Connected Learning: Interdisciplinary Researchers Recommend Core Changes

It has been almost a year since the release of the connected learning principles in March 2012 on For the Connected Learning Research Network, this has been a year of digging into our research agenda for connected learning, and testing our hypotheses with ethnographic case studies, design experiments, and the deployment of a national survey. In tandem with these new research activities, we have also been involved in the collaborative writing of a report which synthesizes what we see as the current state of theory and empirical research underlying the connected learning model. We are very pleased to announce the publication of the report as a freely-available pdf. The report is also the first in a new Connected Learning Report series, edited by Ellen Seiter.

As a model of learning, connected learning emerges from a wide range of existing research and practice, and is a work in progress, requiring ongoing refinement and testing through research and experimentation. It is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose. It is not about any particular platform, technology, or teaching technique, like blended learning or the flipped classroom or Khan Academy — it’s agnostic on such things — but instead, it’s about what is the optimal experience for each learner and a high-functioning learning community? Connected learning is also distinguished by an aggressive social change agenda. It’s motivated by a desire to witness a transformation in the educational system that is fundamentally about fairness and possibility. It is both evidence-driven and visionary in its aspirations, and research plays a central role in its ongoing development.

It has been quite a learning journey pulling together this report with a group of interdisciplinary scholars and with the support of our network advisors and the team at the DML Hub. Though not without compromises, I am proud of the fact that the debates, epiphanies, and give-and-take between the nine authors resulted in greater refinement and clarity about our common ground, rather than a watered-down consensus document.

The integration of a socio-economic framework with educational research and design represents what I believe is a unique synthesis that mirrors the cross-sector model of connected learning and both a macro and micro learning agenda. Unless we keep in view broader questions of equity and the quality of our shared culture and civic institutions, learning techniques and approaches more often than not reproduce existing structural inequity. Put differently, a learning agenda needs to be part of a social change agenda, a commitment deeply shared by all the report authors.

The report makes several recommendations for core changes in education, identifies key socioeconomic trends that promise to further undermine existing problems in public education, offers numerous examples of connected learning principles in action, and advances connected learning as an approach to learning that seeks to:

ONE/ Address inequity in education;
TWO/ Engender 21st century skills and literacies in all youth;
THREE/ Attune to the learning possibilities of a networked society;
FOUR/ Elevate the quality of knowledge and learning for the collective good.

It is our hope the report will provide a sounding board for a broader conversation around connected learning. The Internet, social networking and digital technology give us the potential to even the playing field for learning and multiply the opportunities for all youth to find their place and thrive. There’s tremendous promise. But, it will not happen without concerted, proactive efforts for educational reform that begin with questions of equity.

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