Meeting the learner where they are, unbundling courses into authentic experiences, and embracing a cross-circular world can be intimidating compared to the 'neat in rows’ and 'common worksheet’ ways most have grown up with.

Focusing on learning more in terms of the processes and workflows that engage learners is what makes agile learning effective. We at Headrush combine and articulate these processes as ‘Learning Scenarios’. By understanding these learning scenarios — and by seeing examples, we hope to help you more quickly connect on how to fully leverage the platform aligned to your own learner-centered practice.

Elements of a 'Learning Scenario'

Mapping out a Learning Scenario involves identifying:

1. Who initiates the experience?
2. Who guides the experience?
3. What kinds of interactions might happen along the way?
4. How intense and frequent are the interactions?

Who initiates the experience?

At its base, every learning scenario starts or is initiated by the Advisor or the Learner. Headrush supports the idea, and ideal, that these situations can both occur with equal frequency in the learning community, and that the rest of the process--the messy details, the workflow, who owns what, who is responsible--should adapt to respond to that initiative.

It's worth noting that the traditional definition of teacher tends to correspond with advisor, and student with learner, but we use these distinctions as well:

  • Initiator/Creator— The person/group that starts or creates the plan.

  • Director/Advisor— People that manage the tasks and expectations.

  • Participant/Learner— People that complete the tasks and expectations.

Who guides the experience?

What do we mean when we say ‘guide’? Throughout the experience, there’s logistics to manage, scaffolding to support, feedback to share, connections to be made, all topped with just enough encouragement to sustain engagement. When circumstances change or new opportunities present themselves, someone needs to decide if the overall experience needs to change as well. Is there a new opportunity to develop a competency? Could an existing competency in development be further improved by the learning experience? This is what we mean when we say guide.

What kinds of interactions might happen along the way?

Throughout the experience, learners and advisors have lots of reasons to talk, interact, measure, and make changes. Traditionally these interactions focused on attending lectures, turning in worksheets, writing papers, and periodic multiple choice tests. More dynamic scenarios involve student/team discovery, entry events, independent research, interviews, building prototypes, or presenting to a group. Understanding and representing the interaction points supports planning and collaboration, and leads one to Headrush features that make these interactions easier and simpler.

Advisor feedback loops during student work

Advisor creates and assigns work

Advisor and Learner discussion

Advisor invites guest assessor to review

How intense and frequent are the interactions?

Some learning scenarios require regular and daily interaction -- such as a seminar, with a very short feedback loop. Others are more casual, with infrequent check-ins needed to maintain engagement. Of equal importance, the intensity of the interactions: a quick review of newly submitted evidence could take seconds, whereas an in-depth assessment of competencies and integration of feedback from an external assessor could take minutes or even hours. Considering the level of activity across the experience aids in planning and balancing of workloads. It gives awareness of the gaps which can be filled with cross curricular enhancements, while making clear when busy times are ahead.

Average intensity

Background work

Intensive workload

Pauses or delays

How are Learning Scenarios different from course syllabi?

Learning Scenarios aim to be a meta understanding of the learning process connected to the idea of a specific learning experience. One could argue a well constructed course syllabus or lesson plan could resemble or even be a learning scenario, and we’d agree.

However, most course syllabi deal in predetermined chunks of time, structured assessment, and tend to rely on very teacher-directed instruction and are not agile by design.

Thus, the idea behind learning scenarios is to enable better distinction of learning activities so they can happen in more agile, learner-centered ways and still include the good practice and accounting that things like syllabi and lesson plans also aim to accomplish.

