Learning Paths Simplify Online Learning

Posted on

Brenny Kummer

Brenny Kummer, Coordinator of Instructional Technology,
Bartholomew Consolidated School District

Featuring tips from Courtney Foreman, Mt. Healthy & Smith Elementary UDL facilitator

If I asked you to explain how to make a sandwich, how would you begin? Let’s assume I’ve never made a sandwich before. Let’s also imagine all of the necessary ingredients and utensils have already been provided. What would you tell me to do first? You may tell me to get two pieces of bread first. But, reading my physical cues, you notice I haven’t opened the bag of bread and wasn’t instructed to do so. And while taking two pieces of bread may be simple, I need a reminder on how to do this; otherwise, I can’t grab them. Seeing my struggle, you’d provide feedback and tell me to open the bag of bread from one end and take two pieces. You would be clear in your directions to make sure I have the guided support I need, all the while taking note of my verbal questions and nonverbal cues on what I need help with next, repeating this process until finished. You probably realized early on the importance of clear, specific, detailed instructions to make sure the learner stays engaged, on-task, and minimally frustrated.

Online Learning Highlights Need for Clear Lesson Plans

Teachers are masters in reading their audience and adjusting lessons on the fly. All of us are familiar with repeating instructions in a lesson and doubling checking our students know what to do before we move on. Just as it was important to provide clear, exact instructions in making a sandwich, it is also important to provide specific, detailed instructions in our lesson plans as well. Now that we find ourselves in an online environment – the need for a straight-forward, direct lesson is more prevalent than ever before.

In a typical classroom environment, we continuously use the verbal and sometimes nonverbal cues of our learners to determine if we need to repeat instructions, pause before moving on, or revisit topics. In a virtual environment, the cues are there, but may not be as apparent or familiar. We can utilize messaging and conferencing tools to our advantage. However, because online instruction lacks some of the face to face interaction we can typically leverage to guide our instruction, we may need to lean on other methods to make our lessons easy for students to follow with even more built-in checks for understanding.

“Learning paths provide a step by step lesson plan design that takes the guesswork out of what to do next in a lesson while also providing opportunities for formative assessments.”

Brenny Kummer, BCSC

Learning Paths Eliminate Guesswork

Furthermore, learning paths are easy to create and adjust. What teacher doesn’t love a time saver? If using the sandwich example above as an analogy, learning paths are equivalent to a detailed guidebook on how to make the sandwich. My ingredients are in order and I have specific, detailed instructions within each step of the task. The guesswork is eliminated. Plus, similar to making a sandwich, formative assessments can be provided in a learning path to help guide learning. If I struggle like I did with getting two pieces of bread, my teacher can redirect me in the learning path to a remedial step with more practice and guidance.

As we reach the long and winding end of the extended emergency eLearning road, consider utilizing learning paths to help support students in the final push to conclude the school year. The self-guided nature of learning paths can help provide a simplified lesson format while minimizing distractions and frustation for students and staff alike!

What are Learning Paths?

Learning paths are sequential lessons that guide students through a collection of resources, step by step. Learning path “steps” can be learning resources or activities, such as assignments, tasks, assessments, or surveys. Teachers can easily create learning paths by creating a folder on itslearning and turning the folder into a learning path. Options can be built into learning path steps to support learner choice and autonomy. Plus, add assessments to learning paths for quick formative checks for understanding. Teachers can set a threshold score, and the student’s performance on the test can determine the next steps in the path, such as jumping ahead, repeating the test, or additional review.

Why and How Do Learning Paths Work?

Learning paths can help support learners in many ways. They are designed for online learning and are a helpful tool to implement as we wrap up the school year virtually.

Capture and Sustain Engagement as the School Year Ends

As we near the end of eLearning and our learners may struggle to stay motivated, a learning path can be the helpful, step by step, guided support our students need to complete lesson objectives. Learning paths are straight-forward for learners to follow, especially in a time where engagement may seem low, and learners may be struggling to stay on task. Their step by step nature provides an intuitive learning experience for students that eliminates much of the guesswork on where to click next or what to do. Including the lesson goal, standards, instructions, and the “why” behind the lesson goal can provide further guidance (and reminders) on what the student needs to do in the lesson and why.

Communicate Clear Goals and Eliminate Confusion

As shown in the video and guide below, incorporating a show instructional screencast video in the learning path as an early, initial step can also help learners stay engaged in learning and complete actions in the lesson without frustration. Courtney Foreman, UDL facilitator, recommends using short screencasts in learning paths to help ease learners into new, unfamiliar tools. Plus, she mentions, a short video showing how to complete the path can help parents as they support students during distance learning, many of whom are new itslearning. Short instructional screencast videos can also help eliminate confusion on the student’s end, provide a quick reference if questions arise, and give a human, teacher element in a virtual world. Foreman mentions many of the teachers she works with have found a short video early on in the screencast yielded positive results for all stakeholders: students, staff, and families.

Promote Flexible Learning Options and Activities

In terms of Universal Design for Learning, learning paths provide staff and students with flexible learning options. Teachers can include options for representation in a learning path, such as links, slides, audio recordings, video recordings, and text. Learners can also have options for showing their understanding in a learning path through an assignment as a step in the learning path, which provides learners with a rich-text toolbar of assignment options (audio, video, text, and insert links). Note, not all steps in a learning path need to be online. An option in a learning path step can be to read online or read a physical book. An opportunity for a learning path activity step could include creating a 3D model, drawing a picture, creating a video, or typing a response. Though the delivery of the instruction in a learning path is virtual, offline options can still exist.

Gauge Understanding with Quick Formative Assessments

Furthermore, incorporating assessments into learning paths can help provide staff with a formative gauge on student understanding of concepts mid-lesson. Students can repeat the assessment or review remedial resources if needed after an assessment. Teachers can then view which students may need additional support as they work towards mastery.

Lesson Ideas and Tips:

  • Create a learning path for end of year tasks for students– such as answering surveys and sharing contact information
  • Include lesson goal, why, standards, and a short video as the first step in a learning path
  • Capture student engagement with a short bell ringer in a learning path
    Examples: Video, discussion, review game
  • Provide learners with choice in learning resources
    Use an itslearning “page” as a step in the path and provide choices in content blocks.
    Examples: Slideshow, article (reading), video
  • Provide learners with choice in learning activities
    Use an itslearning assignment as a step in the path!
  • Use itslearning tests as formative checks for understanding in a path
    Set a threshold score for the test. If students score above or below the threshold, they can move to different branches in the path.Examples:

    • Remediation: Students score an 80% on an assessment, otherwise they are taken to a step with a Quizlet or Kahoot review game.
    • Retake: Students must score an 80% otherwise they are prompted to retake the test.
    • Jump ahead: Students scoring an 80% or above jump to the end of the learning path. The steps in between the assessment and the end of the path can serve as remediation and reteaching.

Ready to get started? Here are some helpful resources:

Learning Path: Overview

Learning Path: How To Guide

Learning Path: Webinar

Hear tips from learning path extraordinaire Courtney Foreman:

Remote Learning Starter Kit

Remote Learning Starter Kit

Recent Posts