Learning Paths service offers tailored IT training for faculty, staff

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — With more than 1 billion websites on the internet today, finding online training resources can be challenging. Even with the power of search engines, valuable information is sure to fall through the virtual cracks of the interweb.

Now, a new training option from Penn State’s IT Training Services is tackling the challenge of consolidating internet resources in a logical and easy-to-understand way.

The Learning Paths service is a virtual collection of in-person and online training (for example, articles and lynda.com video tutorials) focused on specific topics, making it easier for faculty and staff members to sift through information at their own pace.

“When I was learning about web design, it would’ve been helpful for me to see my learning objectives in a larger context,” said Kris Benefield, an instructional designer and lead of the Learning Paths project. “Most people don't have the patience, time or ability to find little pieces of information scattered across the internet. With Learning Paths, we can just pull those pieces together and link directly to them from this larger learning context.”

Providing flexible training

Currently, the group offers one Learning Path focused on Canvas, which provides faculty and staff members the flexibility to explore Penn State’s new learning management system while gaining hands-on experience with the site’s features and abilities.

“I find this to be a great resource for myself as an instructional designer and as a reference for faculty,” said Zach Lonsinger, who has been using the Canvas Learning Path. “When I began working in Canvas, I found myself jumping back and forth between the Learning Path and the courses I was working on. Now, I point faculty to this resource for all kinds of Canvas help and support.”

One of the advantages of the Learning Paths service is the ability for faculty and staff members to learn according to individual and specific learning objectives.

“The training is broken up into modules based on instructional goals. For example, there are modules built around effectively assessing students or fostering class collaboration,” Benefield said. “So users can work through the entire path from beginning to end, but it doesn't mean they're looking at every single resource — they can choose what to focus on.”

According to Chris Lucas, the director of IT Training Services, adding these specific contexts to Canvas training modules can help information resonate more with learners.

“Learning Paths starts to address the difference between information and learning,” Lucas said. “A lot of times when you read a tutorial, it's going to be more technical writing. So by curating and designing around the information itself, we can help a user see the larger context, which is going to help them remember it better and apply it to their teaching.”

When used in conjunction with in-person training, the Learning Paths service can act as supplementary material to enhance traditional training methods, according to Benefield.

“Maybe you’ve figured out the beginning steps of Canvas, but the only thing you can’t figure out is how to do your grade book,” Benefield said. “Now, you can come to live training and specifically focus on that topic, and it's going to be more hands-on because we've already given you the resources you need to practice through the Learning Path.”

And if faculty or staff members can’t attend in-person training sessions, the Learning Paths service provides the tools necessary to complete training at any time, from any location.

“We can't offer in-person training every day, every hour. So if you're a faculty member and your teaching schedule conflicts with in-person training sessions, you’re missing out on those learning opportunities,” Benefield said. “So since the Learning Path is available 24/7, it helps provide more flexible access to these training resources.” 

Changing the learning landscape

According to Benefield, although only one Learning Path is currently available, there are a variety of opportunities in the service’s future.

“We've talked about developing Learning Paths for broader topics like accessibility,” Benefield said. “We have different trainings and materials on accessibility for different services like Microsoft Office and Canvas, so it would be helpful for people to see these resources grouped together in a logical order.”

For Benefield, one of the greatest future possibilities of the Learning Paths service is the ability to have a lasting effect on education at Penn State.

“There’s more of an impact if faculty and staff members can learn beyond what buttons to press and actually understand the context of how to achieve specific goals with technology,” Benefield said. “To me, that’s the most important part of this service — it’s not just about providing the information; it’s about providing context that makes the information matter.”

To access the Canvas Learning Path, visit the Canvas Learning Center’s website.

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Last Updated October 14, 2016