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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.

Visualization learning paths

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

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. 


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.


…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.


The two different types of learning paths

As already indicated, using learning paths does not necessarily mean that you always have to determine them yourself. Learning paths can also be (partially) determined by learners. In general, you should always give your employees as much freedom as possible within the context in order to maximize motivation.


Linear learning paths

With linear learning paths, learner journeys are defined from the outset. The eLearning elements are presented in a fixed order, and learners have to complete one subsection before they can proceed to the next. A deadline can be given for achievement of course objectives, but does not have to be.


  • The learning process is controlled
  • Learners are guaranteed to have understood the basics before moving on to more challenging lessons


  • Compulsory learning can lead to lower motivation
  • Content is not adapted to individual interests/needs

Self-directed learning paths

With self-directed learning paths, it is not you but the learners who determine their learning paths. They can be applied in diverse ways. Two examples:

Example 1: 10 online courses are available on one overarching topic. All are relevant, but they do not necessarily build on each other. In these circumstances, you can specify that all 10 courses must be completed, but employees can decide for themselves the order in which they complete them.

Example 2: You are offering a macro course consisting of 3 levels that each comprise 6 mini courses. However, because not all of the content is equally relevant to all employees’ day-to-day work, employees only have to take 4 of the 6 mini courses (they are given a free choice) in order to move up to the next level.


  • Increased motivation through self-determination
  • Greater individualization
  • Trust makes employees feel appreciated


  • Potential overload
  • Potential difficulties with meeting deadlines

Whether a linear or self-directed learning path is available depends on the situation in question. The chemmedia AG eLearning experts will be happy to advise you!



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We provide a sustainable learning ecosystem to enable you to deliver successful, forward-looking staff development. Right from the start, you benefit from our consulting services, which are based on 20 years of experience. We structure, organize, and optimize your eLearning processes. They aim to deliver qualified employees who make meaningful contributions to your corporate objectives.


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?

2. Outlining the learning path

Sketch out a learning path on the basis of the objectives you have defined and your target group analysis. Bear in mind the three phases of the learner journey and consider the best way to use pre- and intermediate testing.

Icon: preparing the learning process


The aim of the preparatory phase is to inform learners about learning objectives and the learning process, and introduce them to the topic. When doing this, emphasize the benefits of learning for your employees. You can also mention certificates and any potential rewards at this point. It is also helpful to pinpoint learners’ current levels of knowledge in advance by means of a pretest. The right software enables the upcoming learning path to be automatically adapted right from the start.

Icon: learning path

The learning phase

Now it is time to decide which content to impart and how to cluster it, and choose the learning methods that fit your content best. You can of course also combine a range of learning methods. Next, decide whether the subsections need to be completed in a certain order or not. You might also want to divide your content into mandatory and optional material.

Icon: knowledge transfer

Knowledge transfer

Finally, you need to create tasks that will enable your employees to transfer what they have just learned into their day-to-day work. When knowledge is actively applied, it is also consolidated.

And don’t forget to include a final exam that will allow you and learners to check learning outcomes. Certificates and diplomas can round off the learning experience perfectly.


3. Choosing the right software

As you will certainly have noticed, the right learning path design is largely dependent on the right choice of software; software that offers all the technical options mentioned above.

Our Knowledgeworker Create authoring tool, the Knowledgeworker Share learning platform, our Knowledgeworker Cards and Knowledgeworker Quiz gamification tools, and the Knowledgeworker Coach scenario trainer, allow you to put in place all the options discussed in this article. 

The Knowledgeworker Share learning management system is essential to the introduction of learning paths. Knowledgeworker Share enables you to create linear or self-directed learning paths with whatever deadlines you like and includes the option to combine mandatory and optional content. Its intuitive user interface was developed to meet learners’ needs and provides an overview of progress and current learning at any time.


Try it out

Preview the Knowledgeworker Share Learning Management System
Preview the Knowledgeworker Share Learning Management System

Knowledgeworker Share

Guarantees a unique learning experience

Save valuable resources, minimize the demands on your time, and optimize learning outcomes. Manage everything centrally on the online learning platform: Employees, training sessions, documents, video conferences, graduation certificates, learning outcomes, and reports.


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!

Magda Lehnert | Blogger
Magda Lehnert

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