go hand in hand with technology
Here are just four reasons:
- Adjust the pace of learning: adjusting the pace of learning is not actually personalized learning in itself, but more of an aspect of it. Learning paths help teachers take a structured and goal-oriented approach, but not every student has to get through path at the same pace. It is certainly possible to do without ed tech, but it can be easier in the long term, especially since there are many students to teach and not enough time.
- Track long-term learning: it’s a no brainer that in order to track students’ progress through a learning path is actually time-consuming and sometimes difficult to do. Considering that students might have different homework assignments to do to fit their learning goals, it can get overwhelming pretty fast. An LMS helps educators say goodbye to flipcharts and spreadsheets to track what and how everyone is doing. Plus, the data is still there even after a class graduates so you can assess and improve the efficiency of this approach.
- Giving students a choice: to be able to choose when and where to learn is key part of personalized learning. Even more, flexibility creates more space for student autonomy as learning is not confined strictly to the classroom. The role of paths is to be there as a guide, not a boring checklist!
- The one stop shop: there is a plethora of ed tech tools out there, and that is a good thing in itself. And while it is great to have many options, using 4 or 5 different tools to create the what that one single tool can do is counter-intuitive. Let’s say a teacher creates classes with tool 1, assess students with tool 2, add learning paths in tool 3. When do you actually get time to do all of it? So, to quote a teacher that I have spoken to recently: “the LMS can be a one stop shop”.
How an LMS can help teachers personalize learning paths
Sure, this all sounds great, but how do you actually do it? While this is not meant to be a definitive list or a recipe for success, here is a great example of how teachers can personalize learning paths with the help of an LMS.
Let’s get down to business:
- Goal setting: setting learning goals is a must for tailoring learning to fit the actual needs of students. What is more, students can actually set at least some of these goals themselves or with the guidance of the teacher. For example, an English teacher can help a student who loves poetry set a goal of taking a self-paced class or read an essay on contemporary poetry. Another student might have the goal of learning more about theater, and so on.
- Personalize goals within paths: the goals do not have to be set in stone or completed by absolutely everyone in the class at the same pace. An LMS can give you the flexibility to personalize goals, meaning that you can show or hide particular goals for specific students. For example, you might want to hide an optional goal such as taking a micro class on the works of Walt Whitman. It’s going to show for the students that are more interested in poetry than for the ones interested in theater. You can always change this as well.
- Create flexible individual paths: remember the treasure hunt analogy? How students can learn what interests them and not necessarily in a strict order? In an LMS, it means that the content of the class can be free to explore as they can choose which activities to do next. One caveat: this might not work with all classes. For example, students absolutely need to learn about the structure of a cell to advance to more complicated subjects in Biology. However, some classes such as literature allow for more spontaneity, in which case teachers can set goals to be taken in any order.
- Self-assessment: student involvement does not stop at goal setting. To enable them to be proactive in their learning is to give them the tools to assess their strengths and weaknesses. It does not mean that 1) students need to be graded for this activity and 2) teachers should eliminate formal assessments. For example, in an LMS there are auto-graded quizzes that help them practice what they learned and through which they can get instant feedback. They can take surveys, write essays about their progress or even keep a learning blog where they can reflect on their learning process.
- Efficient feedback: self-assessment is a great tool, but it has to be complemented by teacher feedback. In fact, through an LMS teachers can leave personalized feedback next to an assignment that can be revised by a student whenever they wish to improve something, such as their essay writing skills. Even more, other students can also leave feedback, which can turn into a powerful learning experience for more than one student.
- Student collaboration: individualized learning paths does not mean that students are confined to their own bubble. There are many instances in which an LMS with rich collaborative tools can enable students to actively participate in discussions or debates, collaborate on assignments, build their portfolio, and generally learn from each other. It is also clear that students with the same interests can form study groups and participate at the same activities such as a trip to the museum.
- An LMS adapts to multiple learning preferences: to offer personalized paths that will actually work, students must have a wide range of materials at their disposal. Some of them might need to read an e-book. Some of them would understand the concept better if they see a video. It is much easier to upload a learning resource and just direct students to said resource than to provide a different physical textbook or handouts for each of them.
An LMS can help teachers design personalized paths for students as a part of the larger personalized learning strategy. It is a one-stop shop for teachers that helps save time, keep track of learning goals and adapt to the unique needs of each student.