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Frequently Asked Questions
These FAQs are designed to help you better understand the thinking and research behind the connected learning model. If you have a question about connected learning that you do not see represented here or elsewhere on this website, please feel free to contact us.
WHAT IS CONNECTED LEARNING?
- Connected learning draws from the best of past learning theories, and yet it is designed for our times. How can it be both?
- What distinguishes connected learning from technology based approaches such as blended learning, the flipped classroom, Khan Academy, and others?
- What is the role of technology in connected learning? Does connected learning require digital media or need to be aimed at teaching about media?
- What are the outcomes of connected learning?
CONNECTED LEARNING AND SCHOOLS
- What are the opportunities and challenges that come with implementing the connected learning model in a school setting?
- How does Common Core fit into and interact with Connected Learning?
- How does Connected Learning address the (still necessary) mastery of academic disciplines – biology, history, math, chemistry?
- How is the widely-respected National Writing Project working with teachers to help take advantage of the connected learning approach?
CONNECTED LEARNING AND SOCIETY
- What’s unique about how connected learning addresses issues around social inequity and also the new economy?
- Is it connected learning if it isn’t linked to work, civic, or school opportunities?
- How does connected learning align to the call to action for the US to foster a new generation of makers and innovators?
- What are the biggest challenge(s) to bridging the gap between the learning that takes place in places such as libraries and museums and what is recognized in school settings?
- Social and collective learning sounds nice, but doesn't that set kids up for failure in competitive environments and assessments that stress individual achievement?
- Connected learning sounds like it is for families with the time and resources to support enrichment activities and be involved in their school. Isn't connected learning going to make the gap between privileged and less privileged households worse?
- Are there other resources or places you can point to that would help provide even more information about connected learning?
WHAT IS CONNECTED LEARNING?
Connected learning draws from the best of past learning theories, and yet it is designed for our times. How can it be both?
There’s a tremendous repository of wisdom in education. Specifically, the learning philosophy of connected learning draws from John Dewey and Maria Montessori, as well as other progressive learning approaches. There’s an emphasis on the learner and developing the learner’s capacity to create, to navigate, and to operate in a world that cannot be fully understood. This requires an investment in the learner as a lifelong learner in the deepest sense.
It’s also designed for the transformational and historical moment we are experiencing. Dewey and Montessori did not have the power of the Internet. We, however, have the opportunity to take the insights of classic research into how youth learn best and act on them in a way that was not possible for past educators. The principles of connected learning weren’t born in the digital age, but they are extraordinarily well-suited to it – because digital technology has the capacity to engage the widest range of young people in learning experiences previously available to a select few.
Today, we have technologies that can cross the boundaries of school and the wider world, and can broaden and diversify the kinds of knowledge-making and social communities young people have access to. These technologies operate differently than the industrial model, but just like that era, this new set of tools allows us to be able to put within reach of any learner, a set of experiences that was not there for her or him just a few years ago.
The kinds of dispositions cultivated in more progressive education approaches – inquiry, problem-solving, creativity, communication and collaboration – are also more important than ever in order to thrive in today’s world of global interconnection and fast-paced change. This is why we say connected learning takes some of the best of what we have understood about creating great conditions for learning, but gives us an opportunity to update it and make it possible to speak to young people who live in this new connected world.
What distinguishes connected learning from technology based approaches such as blended learning, the flipped classroom, Khan Academy, and others?
Connected learning is a model of learning and social change that is not defined by a specific technology, tool, or technique. Instead, connected learning is defined by a commitment to social equity and progressive learning, and seeks to mold the uptake of new technologies and techniques based on these commitments.
Connected learning is built on many long-standing values around learning that have to do with relevance, social connection, and linking connections to opportunity and the real world. It asks how we can use new technology in the service of creating powerful learning experiences and in the service of broadening access to opportunity to those powerful experiences.
Finally, we lead with our learning values and philosophy because research shows that when new technologies and new educational techniques are deployed in the absence of a broader social- and values framework, they tend to reinforce the privilege of communities who already have access to progressive learning experiences. That’s why putting the learning experience and issue of equity at the forefront is such a defining feature of connected learning.
What is the role of technology in connected learning? Does connected learning require digital media or need to be aimed at teaching about media?
Here again, connected learning isn't about a specific technology, or platform, or technique. It focuses on the experience of the learner. It seeks to uncover the kinds of social relationships, experiences, and access to knowledge and communities that young people need to have in order to thrive in an era where these forms of information and social connection are very abundant.
So, connected learning does not require digital technology; many sports, creative activities, intellectual pursuits, civic action, or games that are non-digital in nature can be connected learning-type experiences. However, networked and digital technology such as social media, digital games, and digital production tools make connected learning much more accessible, and provide a unique opportunity to create a more equitable distribution of connected learning opportunities.
What are the outcomes of connected learning?
We know from existing research that connected learning experiences result in a wide range of learning outcomes, associated with what is beginning to be defined as "21st Century skills" and "deeper learning." The 2012 National Academies report summarizes these outcomes. By definition, connected learning also results in young people finding viable ways of participating in today’s society, by developing supportive relationships and pathways to civic, academic, and career-relevant opportunities. Finally, as part of their connected learning experiences, young people also develop specialized knowledge and skills. In addition to these individual outcomes, connected learning aspires to societal outcomes, which include promoting high-quality culture and knowledge and a society with more equitable and broader access to opportunity.
