The concept of learning pathways is a complex one in that there isn’t a straightforward definition. Some consider a learning pathway to be a sequence through which a learner acquires a specific combination of knowledge that’s needed to achieve a specific qualification in their field. Others consider it to be a path that allows learners to choose a route through content in order to build knowledge progressively.
Irrespective of the definition you choose to apply, a learning pathway is essentially a map of a learner’s planned and customised learning experiences, which they have the control of carrying out at their own pace. A learning pathway outlines their educational and developmental trajectory based on their professional learning objectives.
Characteristics of learning pathways
Learning pathways give students freedom and control over their learning process. While each individual’s learning pathway is unique to their career aspirations and objectives, all learning pathways should ideally have the following main characteristics in common:
- Flexibility: Every individual engaging in their professional development has the ability to choose their own learning path.
- Multidisciplinary: Occupations are multidisciplinary, therefore learners need to demonstrate competency in more than one area.
- Holistic and complete: Learners will likely spend more time completing a pathway as opposed to completing a separate module.
- Complex and personalised: Learning pathways develop from simple to complex as they mould beginners to experts.
The stages of learner pathways
There are three stages of learner pathways:
Stage 1: Pre-learning
Stage 2: Learning
Stage 3: Post-learning
While each stage will look different for every learner as they work through their own customised pathways, here is a general overview of what each stage may entail.
Stage 1: Pre-learning
This stage covers the period between when a learner realises that they need to complete their chosen method of training or skill development and when they actually start it. The most important factors to consider when defining the pre-learning stage are how the learner was notified about the training programme and how they went about accessing their learning material.
Here’s an example of the pre-learning stage:
- The learner receives an email about a new training programme.
- The learner clicks on the link embedded in the email, which directs them to the institution’s login page.
- Once logged in, the learner will be able to access the institution’s LMS.
- The learner now has access to learning material from the LMS student dashboard.
Stage 2: Learning
The learning stage begins when the learner starts working on their training programme and concludes upon completion of the course. The most important considerations for this stage would be the method through which learning is being delivered and whether it takes place in one sitting or across many sessions.
Here’s an example of the learning stage:
- The learner accesses materials for an eLearning course.
- The course is delivered by a lecturer in sessions: three times a week for four weeks.
- The learner submits two quizzes on the learning materials.
- The course is now complete.
Stage 3: Post-learning
The post-learning stage commences when the learner completes the course and concludes once they apply the knowledge and skills acquired while studying it. The most important considerations for this stage would be the gap between the learner completing the course and applying the knowledge they’ve learned, whether there will be post-assessment and whether the learner has access to retention exercises.
Here’s an example of the post-learning stage:
- The learner has successfully completed the eLearning course.
- The learner is provided with snippets of information for the next seven days to promote retention of the information they have studied.
- The learner completes and submits a post-assessment quiz.
- The learner applies the knowledge they have learned in the field within nine days.
Designing learning pathways
Learning pathways generally begin upon enrolment in childhood education. Learning curriculums for young learners just starting out on their learning pathway will be somewhat restricted and will require them to make decisions based on what’s on offer at the institution they attend. As learners move onto secondary and tertiary education, they will be given more flexibility to adjust their curriculum according to their preferences and overall learning goals and objectives. In turn, they will be exposed to more opportunities to create the future of their learning pathway exactly how they’d like to.
When designing their learning pathways, learners ought to ensure that they consider their long-term professional goals and how they’d be able to achieve them. Before a learner attempts to design a learning pathway, it is important to consider how long-term trends and dynamics could potentially impact their learning trajectory.
Keep in mind how these trends would affect the following:
- Learning methods
- The learners’ interests and aptitudes
- The learners’ intellectual and ethical competencies
- The labour market
- The learners’ access to resources
Here is a general framework that guides the process of designing a learning pathway:
- Conduct a training needs analysis.
What are the learner’s learning goals, and what training do they need in order to achieve these goals?
- Identify skills gaps.
What skills does the learner lack? These can be identified by taking a look at the learner’s current skill set and what skills they will need to acquire to achieve their desired learning outcomes.
- Define learning goals.
What skills, knowledge and capabilities would the learner like to have gained upon completion of the course?
- Create an eLearning storyboard.
This storyboard should detail the content the learner will study, the order in which they will study the content, and how the modules of the course fit together to achieve their desired outcome.
A learning pathway is one of the most beneficial tools in a learner’s educational journey because it gives them a bird’s eye view of where they’ve come from and how they’re going to reach their professional destination. Educational success is inherently dependent on upskilling and reskilling. Following a customised learning pathway is one of the best ways to secure this success.
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Strategium Space. Individual Learning Path: How to Design and Manage [online]. [accessed on 04 April 2022].