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The benefits of using personalised learning paths for HE students


With school closures, cancelled exams and remote learning, it has been a challenging year for aspiring university students.

Still despite the odds, universities have seen a rise in the number of learners planning to attend in the new Autumn term.

It’s not going to be a normal learning experience for this year’s undergraduates, which is why it’s so important that universities provide tailored and personalised learning for each student, whether they’re studying remotely or on campus.

Preparing students for the future

The pressure on all types of educational institutions to constantly improve their performance and provide the best opportunities for students to thrive seems to grow every day. Expectations are high, and will only continue on that trajectory, especially as we shift towards education institutions reopening. The priority now is delivering a high-quality education to students and helping them stay on top of learning.

To achieve that, universities and other academic institutions need to up their game and personalise learning for each student as much as possible. That’s the only way to form graduates who will be able to adapt to any situation and overcome any challenge in their personal, social and professional lives.

We are currently witnessing incredible advancements in technology, with the science and engineering industries being particularly invaluable during this period. HE and FE institutions need to prepare their students to approach any challenge the future will throw at them — and do that successfully.

But personalising learning is easier said than done. There are many things that can make it possible, influence the process and also the results. You can personalise the learning content, its delivery, student assessment, the learning environment, and many more aspects. Plus, the sheer number of students is overwhelming to begin with.

Creating personalised learning paths for each student is an attempt made by educators to do everything as thoroughly as possible.

Comprehensive educational technologies such as a learning management system can be of great help in creating personalised learning paths for students. However, technology is just a tool; it can assist educators wonderfully in every step of the way, but the mastermind behind every edtech success will always be the teacher.

3 Benefits of using personalised learning paths for HE students

All great explorers say that the journey is as beautiful and important as the destination itself. Many people agree that learning is a journey, especially students of higher and further education. This idea of learning as a journey stands at the basis of the learning path concept.

There are three main components of a personalised learning path:

  1. Personalised learning goals — each student should be able to set their own learning goals, depending on their previous knowledge of the subject matter, personal interests and plans;
  2. Personalised learning journey — each student should be able to move along their learning path as they see fit: advance more rapidly through some lessons, stay longer on others, or going through A, C, B, D instead of A, B, C, D;
  3. Personalised recommendations — each student should get targeted and timely feedback on their learning progress, so that they are able to determine if they are on the right tracks and continue in that direction or they went off-course and need to steer back.

Each of these components of a personalised learning path contribute individually and together to the following:

1. Increased student agency

HE students are experienced students. They know how they learn best and are quite self-directed. Not only do they not need a lot of hand-holding during learning but it encourages students to take greater charge over their learning process. The trouble is, most curricula, timetables, types and times of assessments are imposed from the top.

A personalised learning path would allow some wiggle room in most of these cases: they could personalise their learning goals, have some influence over how they’ll get their knowledge assessed, decide on the best times for learning and also for taking assessments, and so on.

2. Ownership of learning

If students are involved in the course planning phase and they see their input is taken into consideration, they’ll be more engaged in more learning activities and continue this circle. We tend to overlook students’ ability and willingness to do the hard work but if they get the right motivation, they can take on every challenge.

A personalised learning path provides this motivation, as it empowers them to take control over their learning journey and feel responsible for their results. Since they invest so much more in it, they’ll be more driven to reach every learning goal.

3. Better academic outcomes

Increased student agency and ownership of learning are connected to improved student achievement. If students are trusted with making their own decisions and take responsibility over their actions they’ll be more engaged during learning activities, they’ll retain better what they learn and they’ll perform better.

While it can be hard to prove the direct impact a personalised learning path can have over the academic outcomes of students (like in the case of many other educational tools and techniques), a connection exists nonetheless. The more student learning needs are met the faster they achieve mastery of a topic and a personalised learning path plays an important role in that.

Designing personalised learning paths for HE students is a challenging yet rewarding endeavour at any time, but especially during Covid-19. There are many things to consider and even more ways of doing it. However, with benefits like increased student agency, empowering students to take ownership over their learning and eventually achieve more academically, it is sure worth all efforts.

Graham Glass, CEO of CYPHER LEARNING, a company that specialises in providing e-learning platforms for organisations around the world.

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