As I discussed in my last post, one of my more recent Masters modules focused on technology enhanced learning environments. Our assignment was to develop a prototype for a learning environment that was supported by theories of learning and motivation. Having previously worked in media production within an educational institution, I was genuinely quite excited by this module, and the results showed this; a solid 87% — the highest result I’ve ever received in my academic work.

Initially, I had trouble deciding what I should focus on for my assignment. With such a broad brief, I had to decide what I would want my prototype to teach. I considered guitar and music, life skills, self employment and several others before I eventually settled on careers guidance. I’d worked for several years for a careers service, and as such I knew there’s a gap here.

For many, deciding what to do with your life seems like a huge task — and it is. But all big tasks can be broken down into smaller ones. The challenge is knowing what these tasks are, and where to start. Many people have ideas of the career they want; whether they’re kids in school, university graduates or experienced professionals considering a change. Often people don’t get into the career they want because they don’t know how to get in, especially if they don’t have a background in it. For example, I work for myself as a freelance animator, but I know many others who have considered self employment but found the idea of making the leap quite scary, or they had many concerns that they actually didn’t need to have.

I wanted to create a tool that would help people learn about different career paths, and help them create a plan to achieve this goal. In truth, this idea has been rattling around in my head for years, but I realised it fit perfectly with this module.

The initial idea was really little more than a project planning tool. Users would create a long term plan which could be broken into stages, which then could be broken down into steps. Each step would include guidance and information to help the user complete the task.

However, I needed to turn this into a learning platform. In particular, I wanted to look at ideas of social constructivist learning — how we learn from others who are more experienced than us.

The final outcome was Pathfinder; a social learning platform that enables users to share and create plans and reflect on experiences. Using Adobe XD, I created a prototype that demonstrates the basic functionality and main sections of the platform.

You can see the prototype for yourself here.

Pathfinder’s home screen — shows updates from other users and links to other elements of the platform.

Users would start by searching the platform for plans that relate to their interest. In this example, our user wants to become a freelance animator. The search results will include plans created by other users, as well as general guides provided by the platform (probably written by experienced professionals). They might also find groups, advice articles, or other users with similar interests.

From here, the user can view another user’s plan — either that’s still in progress or already completed. At the top level, a plan simply includes a list of steps, such as building a company brand, setting up a web presence, registering as self employed etc.

Stages are made up of steps. These are the smaller tasks that might be completed in a day and can usually be described with direct actions. The steps within a stage won’t necessarily be in chronological order, however some may be locked until others are completed (you can’t define the prices of your products until you’ve defined what your products are!)

From here, we can go into the steps, which include a description, instructions, lists of learning resources and so on. The idea is that anyone reading this step would be able to complete the task, regardless of experience level.

From here, this is where a user would start creating their own plan. Each plan, stage and step gives you the option to copy it into your own plan. You can mix and match stages and steps, even adding stages within stages if you need to. For example a user who already works in animation for a studio who’s considering going freelance probably won’t need to build a website or extend their network, but they might need to register as self employed, or they might want to add steps about providing other services like graphic design, which they might find in someone else’s plans.

As a user works through their plan, they mark each step as completed, adding details about what they did, their experience, advice for others and any learning resources. This way, each plan eventually turns into another learning resource that the next user can use to create their own plan. It also means users reflect on their progress as they go through it, which helps reinforce their learning.

Pathfinder is designed to be a social platform. Steps, stages, plans and any updates all invite other users to add comments, ask questions and share ideas. Plans are open for other users to see, and the idea is that users add their plans to Pathfinder with the intention of helping others, and getting help from others. There would also be groups to discuss specific careers and industries.

Uses

Beyond being used as an open platform for anyone, Pathfinder could also have offline, or private network uses. For example, it could be used as a learning environment for universities and other educational institutions, where lecturers could create plans for students; or plans could be created by employers as training programmes, or by professional bodies within particular industries.

There’s also potential for Pathfinder to work outside of career planning. Pretty much any large project that would require a lot of planning could be structured and supported by Pathfinder. For example, someone renovating a house for the first time may have several stages to consider; construction, plumbing, wiring, decorating, and all of these might have steps — painting, carpeting, fitting lights and radiators etc.

I fully intend to keep developing Pathfinder from here into an actual working platform. Although I honestly have no idea how…

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