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How Learners Achieve SMART Goals With Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™

In the realm of education, empowering learners to take ownership of their journey is pivotal. In the book Agents to Agency, I underscore the significance of nurturing learner agency by providing a structured yet flexible framework that educators can employ to guide learners toward success as they set SMART goals for their learning. 

This framework is anchored on three key elements: Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™, each playing a crucial role in the learning process.

In this article, we will explore how learners can utilise the concept of Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ to begin setting SMART goals effectively. This approach is structured to provide clarity, motivation, and a pathway for learners to set SMART goals, enabling them to see the end point, recognise significant achievements along the way, and understand the steps needed to reach their ultimate objective.

Understanding Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™

Any journey towards success, no matter how big or small, is a path laden with various checkpoints. These checkpoints—our Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™—are pivotal in guiding individuals and organisations towards their goals.


  • Destinations: These are the long-term goals or final outcomes that learners aim to achieve. A Destination should be clear, achievable, and motivating. It's what you envision at the end of your learning journey.

  • Milestones: These are significant checkpoints or intermediate goals that mark progress towards the Destination. Milestones help to break down the journey into more manageable segments, making the overall goal less daunting.

  • Footsteps: These are the daily actions, habits, or smaller tasks that lead to the accomplishment of Milestones and, eventually, the Destination. Footsteps are the most immediate and tangible aspects of the learning process.

If you want to take an even more detailed look into the magic of Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™, we’ve created a comprehensive resource on them that you can download here.

Incorporating SMART Goals

To enhance the effectiveness of the Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ framework, setting SMART goals can provide additional clarity and focus. This is explained in greater detail in our resource Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™: Journeying to Success. SMART goals are:

  • Specific: Clear and well-defined, leaving no room for ambiguity.

  • Measurable: Quantifiable to track progress and assess achievement.

  • Achievable: Realistic, considering the resources and time available.

  • Relevant: Aligned with broader learning objectives and personal aspirations.

  • Time-bound: Having a deadline to instil a sense of urgency and motivate consistent effort.



Implementing Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ in Learning

In my book Agents to Agency, I suggest a shift from traditional teacher-centred methods to a learner-driven approach, where learners are taught to become their own teachers. This paradigm shift involves making learning relevant, engaging, and aligned with the learners' future aspirations rather than adhering strictly to past educational norms.

  • Define Your Destination: Start by setting a clear and specific learning goal. It should be something meaningful and motivating, which gives direction to your learning journey.

  • Identify Milestones: Break down your Destination into smaller, achievable Milestones. These should be significant enough to give a sense of progress but not so large that they become overwhelming.

  • Plan Your Footsteps: Determine the specific actions or tasks that will lead you to each Milestone. These should be daily or regular activities that contribute directly to your learning progress.

  • Monitor and Adjust: Regularly review your progress towards each Milestone and adjust your Footsteps as necessary. Flexibility is key, as you may need to adapt your approach based on what is or isn't working.

The following examples illustrate how the Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ approach helps structure the learning process in a way that is clear, achievable, and engaging, so learners can succeed with setting SMART goals easily. 

“In the realm of education, empowering learners to take ownership of their journey is pivotal.”

By breaking down the curriculum into manageable Milestones and establishing regular, focused activities, learners can systematically work towards mastering complex subjects. This approach not only supports academic success but also fosters a sense of accomplishment and progress, crucial for sustained motivation and engagement in learning.

Example 1: Learning a New Language

  • Destination: Achieve conversational fluency in Spanish within one year.

  • Milestones:

    • Complete a basic Spanish course (3 months)

    • Hold a 5-minute conversation in Spanish (6 months)

    • Watch and understand a Spanish movie without subtitles (9 months)

  • Footsteps:

    • Daily language lessons on a learning app

    • Weekly conversation practice with a language partner

    • Regularly listen to Spanish music and podcasts

Example 2: Mastering a Musical Instrument

  • Destination: Perform a set piece at a local community concert in six months.

  • Milestones:

    • Learn the basics of music theory (1 month)

    • Master the scales and essential chords (3 months)

    • Complete the piece without mistakes at a slow tempo (5 months)

  • Footsteps

    • Practice scales and chords for 30 minutes daily

    • Weekly lessons with a music teacher

    • Daily practice of the set piece, gradually increasing tempo

Example 3: Mathematics - Year 9 Algebra (Australian Curriculum)

  • Destination: Achieve a high level of competency in Year 9 Algebra, including the ability to solve linear equations, understand and apply the laws of indices, and graph linear and simple non-linear relations, by the end of the semester.

  • Milestones:

    • M1: Understand and use the laws of indices for whole numbers (End of Month 1)

    • M2: Solve simple linear equations and inequalities (End of Month 2)

    • M3: Graph linear relations and simple non-linear relations using a table of values (End of Month 3)

    • M4: Apply algebraic techniques to solve problems involving linear equations and inequalities (End of Semester)

  • Footsteps:

    • Daily practice problems focusing on the current topic

    • Weekly algebra worksheets to reinforce concepts learned in class

    • Participate in a bi-weekly study group with classmates to discuss and solve algebra problems

    • Monthly meetings with the teacher to review progress and clarify doubts

Example 4: English Language Arts - Year 10 Essay Writing (Australian Curriculum)

  • Destination: Develop and demonstrate proficient essay writing skills in English Language Arts, focusing on critical analysis and persuasive writing, in line with the Year 10 Australian Curriculum standards, by the end of the term.

  • Milestones:

    • M1: Understand and apply the structure of an effective essay, including introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion (End of Month 1)

    • M2: Develop the ability to create a strong thesis statement and supporting arguments (End of Month 2)

    • M3: Master the use of persuasive language and rhetorical devices in writing (End of Month 3)

    • M4: Produce a well-structured, persuasive essay on a given topic, incorporating feedback from previous essays (End of Term)

  • Footsteps:

    • Daily reading of various persuasive texts to identify and analyze the use of rhetorical devices

    • Weekly writing exercises focusing on different components of an essay (e.g., thesis development, paragraph structuring)

    • Peer review sessions every two weeks to give and receive feedback on essay drafts

    • Regular consultation with the English teacher for personalized feedback and guidance

You can find many more examples of Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ in action, from learner goals to strategic planning for school leaders, in our specialized resource Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™: Journeying to Success.

Play It SMART With Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™

The Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ approach is a powerful tool for learners, providing a structured pathway to achieve their goals. By defining clear Destinations, setting achievable Milestones, and committing to consistent Footsteps, learners can maintain focus and motivation throughout their journey. The efficient use of Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ makes the learning process more manageable and more rewarding, as it allows for regular reflection and celebration of progress. 

Whether learners are learning a new skill, acquiring knowledge in a specific field, or working towards a personal development goal, using the Destinations, Milestones, and Footsteps™ strategy for setting SMART goals is an approach that can be easily adapted to suit a wide range of learning objectives.