Playlists and Pathways: What Are They?

The short answer is, playlists and pathways are the road map to your personalized learning unit for you and your students.

A playlist is a single-track path of activities that students will complete, in the order they are written. Based on information such as pretests, students may start at different points of the pathway, but the pathway for that skill or unit has all of the same activities and assignments on it for each student.

A pathway is much like a playlist, but it offers students choice. Instead of one activity or assignment that the student must do, they have 2 or 3 options of which task(s) to complete for that portion of the pathway. Just like with a playlist, the starting point for each student may depend upon information from a pretest or other data. Again, there is a progressive order in which the tasks must be completed, but the options can help to keep students engaged and interested. Sometimes the options are sorted by multiple intelligences, learning styles, levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, or even the difficulty level of the material (below, at, and above grade level).



Both linked files are written as pathways, which means that they offer at least some level of student choice. To turn them  into playlists, all that would have to change is that students would be required to complete all activities in order, or you would remove some of the activities and students would be required to complete each task in order.

If your district uses Canvas as an LMS, there is a feature that allows you to use tasks and pages on Canvas as you would a playlist or pathway. To use it, you need to go to your settings and click the slider bar for mastery paths to green. On a graded task (teacher graded or automatically scored) that has been assigned to everyone, go to the Mastery Paths tab to choose which task(s) students complete next depending upon how they score on that assignment. If you assign multiple tasks for a score range, the default is for students to do both tasks, making it a playlist. When you are setting it up, you can click the “&” between tasks to change it to “or,” which allows students to choose one of the two (or more) tasks you have attached to that scoring range. This subtle detail effectively changes your playlist to a pathway.

I’m using a Mastery Path module in Canvas LMS for my students as we are reviewing for our end of year standardized testing. For each specific standard, I have a pretest in Canvas. Depending upon how they score on that pretest, they are either directed to another pretest, or to a page with review instruction on the skill and short quiz to practice. Students who do not show mastery on either quiz will be pulled for small group instruction and practice, then given another chance on the quiz. This allows students who have mastered the skills move on instead of sitting in on yet another review session for something they can already do proficiently, and lets those who need more instruction and practice have that in a smaller setting.


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