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Learning paths

Structured paths for individualized learner journeys

Learning paths—structured pathways for individualized learner journeys

What used to be a learning event is now more of a learning process. A day’s training becomes a long-term, mostly digital, self-learning experience—with many advantages! But as before, these kinds of processes can only function with strategic educational guidance—especially given the increasing freedoms available to learners. This is the only way to ensure your employees will actually achieve learning objectives. The good news: The aforementioned educational and strategic framework can be easily delivered via eLearning with what are known as learning paths.

This article explains what learning paths are, how to exert active control over the learning process with learning paths, and how you can create learning paths for your learning processes—regardless of the learning methods you use.


What are learning paths and learner journeys?

You are bound to be familiar with the term “customer journey” from marketing. This refers to the individual stages within customers’ decision-making processes as they purchase a product. The learner journey works in a similar way: The term describes the individual steps in the learning process that learners go through on the way to achieving their learning objectives:

  1. Preparation for learning
  2. The training course (often broken down into small stages)
  3. Transfer of new knowledge into day-to-day work

As with the customer journey, you can and should actively influence each of these stages—after all, you want all learners to achieve their learning objectives. Learning paths serve as a strategic backbone and signpost within the learning process, giving your employees the best possible guidance. Learning paths divide a training unit into individual steps that learners work through online—independently and at their own pace.

Learning paths can be externally driven or based on self-determination. Depending on how you’re using them, you can hence either define your employees’ learning paths, or allow your employees to design (part of) their own learning paths. Both variants have advantages and disadvantages, and can be chosen strategically to suit the relevant content and objectives.


Practical examples of how to use learning paths

Learning paths are used whenever there are multiple training units that either build on each other and must be worked through in a specific order, or when mandatory and optional contents are combined. Typical examples include

  • Onboarding processes (units of knowledge that build on each other in a specific order)
  • Macro courses on a complex topic
  • Blended learning formats that combine face-to-face events and eLearning
  • A flipped classroom approach aiming to prepare learners for group sessions

Mandatory and optional content can be clearly and visibly separated, each individual unit can be scheduled, and content that builds on previous units can be placed in a predetermined order. Learners are also given an overview of individual online courses and how they lead to the learning objective overall.


Each employee thus only receives the subsections that are actually relevant to them and does not waste valuable time on knowledge they do not need.

On the other hand, pre- and intermediate tests to check individuals’ knowledge levels can be easily built into learning paths. This enables employees with a lot of (prior) knowledge to skip redundant sections of the learning path and to avoid spending time unnecessarily repeating knowledge they already have. 


…and show how learners are progressing toward their objective at any given time—a popular and frequently used tool in gamification, which motivates participants to complete the progress bar as quickly as possible.

On the other hand, learning paths bring greater freedom through the ability to separate mandatory and optional content. Whereas a process without learning paths forces employees to take all courses, they can now choose according to their own needs and interests. The resulting self-determination has an additional motivating effect.


Pre- and intermediate tests

An essential aspect of learning paths

Both linear and self-directed learning paths can be individualized by means of pre- and intermediate tests. These enable individual learners’ (prior) knowledge to be determined before and during the learning process. The process is not only used for individual reflection; it can also enable subsequent learning paths to adapt automatically to test results. Employees with a lot of (prior) knowledge can skip redundant content, while employees with less (prior) knowledge are automatically asked to repeat content in order to fill the gaps in their knowledge.

This enables your employees to learn at their own individual pace and ensures that everyone completes the course successfully and acquires the same level of knowledge. It also increases everyone’s motivation because nobody feels underchallenged or overwhelmed. And it saves companies and learners with more (prior) knowledge a lot of valuable time!


Building learning paths: Here’s how to go about it

1. Defining the learning objectives and identifying the target group

As with any journey, it is important to know learners’ overall destination in order to be able to plan the itinerary. First of all, you need to formulate your learning objectives and take your target group into account:

  • What do you want employees to know or be able to do at the end of the learning process?
  • What prior knowledge do they already have?
  • What knowledge do you still need to impart to employees in order to achieve your objectives?

The following questions will help you decide whether you need a linear or a self-directed learning path:

  • Are your learners used to organizing themselves? 
  • Do your learners have a range of priorities and interests as regards their work?
  • Do your units build on each other or can they also be worked through in any order?

The bottom line.

Learning paths are the strategic and educational framework you need to fully exploit all the freedoms of eLearning. While previously trainers were responsible for the organization of training, your employees can now be guided through the learning process by learning paths, which provide them with the support they need to enable individualized and self-directed learning, wherever and wherever your employees like. This guarantees that your employees will never lose their way—even in complex learning processes—and will successfully achieve the objectives they have been set!

Janet Beier | Senior Marketing Manager
Janet Beier
eLearning author

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