Learning Trajectories: Not just your gussied-up learning progression

Learning Continuum. Learning progression. Learning trajectory. Aren’t they all just referring to the same thing?


Learning continua and progressions organize learning outcomes into a hypothetical model for how learning develops vertically and typically expects students to progress through the learning phases at a particular age and within a set period of time. Learning trajectories a la Michael Battista, have two unique attributes that distinguish them from these other models. Learning trajectories involve researching each student’s cognitive performance, documenting the historical thought processes used by that student, and then supporting more sophisticated levels of reasoning by providing a personal learning experience for each student. That isn’t to say that instructional activities can’t be provided to groups of students. They can. But, students are grouped according to what and how they need to learn next in a cognitive-based approach to learning.

Check out this YouTube video to hear from Dr. Battista directly:

Given that the important distinction is that the focus is on how students are thinking or reasoning, we need to engage with and assess students differently if we are going to get into their heads. This might involve very informal interactions, such as just asking students to explain their thinking. It could also involve using journals in the classroom, a la Dr. John Collins, founder of Collins Education Associates. Dr. Collins understands the value of having students put their thinking into written text and advocates using a journaling process to capture this thinking in domains such as math and science. You can learn more about the Collins Writing and Thinking Process at Another approach to assessing students thinking is through the use of cognition-based assessments. Battista’s book on this type of assessment is published by Heinemann (see

Regardless of how we understand their thinking, the important thing is that we seek to understand it. Only then can we provide the support needed to help all students progress. As noted in Battista’s books, traditional practices are leaving 80% of our students behind. We need a personal approach to learning for each student that begins with understanding the cognitive processing of each learner.

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