A GPS For Learning

Student Drivers Wanted

We all want our students to take the drivers seat of their own learning. And, many of us have tried, only to hear, “Can you just tell me what to do?”. Or when we ask what THEY want to do, you are met with, “I don’t know”. Yet, many of us unknowingly trapped ourselves as the indentured driver of our students learning.

Driving Without a Map

Imagine that learning is a car and you are behind the steering wheel and your students are in the passenger seats. Wanting to empower your students, you ask them to take the wheel. Instead of seeing the joy of driving their own learning, you see students are either paralyzed with indecision or driving around the highway aimlessly, not knowing where to go or where they are. You see, you never gave them a map, you kept it in your pocket, hidden from them. They remain dependent on you to tell them turn by turn directions. Not only does this set them up for failure, it reinforces the belief that the teacher must always drive the learning in the   minds of both teachers and students. How do we change this pattern? We need a GPS for learninga type of Learning Position System that made the map visible for all to see.

The Learning Canvas: A GPS for Learning  

The Learning Canvas is a visible and adaptable way to guide and track learning, a GPS for our learning journey. It brings transparency to everyone on the dynamic journey of learning, from start to finish. Just as a map is meant to be always out and referenced to guide us, the Learning Canvas serves as a heads up display, always bringing us back to focus on what we need to be doing now and how it connects to the bigger picture of learning. Just like when you are driving and encounter a detour or a serendipitous pit stop, you want to adapt to where your students are, even if it was not part of the plan. The Learning Canvas allows you to easily reroute as you see fit.

Learning in Flow

The Learning Canvas provides a way for us to track learning in real time. It asks a few basic questions about the progress of learning, yet reveals so much.

Designing the Learning Canvas

You get to design it the way you want. There are 4 simple parts in designing and using the Learning Canvas. The simplicity allows you to adapt it to how you teach and how your students learn.
1. Set the Context
2Visualize the Flow of Learning
3. Create Learning Cards
4. See the Flow of Learning
5. Evolve
You can use the Learning Canvas to make learning visible for:
  • Use a Classroom Learning Canvas for the whole classroom
  • Use a Team Learning Canvas for each student group/team
  • Use a Personal Learning Canvas to guide each individual student 
Like your GPS needs to have a map, your learners need to understand the terrain. Your first step is to map out your process of learning, from beginning to end. Imagine stapling yourself to a few Learning Objectives and outline all the steps it takes until it is evident it is fully learned. The most simple, and safe place to start, is To Learn > Learning > Learned or Goals > Doing > Done. Create columns on the Learning Canvas that reflects the path of learning. 
Cards are a great medium to make learning more flexible and adaptive, as you can move, reorder, and swap cards easily. Examples of Learning Cards are:
  • Learning Objectives
  • Project Goals
  • Tasks, activities, and strategies to achieve a goal
  • Anything helpful to prompt learners to the desired action or track progress 
Try using different colors, sizes, and shapes.
By moving the Cards through the Learning Canvas,  you can track the learning journey in real time. Learners have clarity on learning goals, how they will get there, what they are focusing on now, what they accomplished, and what roadblocks are present. A dynamic lesson plan that evokes engagement and focus! 
Through observation and reflection, evolve your design to make improvements in the learning process that meet the needs of your classroom. For example, I may have started out with To Learn, Learning, and Learned. After a few weeks, I may see that adding a specific step called Assess after Learning would be helpful. I simply add that to the Canvas as a column or as a card. It grows (or shrinks) as you and your classroom grow

Tools to Create Your Learning Canvas

So, what can you use for your Learning Canvases?

Give Your Students the Map

By making the hidden curriculum visible using the Learning Canvas, you have given your students a map to their learning journey. Now that they can see where they are going and the path to get there, they now have the information in order to make better decisions. Sharing the map is a necessary condition for students to begin taking the driver’s seat over their own learning. The transparency goes beyond students, it evokes trust and positive conversations with parent and school leadership.


Image Credits
  1. Pink Car –  https://flic.kr/p/eLvwfH
  2. GPS Tablet – FreePik.com
  3. Black and white icon pics – Flaticons.com

Leave a Comment