How to Rethink Time and Space to Empower Learners: Part Four in Our Series on Shifts and Strategies for Teachers

"In a traditional classroom, time is held constant, while the degree to which students master new material varies. Competency-based learning environments, on the other hand, flip the script: learning is constant, but the time that it takes students to demonstrate mastery is the variable.” -Redesign Learning Experiences by Rethinking Time with Competency-Based Education

We believe students learn deeply when we use technology to expand our notion of when and where learning happens. As the fourth blog post in a five-part series on GOA’s Educator Competencies, we aim to define what it looks like to rethink time and space and offer considerations for actions educators can take in the classrooms and beyond to leverage time and space to empower students.

GOA's educator competencies - assess for learning, build collaborative communities, cultivate belonging, foster student-led learning, and rethink time and space

GOA's Educator Competencies

Distinguish between asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences

Teachers can make strategic decisions about how to blend synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences. Even in a brick-and-mortar teaching setting, there are benefits to leveraging asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences, and teachers should make strategic decisions.

It could be assumed that classroom discussions, for example, need to take place synchronously. However, integrating asynchronous discussions can broaden our notion of “class participation” and make it more meaningful and more accessible for more students. Asynchronous discussions like those embedded in most learning management systems or tools like Padlet and Jamboard offer a chance for students to share ideas via text, audio, or video. Asynchronous interactions offer a chance for more reflection, give students more time to compose and express their thoughts, and shift the power dynamic in discussions from favoring the extrovert or the more verbose.

Flipped classroom models also suggest that direct instruction and/or lectures could happen asynchronously and on students' own time to pave the way for interactive, collaborative time when synchronously gathered. When we extend the classroom experience to both asynchronous and synchronous experiences, we create pathways on which all learners can engage.

Provide ways for students to move at their own pace

Teachers can pace learning experiences so that students progress based on evidence of proficiency, not seat time. De-emphasizing pace in how we curate and create content supports differentiation and prioritizes mastery over coverage.

Creating a content playlist is one example of a way that students can move at their own pace. Content can be multimedia, giving learners the option to read, watch, or listen. And, playlists can serve as pacing guides, supporting more self-directed learning.

A list of resources in the form of a playlist

An example content playlist from GOA’s Architecture course.

While we want students to move at their own pace, it’s still important to set realistic deadlines for completion. No deadlines is not the solution - after all, there are plenty of people in the world of work that operate on real deadlines, so helping students learn how to meet realistic deadlines is a significant part of the learning process. We know that time management matters. Self-pacing is an opportunity for students to exercise agency, negotiating the deadlines that best align to where they are in their learning. There are some advantages of negotiable deadlines. Teaching students how to set their own deadlines for projects helps students improve their planning skills, helps students articulate their progress, and improves self-awareness.

Leverage online spaces

Teachers should use online spaces to offer students multiple ways to approach course content and materials. Online spaces, be they in a Learning Management System (LMS), a website, or another platform, can be used as the headquarters for learning.

There are benefits to maintaining a robust online hub for our classes even when we teach in person. If content, instruction, assessments, etc. are centralized in a well-designed online space that serves as a partner to the in-person classroom, then students have the ability to access learning at any time and from almost anywhere - access that can support deeper learning for more students.

Leveraging online spaces makes it easier for learning to be visible for students and teachers. Students can revisit concepts and skills on which they individually need more practice, engage in learning from any location, and co-curate content and experiences with teachers in an online hub. Most artifacts are digital and shareable. Portfolio-based learning, where students are responsible for curating evidence of learning, is an essential part of student-centered systems. At GOA, our use of portfolios emphasizes process, not product. Digital portfolios can be housed in online hubs, accessed anytime and anywhere, and support learning whether in person, online, or both.

Create real-world learning opportunities

Teachers should design learning experiences that go beyond the four walls of the classroom. While pandemic learning absolutely made many relationships harder to build, it’s worth noting which interactions online tools can make easier. How might video conferencing make conferences and other important school events more accessible to families? How might we invite people into our classrooms via synchronous and asynchronous online tools to give our students an authentic audience for their work? How might online tools connect students to experts and professionals in the world beyond school who can contribute to their learning?

Authentic learning does not have to mean a large-scale project. Open-ended performance tasks, case studies, and opportunities to align work to audiences can form any scope of experiences. What ties all moments of authentic learning together isn’t the amount of time students spend in a process, it is the opportunity for students to apply skills that hold meaning beyond that experience. Need additional ideas and inspiration? Here are a few articles that rise to the top of our playlist.

If you’d like to pursue taking steps to rethink time and space in your own classroom, consider our new self-paced competency-based learning series of courses for educators. Designed for self-paced learning, they are ideal for individual educators or school teams to make practical shifts towards competency-based learning in their classrooms.

GOA is hosting an upcoming Zoom event, “Ask Me Anything: How Do We Rethink Time and Space?” on March 23rd at 2pm ET. We invite you to join GOA for a conversation with Dr. Catlin Tucker ( and Kareem Farah (Modern Classrooms) who’ll speak to strategies for rethinking time and space and the impacts on student learning. Register here to join the discussion.

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