CONNECTED LEARNING AND SCHOOLS
What are the opportunities and challenges that come with implementing the connected learning model in a school setting?
In a school environment connected learning invites in a diverse set of people – administrators, teachers, educators, parents – to participate in and support the lives of young people. Connected learning frames teachers as designers and creators who are tasked with helping kids make connections to different pathways that they might have a hand in constructing. Schools administrators who have implemented connected learning principles in their schools have noted remarkable changes in the identity of their educators. They take on the identity of a designer in the same way that their students take on those identities. As a result, teachers become incredibly empowered around their classrooms, and around the diverse types of collaboration, which is a big part of connected learning. In the connected learning model, students thrive when their interests are acknowledged by caring adults. Adults in this model are tasked with helping students make connections between things that might be happening outside of school and things that are happening inside school.
As far as challenges, there is a real challenge for educators in making sense of all the abundant amount of resources available in today’s connected world. Another issue is that connected learning requires that you pay attention to connection. This can be challenging for educators as it asks them to move out of a siloed mindset where they are accustomed to learning the same set of standards, and to start over again as an educator or an adult in the world of a young person. Educators must think about how they can help young people translate their interests into different domains – the social domain, the civic domain, or an academic domain. This requires educators to begin to think about how they can design learning trajectories for young people who might not necessarily know what these pathways can look like.
How does Common Core fit into and interact with Connected Learning?
There are many elements of the Common Core that align nicely with the principles of connected learning. We can point to Common Core anchor standards that have to do with navigating the internet, using the internet for research, and being able to understand the credibility of information.
The Common Core Standards have a consistent emphasis on production. Young people produce things in writing, with media, and they read and research in order to produce something. This production element is at the center of the connected learning model.
In some ways, connected learning gives educators tremendous opportunities to achieve the broader spirit of the Common Core. The two are deeply compatible; many of the standards ask young people to investigate an issue of concern, develop an argument around it, read more widely, or create something that will circulate in the community that they will author and take responsibility for. Connected learning also places these elements at the center of education.
Overall, the connected learning approach builds on the foundational learning and literacies championed by the Common Core and that all young people need to achieve. It is not an either/or proposition; our times require young people to have not only foundational literacies and competencies, but also the ability to be 21st century learners who are constantly accessing new information, who are able to specialize, and who are able to do demand-driven, innovative forms of learning and thinking.
How does Connected Learning address the (still necessary) mastery of academic disciplines – biology, history, math, chemistry?
With schools that are often too focused on standardized test-driven outcomes, students don't often have the time to come to these subjects on their own schedule and in their own way.
Connected learning builds as much real world connection as possible around disciplines that perform key gatekeeping functions for young people. The approach also offers the cultivation of learning dispositions that will enable mastery and problem-solving rather than simply content acquisition in the required areas. Without the experience of inquiry and deep mastery in an area of genuine interest, young people don't build the capacity to apply these learning dispositions to other areas, academically relevant or otherwise.
How is the widely-respected National Writing Project working with teachers to help take advantage of the connected learning approach?
The National Writing Project, MacArthur Foundation, and the Mozilla Foundation have teamed up to create a four-month summer campaign to help redefine learning in the digital age. Dubbed the “Summer of Making and Connecting,” the campaign allows adults and young people from all over the country to sample connected learning through a range of events and activities designed to make learning more relevant to young people, to real work and real life, and to the opportunities of the 21st Century. Hundreds of opportunities to learn and experience some of the culture of connected learning can be found on the campaign’s website MakeSummer.org. Through a new initiative called Educator Innovator, educators have the opportunity to participate in connected learning events that encourage them take a step toward creating a connected learning environment in their own classrooms or after school programs. Educator Innovator follows the same connected learning principles and is intended to inspire people to think about how they can innovate their practice with an eye towards creating these environments where young people get to be innovators, creators, critical thinkers and doers as well.
CONNECTED LEARNING AND SOCIETY
What’s unique about how connected learning addresses issues around social inequity and also the new economy?
If one were to look at the history of the challenges the US has faced in educating and engaging young learners who fall into the social and economic margins, one of the most fundamental issues deals with engaging young people in ways that are relevant and compelling, and in ways that allow them to see opportunities and pathways that make school meaningful to them. This topic of engagement is important particularly around the issue of equity. The low expectations set for students attending schools on the socioeconomic edges are hindering their engagement. Research suggests that kids aren’t motivated by the skill and drill exercises that have become so common in school. These types of programs put added pressure on all parties involved, including the students. It can make school a place where they would rather not be. As a result, dropouts rates have risen to more than 50% in certain areas of the US. Connected learning has the potential to reverse these dropout trends by creating a very different environment and by providing a diverse set of opportunities that engage young people in more meaningful ways.
When it comes to the information economy and the rapid changes we are witnessing, the need to be a lifelong learner and to be able to develop the skills and dispositions associated with innovation is becoming increasingly more important.
