A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education introduces connected learning, a promising educational approach supported by the MacArthur Foundation and the Digital Learning Media (DLM) initiative that schools and out-of-school sites are adopting to enhance student learning and outcomes by connecting their education to their interests. Connected learning uses digital media to engage students’ interests and instill deeper learning skills, such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. The report, Connected Learning: Harnessing the Information Age to Make Learning More Powerful, lists four elements constituting connected learning’s emphasis on bridging school, popular culture, home, and the community to create an environment in which students engage in and take responsibility for their learning.
“In today’s digital age and global economy, students need skills that cannot be learned by highlighting facts in a textbook or filling in blanks on a worksheet. Connected learning leverages students’ interests to master core academic concepts and deeper learning skills, while equipping them with a lifelong interest in learning,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Connected learning puts students in the driver’s seat of their own education vehicle.”
The report identifies four key facets of the connected learning approach. First, learners are the focus. By connecting a student’s interests to academic studies, civic engagement, and career opportunities, student engagement increases, and learning outcomes improve. For example, Quest to Learn, an innovative school in New York, has worked with video game developers to create games aligned with academic content. By focusing on the students and connecting their interest in playing video games and mastering levels to their academic achievement, Quest to Learn is incorporating the connected learning approach to help students succeed.
Next, students are supported by mentors and peers through the use of technology. In the twenty-first century, technology can easily connect students with like-minded peers around the state, region, country, and world with similar interests, as well as experts and mentors in students’ interest areas. The report notes that connected learning is not the use of a specific platform or digital tool; rather, it “seeks to design experiences for learners that take advantage of today’s abundant learning opportunities,” many of which are available through the power of technology.
Thirdly, connected learning takes place any time and anywhere—at home, school, and in the community. Social media, web-based communities, online platforms, and digital tools all offer students the opportunity to work during non-school hours.
Finally, students become “makers and producers,” meaning they are tasked with creating, producing, and designing end products, a process that allows students to take ownership and responsibility over their work. Consider YOUmedia, a network of libraries, museums, and other after school sites throughout the country, where students have access to digital media specialists and use digital technology to enhance their learning.
As Connected Learning describes, in a connected learning environment, teachers become designers and creators who aid students in connecting their personal interests to academics and deeper learning skills. Teachers in a connected learning environment prepare students for success in a career and life by equipping them with the know-how to turn their interests into academic excellence and a career. Quest to Learn and YOUmedia are just two examples of in- and out-of-school learning environments that are adopting and implementing the connected learning approach.
“Connected learning encourages students to develop and nourish their interests in a way that sets them up for academic success through increased engagement, prepares them for college and a career, and encourages innovation.” said Wise.
The report is available online at https://all4ed.org/reports-factsheets/connected-learning/.