Designing Personalized Pathways for Every Learner

Authors & Gratitude

This paper was authored by Nate McClennen with contributions from the Getting Smart team and numerous friends and partners in the field. Much of the video content has been taken from our ongoing Getting Smart Town Halls, podcasts and more. It is also a part of our New Pathways campaign.

The production of this publication was made possible with generous support by Stand Together.

What's the New Pathways Campaign?


Every learner deserves an unlimited number of unbundled opportunities to explore, engage, and define experiences that advance their progress along a co-designed educational pathway. Each pathway provides equitable and personalized access to stacked learning experiences leading to post-secondary credentials and secure family-sustaining employment. Throughout the journey, supportive coaches focus on helping learners build skills to navigate with agency. In parallel, learners develop foundational skills (literacy, math), technical skills, and durable skills and connect these to challenging co-designed experiences. The breadth and depth of experiences increase over time, and, in partnership, learners and coaches map progress towards reaching community-defined goals. This vision is only enabled by an unbundled learning ecosystem.


Since the advent of formal education, learning has been bundled. Most students attend schools and follow a prescriptive curriculum determined by the school, state, or other governing body. The curriculum is bundled together via classes or courses, and once the student has completed each of these at a satisfactory level, the authorizing body grants a credential.  

However, even within a constrained system such as this, unbundled opportunities exist at various levels of granularity. At the classroom level, except in the most prescriptive programs, educators draw on a variety of resources and develop learning experiences from different sources. In this way, the classroom experience is often unbundled.

At the course level, high school students often can choose courses that best serve their interests. Despite typically being within a constrained system (such as a comprehensive school), learners have choices to bundle different elements to meet their needs. The larger the school, the greater the variation of choices.

Finally, at the school level, the education ecosystem writ large has increasingly provided an unbundled experience, where some learners (depending on geography and access) can choose from public (magnet, charter, district, etc.), homeschool, and private options (religious, secular, micro-school, etc.).

An unbundled system provides more personalized and relevant learning experiences for all students at the learning experience level. When the system can build structures that allow young people to meet competencies and standards in a variety of ways from a variety of sources at the learning experience level, conditions for success increase. In this publication, we articulate the critical steps needed to unbundle the learning ecosystem, build core competencies, design learning experiences, curate new opportunities, and rebundle these experiences into coherent pathways. 

Throughout, we share a landscape view of the unbundled system through examples of emerging models and technology solutions to support unbundled ecosystems. Finally, we discuss challenges and recommendations. 

As we explore the landscape, we also emphasize possibility, sharing examples of the public system flexing, modifying, and adjusting to develop a more unbundled system that better accommodates a more personalized learning journey for every student.

This video with Karen Pittman, from a Getting Smart Town Hall, is a fantastic overview of what an ecosystem of learning could look like.

View Full Town Hall


Learning Experience (LX)

Any experience that supports a learner to develop a particular skill, outcome or competency.

Learning Experience Pathway (LXP)

A personalized pathway of competency-linked learning experiences designed for and/or by individual learners.

Unbundled Learning

Unbundled learning allows students to choose, co-design, or create learning experiences using both in-system and out-of-system providers that all count towards meeting credential requirements (diploma, certificate, etc.).


Learning experiences that are offered through or sponsored by comprehensive school programs via local education agencies.


Learning experiences that are offered by non-profit organizations, businesses, governments, or individuals (i.e. home-school).


Systems that allow learners to choose or build learning experiences without first securing approval from another entity or individual.



Unbundled systems have intentional design that provide meaninful and connected learning experiences for all. Suggested career connected pathways and community contribution create strong foundations for unbundled systems.


When educational systems are unbundled and rebundled they must both be accessible to all learners and connect to the context, cultures and environments of learners.


Learners co-design the learning experience in partnership with a supportive and informed coach. 


Rebundled learning experiences focus on purpose and impact. Contextualized real-world learning build into rebundled systems in parallel to proficiency on foundational literacies, transferable skills, and technical skills increases success in bundled real-world experiences. 


The unbundled system depends on core tool building blocks that learners, coaches, and designers can re-use and re-purpose to build the most personalized learner pathway. These building blocks are any LX that can be recombined and reorganized.


While the school building may be the location of some learning experiences, it does not have to be for every learner. When we decentralize learning to incorporate both real-world and digital experiences offered by an infinite number of providers, we better meet the neuro-diversity of humans when they learn.


For an unbundled system to meet all of the core principles, core structural elements must exist. A fully decentralized education system entails a distributed set of learning experiences to which any education creator might contribute. LX designers (whether individuals or organizations) would build and launch options for learning any topic or any skill. Students would co-design the pathway that satisfies proficiency requirements (presumably set by local or state governments) built on an infinite number of choices. 

Learning Experience Marketplace

Anyone can build content/share an LX in any form. These learning experiences must be easy to access and search. For the last thirty years, open educational resources (such as Khan Academy, MIT OpenCourseWare, Connexions, and NROC HippoCampus) have provided unbundled learning. Outschool provides an early example of this (albeit within a single modality of video mentorship and instruction) by offering up 10,000+ instructors to millions of learners worldwide. Teachers Pay Teachers is also an early learning marketplace that focuses on curricular lessons rather than instruction. Finally, there are a number of course/credential aggregators or universities such as Stepmojo, ASU Universal Learner Courses, and SNHU that provide virtual experiencessometimes disaggregated from course-level constraints.

Learning Pathways Icon

Mapped Pathways

While every student co-designs their experience in an unbundled ecosystem, a coherent set of pathways must exist alongside expected skills and knowledge outcomes from the experience. These outcomes must then map directly to regional, national, and global employer needs and/or future community needs. These pathways provide direction towards a clear target defined by core (foundational literacies), technical (industry specific), and transferable (higher-level and applicable to all sectors) skills.

Learner Record Icon

Learner Records

Unbundled systems allow learners to store learning and employment credentials that are free to use (for life), and each user owns their personal data for life (self-sovereignty). GreenLight Credentials and LearnCard are among the many wallets that verify and store learning credentials.

Coaching and Guidance

For an unbundled ecosystem to function, expert coaches guide students to co-design pathways that meet future needs. Differentiated from current school counselors, these coaches are well-versed in the unbundled opportunities that exist for every learner. In addition to highly developed advisory and mentorship programs, Big Thought’s Opportunity Advisor and Friends of the Children professional mentors are designed to support students through their learning journey within the expanded ecosystem.