Why ‘Voice and Choice’ Matter To Your Learning Design & Teaching Practice

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In an era of educational transformation, as we shift from traditional to more personalised teaching and learning approaches, the concept of voice and choice can significantly improve the way we teach, learn, express ourselves and experience the world around us. 

The concept of voice and choice, in essence, emphasises the importance of encouraging students to speak and discuss, collaborate, share, and most importantly, make their own decisions and regulate the process of their own learning.

The concept is not a stand-alone approach but rather a method which can be easily implemented into any learning environment, including face-to-face, blended and online learning.

“In education, student voice refers to the values, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students in a school, and to instructional approaches and techniques that are based on student choices, interests, passions, and ambitions.” (The Glossary of Education Reform)

What does voice and choice have to do with motivation?

You might ask: “What does voice and choice have to do with intrinsic motivation?”

Let us give you a simple example.

Imagine that you’ve enrolled in a course ‘Yo hablo Español’. You are excited and enter the course highly motivated to learn Spanish. You envision the course will include role plays,reading and discussing Spanish blogs and news articles with other students, watching Spanish news or TV shows, joining Spanish and Latin meetups and much more!

However, soon you find out the classes consist of a set of exercises in a Learner’s book, that only involves listening to short recordings and drilling into new vocabulary. By the end of the course, you might have learned how to speak Spanish on a sufficient level but the chances of you enjoying your learning process are quite low. This is in contrast to the amount of learning and enjoyment you could have had from a course that implemented the voice and choice concept.

As a result, you might drop out of the course or you might keep learning because you already invested in it,  made a commitment, or may have a pay rise at work.

Now you have an idea how easily intrinsic motivation can be replaced by extrinsic motivators.

This is similar to what often happens in a restrictive learning environment.

The aim of high-quality education should be stimulating and maintaining student’s intrinsic motivation to learn by listening to their needs, opinions, giving them opportunities to decide and regulate their learning while letting them experience positive emotions during their learning and reflection.

Emotions we experience during learning affect our future attitudes towards learning.

What you might like to consider in your teaching and facilitation practices

The key to fostering emotions and attitudes in learning is moderation.

It’s essential to not only create realistic and meaningful learning choices but also consider the circumstances where applying voice and choice would benefit your students the most.

These considerations may include age of your learners, their previous experiences, language proficiency, current motivation to learn, topics learnt, etc… While more extensive voice and choice concepts would maximise students’ experience in one particular situation, it might be less effective in another and some modifications to the learning experience would be needed.

The solution? Find a sweet spot!

Too many choices may lead to confusion, while too little choice can negatively affect intrinsic motivation. There’s no universal recipe – it’s up to your decision-making skills to maximise the learning experience of your students.

The better you know your students, the easier it will be to find that sweet spot.

5 practical applications of voice and choice in online learning design and facilitation

There are multiple ways of implementing the voice and choice concept into online learning design and facilitation. Here are our picks of 5 particular areas and example activities to inspire you!

1. Process-oriented approach

A process-oriented approach focuses on all processes, including dialogue and group discussions, hands-on experiences, communication, decision-making and problem-solving that lead to achieving a particular goal and outcome. The primary focus is not on the outcome but on the process of achieving the outcome.

Practical applications Example:

Students are asked to write and share an essay on ‘Global warming in context of culture and measures put in place to reverse its effects’. Traditionally, students do their research, write an essay and share it. Their work is, most likely, marked and evaluated.

In a process-oriented approach, students share, in addition to their essay, artefacts of the learning process. These artefacts may include interview and/or focus group recordings, online resources and links, analysis of current research papers, communication with NGOs and government organisations, including email communication or a summary, photos of places visited related to the topic, and much more.

Most importantly, they reflect on the learning process, the challenges they came across and what methods were or were not successful in overcoming them and they can share them in an artefact such as a Weekly Reflection Journal.

Activity example: Global warming in the context of culture and measures put in place to reverse its effects

2. Sidebar activity

A sidebar activity is often designed as an overarching course activity. Students can share anything relevant to their learning during the whole course or even after the course has finished and is not limited to a particular course sub-topic.

This activity can be very powerful in terms of the social aspects of learning.

For example, if your course is highly technical, you can balance it with a sidebar activity in which your students can express their interests and ideas or they can share something more personal.

Why not learn more about your students on a personal level!

Practical applications:
Students can take an active part in activities such as a ‘thing’ of the day, monthly challenge board, Pin it!, etc.
Find more tips and ideas here: How to Use Left-Hand Navigation Tabs to Facilitate Your Course Community

Activity example: Welcome to your journal

3. Level of difficulty and prompt questions

A learning community is very rarely homogenous.

Your students might have different interests, previous experiences and other learning needs.
Rather than comparing students with each other, compare student’s progress over time.
You can design activities for different levels of competency or you can let students decide to what degree they want to be challenged.

This approach can be particularly beneficial in the beginning of your course.

Practical applications:
Students reflect on their skills and identify strengths and skill gaps
Students will self-evaluate their own learning progress in the end of the course
Students will be able to choose between ‘basic’ or ‘advanced’ level of difficulty for a particular activity
Students can decide which of the prompt questions they will include in their answer/post

Activity example: Food for thought – Can-do attitude

4. Assignments and Assessments

If your online course requires assignments and assessments, they don’t necessarily have to be a painful experience for students (and teachers too!).

You can design 3-4 assignment scenarios­­ in the form of individual or group projects and let students choose which one they would like to work on and which one they will benefit from the most. If possible, you can even let them create their own scenario.

In case the assignment is based on group work, let students decide who they will work with and which methods and tools they will use.

As a course facilitator,  you will still have some control over what you’d like your students to do, while also giving your students a chance to decide, construct and regulate their learning process.

Practical applications:
Create individual and group projects in which students apply everything they’ve learnt so far
Create multiple project scenarios
Create hands-on tasks and activities in which students demonstrate their skills and knowledge

Activity example: Business scenarios for a group project 


5. End of the week activity

Listen to your students and let them reflect on their learning, give feedback, and give tips to you and other students. It will not only help students reflect on their own learning but it will also help you reflect on your own teaching and facilitation practices. You would be surprised how effective this approach could be!

Practical applications:
Students reflect on their own learning
Students reflect on the learning process, community, instructions, design
Students give tips to future students

Activity example: Reflections, feedback and tips!

Bonus tips on how to implement voice and choice effectively

  • Create clear and simple choices and promote transparency
  • Let your students create their own choices (if possible) aligned with learning outcomes and objectives
  • Provide realistic alternatives
  • Look at each student’s individual interests, strengths, motivators, skills and skill gaps
  • Facilitate and constantly reflect on your own teaching practice and ask students for feedback

We would love to hear from you. Share your experiences, practices and ideas in the comments below.

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