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Linked Learning 101

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April 16, 2014 02:15 pm


This week I sat down with Monica Almond, a policy associate at the Alliance for Excellent Education, to learn more about the Linked Learning educational approach. Linked Learning connects students to their interests through partnerships with local businesses, organizations, and educational institutions. Students learning in a Linked Learning environment have the opportunity to gain real-world, hands-on experience in a variety of industries outside of school, better preparing them for college and a career. Monica is the Alliance’s policy lead on Linked Learning and shared some of her insight into this emerging approach. After the break, Monica answers 7 questions about Linked Learning.

1. What is Linked Learning?

Linked Learning is an approach to education that transforms the traditional high school experience for all students—particularly students of color and low-income students—by bringing together strong academics, career-based classroom learning, and real-world workplace experience to help ready them for both college and career.

Linked Learning creates meaningful learning experiences through industry-themed pathways, in fields such as engineering, health care, performing arts, law, agriculture, and more. These pathways prepare high school students for careers and a full range of postsecondary options, including attending a 2- or 4-year college or university, an apprenticeship, the military, and formal employment training.

Each Linked Learning pathway is grounded in four guiding principles:

  • Rigorous academics
  • Real-world technical skills
  • Work-based learning
  • Support services

Linked Learning is a fast-growing educational approach. What began in California as a strategy to increase the quantity and the quality of students prepared for both college and a career, has gained considerable momentum and is now being implemented in both Detroit’s and Houston’s public schools.

2. What are policy implications for Linked Learning at the district, state, and federal levels?

Districts should have the support of businesses, professionals, and other stakeholders in the local community in order for Linked Learning to be successfully implemented as an approach to college and career readiness for all high school students. In order for linked learning to succeed, district policies – including resource allocation, staffing, scheduling, and other structures – must be aligned with the goals of the approach and agreed to by high-level district leaders, administrators, and teachers. It should also be supported by outside partners such as workforce investment boards, colleges, and local businesses.

State policies must allow for innovation when implementing Linked Learning, particularly for accountability purposes. Linked Learning entails unique elements such as project-based learning, student portfolios, work-based learning, and other components that prepare students for the world of work, yet deviate from the traditional school system. State policies must allow for non-traditional indicators such as these to measure student performance toward college and career readiness, and provide flexibility in both hiring and seat-time policies, among others.

Federal policies should allow flexibility to states, districts, and schools that are low-performing to implement innovative approaches to student learning—such as Linked Learning.

3. How has Linked Learning improved student achievement outcomes?

In one study of 500 Linked Learning alumni, researchers found that students who attend Linked Learning high schools graduate at higher rates than students attending California public high schools—85% of students who entered as freshman in a Linked Learning pathway graduated in 2011, in comparison with 76% of their peers statewide. Additionally, Linked Learning alumni are more likely to enroll in a four-year college than their peers (43% vs. 34%). Finally, Linked Learning students are least likely to be suspended or expelled than their peers statewide (11% vs. 17%).

In a 2013 comprehensive evaluation of Linked Learning pathways, findings show that compared with similar peers, students who are taught with the linked learning approach make more progress toward high school graduation each year.

4. How will Linked Learning help students master the content in the new Common Core State Standards?

Linked Learning is an appropriate vehicle for delivering the Common Core State Standards because it is an approach to education that integrates rigorous academic content within a career theme—an approach that advances both college and career readiness.

Linked Learning and the Common Core State Standards are mutually supportive of each other in four ways:

  • Shared student learning outcomes, with an emphasis on higher order thinking skills;
  • Compatible approaches to interdisciplinary curriculum, instruction, and performance-based assessment;
  • Real-world integration and application of academic and technical skills and knowledge;
  • Student assessment through authentic demonstrations of learning (e.g. portfolios, project defenses, exhibitions).

5. What should parents know about Linked Learning?

Linked Learning excites students’ passions and enables them to take ownership of their learning. Recent research shows that students in Linked Learning pathways are more likely than their peers to remain in the same school district through the 11th grade. Additionally, Linked Learning creates more opportunities for students to discover new aspirations and graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college and career. It inspires students who may never have imagined going to college to excel in high school, graduate, and succeed in college and life.

6. What about educators?

The Linked Learning approach provides educators with an opportunity to rejuvenate their profession by learning new skills; connecting with external partners such as employers, institutions of higher education, and community-based organizations; and facilitating an innovative and engaging learning curriculum for students that will prepare them to succeed in any postsecondary endeavor.

7. What about business and industry?

Employers across America have articulated the need for a better educated workforce to meet current and future demands. The Linked Learning approach invites employers to partner with schools to ensure that both the academic and professional learning curricula are preparing students to succeed in a career in an in-demand field. Businesses can help invest in their future workforce by providing students with exposure to high-quality work-based learning programs from a variety of industries and sectors.

Promising outcomes from students enrolled in Linked Learning pathways demonstrate that these students are more likely to have the following 21st century skills that employers require, than their peers:

  • The ability to work in a group to achieve a shared goal, to work with people in a professional setting, to make a public presentation or perform in front of a group, and to communicate with adults.
  • The ability to use information to make good decisions, conduct online searches to answer a question, summarize information from multiple sources, and judge whether they can trust the results of an online search.
  • An increase in their knowledge of expectations for professional behavior, as well as their ability to create a job application letter or resume.

As the Linked Learning field continues to evolve, parents, educators, policymakers, and employers should have a seat at the table to inform the work, and should also be strong accountability partners in the task of ensuring that all students, particularly those who are underserved, are adequately prepared for any postsecondary option that they desire.

You might also be interested in PISA 101 with Robert Rothman and Deeper Learning 101 with Robert Rothman.

Linked Learning

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.