This is the anchoring insight of Pathways Network. Our mission is to understand how aspirations, identities, and opportunities coevolve to shape lives and life chances.

We use a variety of data sources, methods, and theoretical tools to understand how people make sense of learning and work opportunities; how families, schools and employers recognize and reward talent; how education and employment opportunities are best connected; and how upward mobility through school and work can be made more accessible, equitable, and humane.

Social scientists and educators have long recognized that learning and careers are sequential processes, but until very recently it has been difficult to observe these sequences at scale.

Digital technologies change that. Online platforms make it possible to observe how thousands or millions of learners process the same coursework. Institutional transcripts are gold mines for understanding movement through complex curriculums. Aggregate data describing career trajectories of entire populations can give insight to help firms identify talent and help people navigate transitions.

Pathways Network connects researchers working to develop shared concepts and techniques to take advantage of new data and computational power.

But we also know that many of the best insights come from close-range observation and careful theorizing. We leverage all of it to build tools that make it easier for people to make progress toward their goals as students, workers and citizens.

We work at a range of organizations distributed nationally and worldwide. Together we are building an inclusive, multi-method, coherent science of sequences and careers.

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Affiliates are honing a common language in the service of building a cumulative science. Here is some of what we’ve got so far. Nothing too fancy, and the terms are hardly our own. You likely will find many of them familiar.

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The processes through which individuals gather information, consider options and make decisions as they navigate academic and employment options. Navigation often entails enlistment of human and technological third parties and blur into the phenomenon of distributed cognition. More.

path dependence

In social science, the term used to denote the sequential and contingent character of a phenomenon. A phenomenon is said to be path-dependent if it could only have been realized subsequent to particular priors. For example, enrollment in advanced courses that have fixed prerequisites is “dependent on” completion of those prerequisites. More.


The intersection of individual selections and available choices. Academic pathways emerge at the intersection of available coursework and students’ navigation of them. Pathways can be understood, described and measured either as idiosyncratic to individuals (“What specific coursework did I take?”) or summarized into aggregates (all pathways leading to an economics major at School X, for example). A research priority of Pathways Network is to develop shared heuristics for specifying and comparing aggregate pathways in undergraduate programs with elective curriculums. More.


Forward movement in a sequence toward a specified goal: mastery of a technical skill or undergraduate degree completion, for example. Progress may, or may not, entail learning. For example, students may complete a course of study with passing grades, whether or not they have learned something. This is why progress through a curriculum and progress toward a learning goal often require separate measures.