This week, I received a comment to my blog asking: What do you feel is the biggest difference between playlists and choice boards? Would you say a playlist is more data-driven and a choice board gives more variety in learning modalities? These are great questions! I have heard teachers use these terms interchangeably, yet there is a distinct difference between these the playlist model and choice boards. So, let’s explore differences!

Playlist or Individual Rotation Model

The playlist, or individual rotation model, is a blended learning model that strives to give students more control over the pace and path of their learning. When I facilitate workshops on this model, I describe it as a sequence of learning activities designed to move students toward a specific learning goal or objective. It’s a way to structure learning experiences that are more personalized to the needs of specific learners, provide students with more agency and autonomy, and free teachers to spend time connecting with and coaching learners as they progress through the playlist.

The goal of a playlist is to move students from point A (where they currently are in relation to content knowledge, skills, or a multi-step project or process) to point B (firm learning goals). To create a personalized path, teachers need to understand where students are starting. That requires data. Teachers will want to use pre-assessments, diagnostics, and/or assess prior knowledge to identify where each student is in relation to the content at the heart of the playlist.

In addition to using data to design the playlist, it is essential to build mechanisms into the playlist to collect formative assessment data. That way, teachers can monitor student progress through the playlist and use that data to facilitate conversations with learners about their progress during the “teacher check-ins.”

Teachers who want to support students as they progress through the playlist should add “teacher check-ins” at strategic moments in a playlist. When students arrive at a teacher check-in, they join a queue to meet with the teacher. They can fill out a simple Google form, add their name to ClassroomQ, or put a post-it note with their name in a box labeled “waiting room” on the front board. During the teacher check-ins, teachers meet one-on-one with students to review their work, provide focused feedback, discuss their progress, and make adjustments to their individual playlists to ensure they continue making progress. These conversations function to strengthen teacher-student relationships and make the process of personalizing a playlist more sustainable.

When I facilitate training sessions on playlists, I use a backward design approach to guide teachers through the process (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).

Step 1Step 2Step 3
Identify the desired results or the learning objectivesDecide on an assessment strategyCreate the learning path
What do you want students to know, understand, or do at the end of this playlist?How will you measure progress toward learning objectives? What assessment strategy will you use? Can you build student agency into the assessment strategy so students can decide how they demonstrate or share their learning? What on-demand instruction and models will students need to understand key concepts or processes? What learning activities will help them make meaning or progress toward learning objectives? How can the playlist support them in applying what they are learning? When would teacher check-ins be most helpful?

So, playlists demand a high level of intentionality around the design and use data strategically. They strive to move students toward clear learning goals and objectives by providing a clear path with everything they need, so they enjoy autonomy and agency.

Choice Boards

Choice boards or learning menus, by contrast, may be considered a blended learning strategy if teachers combine online and offline learning activities; however, they are not in the taxonomy of blended learning models. Like playlists, choice boards give learners more control over the pace and path of their learning. Students get to make key decisions about their learning and enjoy a higher degree of autonomy when working on a choice board.

Unlike a playlist, the choice board typically presents learners with three columns with multiple options in each. The board may have subtle differentiation with color-coded squares denoting more challenging activities or tasks, but they are rarely personalized for individual students. Instead, teachers create a board for the class, and students select a specific number of items from the board to complete. Ideally, the board includes a variety of learning modalities to remove barriers and allow students to select the activities they think will be the best fit for them.

Teachers can design choice boards for a variety of purposes. They can be standard or skill-aligned with each column of activities drilling down into a specific standard and providing students with different ways to engage with that standard or skill. They can facilitate review and practice, giving students repeat exposure to key concepts, vocabulary, and skills. The sky is the limit in terms of how a teacher designs a choice board. Check out my post titled “Choice Boards: Benefits, Design Tips & Differentiation.”

Even though choice boards tend to be smaller in scope than a playlist and require less time to complete, they should create time and space for teachers to work directly with students. Teachers can use this time to facilitate conferences, provide feedback, or conduct side-by-side assessments.

Want more instruction and support designing playlists and choice boards? I have a module dedicated to each in my Advancing with Blended Learning course. School leaders looking to support teachers in self-paced, online learning focused on blended learning models can request a quote for bulk licenses of my course to provide teachers with flexible learning opportunities this spring and summer!

Are you a coach, TOSA, or instructional leader looking to support teachers in their shift to blended learning? Registration is open to join the spring cohort for my hybrid blended learning coaching course! The spring cohort runs from March 7-May 9. You can learn more here or request a quote for your coaching team here!

9 Responses

  1. Hi Dr. Tucker – you just gave a great PD in my district about playlists. I do have a question, though, that I don’t think I asked that day – with the playlists and LMS, how do you put the playlist in? So we use Classroom – should the playlist be an assignment? A material? I want to implement the playlist idea, but I’m struggling with this one piece.


    • Hi Erica,

      I’d suggest you create the actual path of the playlist in a Google Document or slide deck, then share it with students via Google Classroom, so it makes a copy for each of them. If you decide you want to differentiate and create three different versions (scaffolded. middle of the road, advanced), then you’d select the students you want to share each version with and have it make copies for those students. I’d make it an assignment.

      Let me know if you have any follow-up questions!


  2. I have used Choice Boards and the students enjoy them every time. This is the first time I am hearing about Playlist. Playlist seems more in depth to individual student learning. I like that, too, The playlist is something I did without knowing its name. I would like more information on this.
    Thank you

  3. I like both strategies for teaching students in my math class. The Playlist gives students a guide in their learning while it gives teachers a strategy to use for student learning. Teachers are able to use data and diagnostics as students progress. It also gives teachers an opportunity to give assistance or feedback as students progress. The second strategy (Choice Board) is blended learning, where students learn online and offline. It gives students more control on their learning because they make key decisions on how they want to learn. Therefore, both methods of instructions are good strategies in teaching students in learning math concepts.

  4. Choice boards are more skill focused. Student is able to demonstrate understanding of TEK or skill by completing tasks. Playlists appear to be more cognitive. Students are in more control of how they learn and how they demonstrate learning.

  5. Both strategies seem similar to me, with playlists going into more depth. The Playlist gives students a voice in their learning and helps teachers with strategies to better utilize data and diagnostics as students progress. Teachers may give feedback as students progress. The second strategy, Choice Boards, is more of a blended learning approach, where students learn online and offline. This option gives students more control on their learning because they make key decisions on how they want to learn.

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