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How to Create Effective Learning Playlists

Educators have been working valiantly to make either remote or hybrid learning work. In the midst of this challenging time, we have seen innovative practices embraced more at scale. These represent new methodologies for some, while others are now applying what they had already been doing to the current situation in the form of blended learning. It is essential for me to reiterate what I have been saying for years as there is still some confusion as to what this actually entails:

Blended instruction is what the teacher does with technology. Blended learning is where students use tech to have control over path, place, and pace.

Thus, just using Zoom or Google Meet is not blended learning if content is just being shared. The same could be said if all learners are using Kahoot of Quizizz as part of a synchronous lesson. Another critical aspect of pedagogically-sound blended learning is some form of personalization. If all learners are doing the same thing at the same time the same way, then one can deduce that this is not a personal experience. If equity is the goal, it’s time to flip the script by giving students what they need when and where they need it.

Past posts have explored blended strategies like station rotation and choice boards, which make learning more personal in remote and hybrid environments. Playlists represent another great option, but I have yet to elaborate on how educators can implement these effectively, until now. The premise behind these is quite simple, as learners are presented with a series of tasks that they complete in any order they want. Personalization occurs through path and pace. Unlike choice boards, where only a set number of options have to be completed, learners are accountable for every playlist activity.

The following guidelines outline some best practices for creating effective learning playlists:

  • Provide direct instruction prior to introducing new content either through a mini-lesson or flipped approach.
  • List tasks in a learning management system (Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom) and use a Google Sheet for students to color in once a task has been completed. In cases where digital equity is an issue, these can be listed on paper for distribution, while any activities involving technology would need to be replaced.
  • Scaffold questions and activities to bump up thinking.
  • Build-in relevant problem-solving to instill a greater purpose while providing an appropriate challenge.
  • Use data to provide one-on-one or small group support.
  • Ensure there is a balance between tech and no-tech options.
  • Integrate adaptive tools that respond to strengths and weaknesses while providing data that can be used for groupings and shifts to instruction. 
  • If possible, differentiate by providing multiple versions that address the specific needs of learners while provided different paths.
  • Create a simple formative assessment for learners to complete after they have finished all activities in the playlist. This could consist simply of 3 scaffolded questions. Not only does this provide closure, but it will also provide insight as to whether the kids engaged in all the tasks.

The image above provides an example of what a well-structured playlist looks like, as it includes an array of activities that challenge students to think and play what they have learned in different ways. It also affords the teacher an opportunity to work with kids that need the most support. Once a task is completed, the learner colors in the cell under their name in a Google Sheet.

Playlists are a fantastic blended learning strategy that can be used to personalize learning, differentiate instruction, and free up the teacher during class time. They also represent a viable option for both remote and hybrid learning environments.  The key to remember is that there is no one right way to create them. It is up to the teacher to determine the right number of tasks and the overall length of time that learners will have to complete them. This could range from a single period or block to a few days or even a week. When all is said and done, the goal is to use time more effectively while developing a more equitable learning experience for all kids.