Learning That Connects

A single question — “How are young people changing socially in terms of how they learn and how they civically engage because of digital media?” — launched the John D. and Catherine T.  MacArthur Foundation’s digital media and learning initiative back in 2000.

Soon after, the foundation awarded three grants for the formal study, advocacy and practice of connected learning, a 21st century educational approach that takes advantage of today’s abundance of digital information and social connection and makes learning relevant to everyone.

Years of study by the Connected Learning Research Network led to the creation of the new Connected Learning Alliance (CLA), a network that brings together organizations, programs, projects, initiatives and individuals working to leverage today’s technology for more equitable access to learning and opportunity for all young people.

The CLA launched April 30, featuring a 30-day “Make Learning Relevant” campaign that includes dozens of podcasts, the first of which features Connie Yowell, MacArthur Foundation’s director of education for U.S. programs.

In the podcast, Yowell explains the genesis of connected learning and lays out what she sees as some the biggest challenges facing the future of education.

“For learning to really matter to learners, to kids, and to be effective for teachers, the learning has to be relevant,” Yowell says. “The learners have to care about what they’re being taught.”

To make learning relevant, she emphasizes, “we have to connect the three spheres of young people’s lives that matter the most to them. The first sphere is their social world, their peers. The second sphere is the thing that learners care the most about getting better at, what they’re interested in. The third is the sphere of relevancy, making sure that the social and the interest spheres are connected to either something in the academic world or something career related or something that makes their community better. When those three spheres come together, we see kids learning not only the basic kinds of skills that are necessary to close the economic gap but, we see them learning 21st century skills that we know are going to be necessary to solve the complex problems that they’re being left with.”

Few programs bring all three spheres together. However, from the connected learning research that’s been conducted so far, educators believe digital media can be leveraged to bring the spheres of learning together in meaningful ways. Yowell stresses that at the heart of connected learning is creating opportunities for all youth to participate in learning through myriad pathways.

Banner image credit: Connected Learning Alliance