Self-Mapped Learning Pathways: Researching Tools that Enable Individualized Heutagogical Competency-Based Learning

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Self-Mapped Learning Pathways are an innovative instructional approach that facilitates learner agency while moving learners towards heutagogical/self-determined learning. Learners create their own individualized pathways through a course that potentially encompasses several different modalities. This session examines current research into practical applications of Self-Mapped Learning Pathways in traditional college courses.


Matt Crosslin, Ph.D. is currently an Instructional Designer II at Orbis Education, where he works with faculty to create student-centered, active learning-based courses. He is also part-time faculty at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, where he teaches Masters and Doctoral courses in Educational Technology and Instructional Design. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include learning pathways, sociocultural theory, learner agency, heutagogy, learning theory, and open educational practices. Prior to working at Orbis, he spent nearly 15 years at the University of Texas at Arlington as both a Learning Innovation Researcher and an Instructional Designer. He also blogs occasionally at EduGeek Journal, watches or reads a lot of SciFi and Fantasy, and occasionally paints or draws something.
Justin T. Dellinger is Learning Analytics Program Coordinator at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is also the project lead for the Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN) and member of Every Learner Everywhere. His primary research investigates the complexities of learning analytics adoption. He currently leads the development of the Learning Analytics MOOC Series in edX and serves as a course instructor in the program. In addition, he has facilitated the Professional Learning Community program at his university with the aim of building community to support the innovation of teaching practice through the use of digital technology, such as implementing open educational resources, using online course tools, and improving course outcomes through the use of learning analytics.

Additional Authors

Kimberly Breuer is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Department of History at the University of Texas at Arlington and is the coordinator of online instruction and unit assessment for the department. Her primary research focuses on student engagement and success, including use of a teamwork/workshop model of instruction in blended classrooms, self-determined learning pathways, and application of game theory in student assignment/assessment choices.

Extended Abstract

While most educators realize that every learner is unique, most of our pedagogical designs (even the innovative ones) still standardize one approach to learning. Whether those approaches fall under terms like “connectivism,” “student-centered,” “flipped learning,” or any other buzzword, they all have a focus on one method or approach. What about the reality that most educators face in classrooms: learners that want connectivism in the same course with those that want instructivism, or learners that prefer student-centered learning alongside those that prefer instructor-centered, or students that thrive under the flipped classroom model trying to learn with those that thrive under the standard classroom model?

Self-Mapped Learning Pathways were conceived as an inventive instructional approach that allows all learners to create their own individualized pathway through course content and activities. Originally conceived as a “dual-layer” approach to course design, this model creates two modalities for a course (a teacher-centered instructivist modality alongside a student-centered connectivist modality) that learners can navigate through as they see fit. Learners can choose one or both modalities at any given moment in a course, and then switch their choice or change the mixture of both at any moment they need.

This learning design has successfully been presented at OLC Innovate (and earlier at ET4Online) for several years now, with session attendees describing it as “one of the most innovative ideas at the conference” as well as “a true practical method for realizing self-determined/heutagogical epistemology.” However, research into how to implement these ideas has been thin until last year. This session will explore the newer research that has occurred since OLC Innovate 2017.

In our study, we have made use of various innovative tools in combination with existing tools to assist learners with mapping their own learning pathways, both in traditional online courses and at scale in massive open online courses (MOOCs). We are currently conducting research in online History courses in more traditional settings. This session will focus on the current state of that research. Connections with past research that looked into student perceptions of mapping their own pathways will also be examined.

In the traditional online History courses, learners had the opportunity to follow the instructor-determined pathway or create their own pathway through the course content. The competency-based learning tool, ProSolo, allows greater flexibility in pathway selection and learners had the opportunity to map their way, set goals, and reflect on their progress. The courses also utilized Domain of One’s Own (a web-hosting service that gives users easy to install tools such as WordPress and Known that help them cultivate their online presence), which gave learners the ability to openly curate and share their work, and cultivate their online presence.

There are certain considerations for implementing this design given the differences between MOOCs and for-credit University courses that are required to give grades and adhere to various legal guidelines that are more stringent than those in open online courses. Those limitations will be explored in the session as well.

Our mixed methods research has two phases. First, we use a quasi-experimental design where we examine student activity, clickstream data, and scores in courses that use the Self-Mapped Learner Pathways approach and courses that follow a traditional instructivist approach. Both approaches are aligned by key points across the courses. Second, we distributed a questionnaire to explore student choices and experiences in creating their own pathway in ProSolo.

Finally, this session will also cover alternatives to ProSolo and Blackboard, as well as future directions for exploration and research. What would it be like to use tools like Storify and to create learning pathways? How do you research learning that happens in so many spaces? How can instructors fairly grade work created from such diverse angles? How does all of this fit into traditional Higher Education courses? We will not come with all of the answers, but plan to discuss these questions and our findings in a more interactive format.