Non-Agile Learning

Agile Learning

Less interested in acknowledging prior knowledge

More rigid structure

Predicting the future

Pre-defined measurements

Varying scopes of time and work


Learner initiated and led

Discover measurement along the way

Learning Scenario Examples

To better understand the scenarios, it can be helpful to focus on two important dynamics: who starts the scenario, and who guides it to completion. The dance of accountability and communications between advisors and learners varies greatly depending on who is leading in each step. Headrush supports scenarios that start with the Learner, and which involve the Advisor on an ad-hoc basis -- and scenarios that start with the Advisor, from a pre-defined structure, and scaffold increasing Learner responsibility throughout. We've prepared examples that cover some of these dimensions:

If this is your first time looking at the scenarios, we encourage you to explore several examples, as there is value in comparing and contrasting them and thinking about your own learning community and its needs. Each scenario includes:

  1. An overview

  2. A full workflow and narrative description

  3. Sample module files for download

  4. Comparison to other scenarios

Designing the Scenario Notation

The learning scenarios we developed are adapted from Headrush modules created by our users, and through consultation with our partners and advisors. As we researched the best examples and considered how to communicate them, we realized that we needed a scaffold ourselves. So many things happen throughout the course of a learning scenario that we didn't feel that a simple list would encompass the activity. What's more, there's noise and fuzziness involved with interdisciplinary and learner-directed approaches, which are difficult to capture with a formal workflow diagram.

So as a team, we developed a system of notation that makes it easy to--well, frankly, scribble a learning scenario out in a short period of time. Kind of like this:

This is the scribble for a Personal Learning Plan, a good example of a learner-led, learner-guided scenario.

The big box makes a frame for the scenario, and the line tracing through it represents the passage of time, the level of activity, and through its location and color, shows who is taking the action--the Learner or the Advisor.

Look at the line. Most of the line is at the top, in blue, showing Learner work, with some--but not too many--dips down into the Advisor purple, showing their support and engagement. That's how we imagine a Personal Learning Plan would look -- some meandering and infrequent work by the learner, and some points of feedback from the Advisor, with some more at the start and end of the plan duration. Pretty relaxed.

Let's contrast with another example, this one taken from an advisor initiated, advisor guided 8 week 10th grade seminar:

The first thing to notice is where does the line enter on the left? Unlike the personal learning plan initiated by the Learner, here the Advisor spends quite a bit of energy at the start, developing the seminar content -- possibly working from a template -- and once the activity is assigned to the Learners, they are very busy with regular monitoring, feedback loops and evaluation by the Advisor. At the end, you see some activity for the Advisor to wrap-up the activity, assigning credits and competencies in a more formal evaluation process.

Look again at the line. It's more jagged, which represents all the activity taking place on a daily, even hourly basis. The line is also more distributed between the top and the bottom, because in a week-long seminar, the Advisor will spend a lot of time monitoring and engaging in the Learner's activities.

So the line gives us some expression -- a way to see at a glance what the overall activity of a Learning Scenario would feel like, for the participants.

Now, we can add another layer to the representation, to include critical events or important moments during the scenario. We can then describe each of the events below:

We tend to think of learning scenarios in terms of the three phases, Initiation, Journey, and Finalization. In each of these phases we can describe critical events that occur or even just things that we want to showcase.

We could have used stars, or squares, or anything-- the scribble is there to help us keep the level of activity over time visible while we see the important moments. It helps us understand who is responsible and when throughout the process.

Different elements come to represent different interactions:

Advisor feedback loops during student work

Advisor creates and assigns work

Advisor and Learner discussion

Advisor invites guest assessor to review

And the line’s motion can come to convey the intensity of work over time:

Average intensity

Background work

Intensive workload

Pauses and waiting

Scribble Your Own Learning Scenarios

We had so much fun creating these scribbles for different scenarios that we decided to make a worksheet for you to create your own. Download this file or create your own -- and try scribbling scenarios with your fellow Advisors, or even with Learners. If you come up with an interesting idea or design for this notational format, please get in touch with us!

Click on the image or here to download the PDF

Our hope is to open a conversation about how we design learning scenarios, so we can find healthier ways to place the learner at the center of their learning, to respect their autonomy while enabling Advisors to support and guide their activities. Sharing expressive tools that you can use to have different conversations about learning and its design is a part of how Headrush expresses learning to the world.

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