Learner Voice vs. Voice and Choice


When an educational idea gains momentum and morphs into a buzzword, it can become misrepresented through its use and reuse across a variety of contexts. Take gamification for example. While there is a clear distinction between gamification and game-based learning, when gamification became a buzzword it was at times misinterpreted as the term for any educational gaming experience. That said, I believe there is a similar level of ambiguity (moreso than a misrepresentation) about what it means to design learning experiences for voice.

To further the point, let’s continue to draw comparisons to gamification. Gamification is an awesome educational practice, game-based learning is also a phenomenal educational practice, and some learning experiences expertly weave both together to leverage the benefits of each. But all that said, these two educational goals are still distinctly different and noting those differences can be extremely helpful to educators as they focus their efforts on intentionally incorporating one or the other – or a mixture of the two – in their own classroom practices.

And so with that same goal of clarity to drive intentionality, let’s take a moment to delineate the components that play into the general label of voice.

Empowering Learner Voice

In one sense, voice can be thought of as the act of empowering learners with an avenue for sharing their voice (ideas, writing, projects, questions, etc.) with an authentic (and often larger) audience. When using voice in this context, learners might create blogs, market their own ideas to local businesses, publish their writing, or even interview an expert or other professional. And so to be clear, let’s call this learner voice.

Voice and Choice

Alternatively, when voice is referenced in the voice and choice phrasing, it can take on a different connotation in the context of its pairing with choice. Voice AND choice. In these instances, voice is learner feedback that can evolve into academic self-advocacy as the student becomes the co-designer of the learning experience.

Personally, I believe that the phrasing should be choice and voice, but I’m already in the weeds enough here with my semantics, so I’ll just state that and move along. But it is worth noting that there is a certain reciprocity between voice and choice, and that reciprocity is something we explore at length during our personalized learning training. For the sake of this blog, I’ll spare you the details and just give you the short version: When a positive classroom climate is in place, educators can begin to offer choices to learners across a variety of instructional practices. Learners will then begin to select choices from the options made available to them by their teacher – this is identified as a Stage 1 Personalized Learning Environment.  A learner initiates their voice by making a choice, and as they explore that choice, the feedback that the individual (and all individuals) offer the educator should be listened to, honored, and at times pressed into to learn more about how to better cater the experience to the learner in the future (see voice in action video). As the educator considers all of the constructive comments from the collective students’ voices and as a result implements changes to the learning experience, the positive classroom climate will further improve as students realize that they have a voice in the learning process. This will kick-start the cycle again, now with improved personalized practices, with learners who are more perceptive of their own learning preferences, and with students who possess a greater sense of agency who will speak up because they have an experience now that proves that their voice matters.


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