The ability to create, innovate, and collaborate are 21st century skills that too often are not nourished or cultivated in a traditional school setting. Research suggests, however, that these skills are incredibly valuable and extend beyond the four years of high school learning. Connected learning prioritizes helping young people develop the noncognitive skills critical in the 21st century to compete for college, careers, and to be viable citizens and agents in a connected world.
Is it connected learning if it isn’t linked to work, civic, or school opportunities?
Connected learning is a very generous framework that, at its fullest potential, provides opportunities that link civic, work, and school opportunities. These three spheres are necessary to providing the richest possible set of opportunities for a young person, but they don't have to all occur in equal measure. These contexts provide different pathways for young people. Young people could enter in through an interest or they could enter in through something that is happening at school or through a peer network. Where they go from there is going to look different from kid to kid and from program to program.
Regardless of ties to work, civic, or school achievement, social relationships and interest-driven learning are important sites of learning as well as entry points into connected learning. In order to fully realize connected learning, however, the learner does need to be able to connect and translate their relationships and interests to opportunity, civic contributions, or academic achievement. We celebrate young people going deep into their youth-driven activities such as gaming, fandom, or sports, but we believe that too often, these activities are not tied to future opportunity, particularly for less educationally privileged youth.
How does connected learning align to the call to action for the US to foster a new generation of makers and innovators?
Connected learning speaks to this call in a very intrinsic way. The vision of connected learning is oriented towards recognizing that kids are already predisposed towards designing, building, and creating. According to our research, kids are already innovating, whether it be through social media, creating YouTube channels, or designing games etc. This call speaks to how adults in these learning spaces – museums, schools, libraries etc. – can begin to recognize these activities and build spaces that allow kids to continue engaging in those practices that are keyed more towards learning how to problem solve and learning how to innovate. Community-readiness is a critical component of the connected learning model, and these issues are very much aligned with helping and empowering young people to become agents of change within their communities.
What are the biggest challenge(s) to bridging the gap between the learning that takes place in places such as libraries and museums and what is recognized in school settings?
New technology has the potential to begin bridging the gaps and barriers between different sites of learning and different institutions of learning. Ideally, when we see these things working together, we see the school becoming an environment where young people have access to certain forms of intergenerational connection, and they get exposure to new interests, new opportunities and new forms of learning that they wouldn't necessarily discover through self-exploration. There is a really important function for schools, not just in providing a baseline of skills and literacy, but also for things like interest discovery, mentorship, and intergenerational connection. Ideally, young people engage with that environment as well as engaging with environments that are more about self-directed inquiry, more about specialization, and more about diverse forms of exploratory learning that don't necessarily fit within the way the school day is organized.
Families really want that connection between schools and public libraries to be stronger, but they feel that that connection is not necessarily developed yet. Librarians have this motivation too, but the practicalities of bridging that learning and making it visible are still very high, and we don't have online environments that create a lot of transparency between the learning that a young person might be doing in an afterschool program or in the library.
When we find it working, it’s usually the self initiative of the learner or something more serendipitous like the young person has an interest in fiction writing and happens to have a great relationship with her/his English teacher who introduces her/his to a new course or new opportunity in school. With openly networked environments and online sharing, there’s an opportunity for educators to really think about programs, invitations, and ways young people can bring their learning in the informal spaces into the school space that goes beyond our historical practice of something like “Show and Tell.” Educators are beginning to work on not just technology based solutions but programmatic solutions for getting that to work in an environment where people are increasingly recognizing that learning happens in all kinds of locations of a young person’s life.
Social and collective learning sounds nice, but doesn't that set kids up for failure in competitive environments and assessments that stress individual achievement?
Today’s young people are caught in a bind: they need to prioritize individual competitiveness with tests and standardized subjects to succeed academically and get into a good school; at the same time, the world outside the classroom is demanding they be entrepreneurial learners, problem solvers, collaborators, and innovators. Success in school does not guarantee success in life. Adaptability, problem solving, social skills, and teamwork are highly valued in today’s workplace, and are also the capacities that help us thrive as citizens, neighbors, family members, and friends in today’s networked and information-rich world. Our educational values need to uphold excellence and achievement, but also recognize that success in real life requires contributing to shared goals, projects, causes, and communities.
Connected learning sounds like it is for families with the time and resources to support enrichment activities and be involved in their school. Isn't connected learning going to make the gap between privileged and less privileged households worse?
It is true that young people growing up in families with strong ties to schools and resources to support enrichment activities are more likely to experience connected learning. It is imperative that we have a proactive public educational agenda that focuses on connected and enriched learning or this equity gap will get worse. The connected learning agenda should not become a way for privileged families to further their competitive advantage, and needs to be part of a broader re-envisioning of what public education for everyone should look like in a networked age.
Are there other resources or places you can point to that would help provide even more information about connected learning?
Case studies and stories of educators, schools, youth, and programs realizing connected learning can be found here on connectedlearning.tv. The connected learning report series is also a source of more resources for exploring connected learning. The first report, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design, synthesizes existing research and program development related to connected learning