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Linked Learning 101: Frequently Asked Questions

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 students from low-income families—by bringing together strong academics, career-based classroom learning, integrated student supports, and real-world workplace experience to prepare them for both college and a career. Linked Learning creates meaningful learning experiences through industry-themed pathways in fields such as engineering, health care, performing arts, law, and agriculture that prepare high school students for careers and a full range of postsecondary options, including attending a two- or four-year college or university, participating in an apprenticeship, enlisting in the military, and receiving formal employment training. Each Linked Learning pathway is grounded in four guiding principles:

  1. rigorous academics;
  2. career-based learning in the classroom;
  3. work-based learning in professional settings;
  4. integrated student support including academic, emotional, and social support, and college and career guidance.

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, Linked Learning has gained considerable momentum and is now being implemented in Houston Independent School District, Detroit Public Schools, and Rochester City Public Schools in New York.

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

Districts need the support of business and industry, postsecondary institutions, workforce development boards, and others in the local community to implement Linked Learning successfully as an approach to college and career readiness for all high school students. In order for Linked Learning to succeed, districts must align their policies for resource allocation, staffing, scheduling, and other elements with the goals of the approach and obtain buy-in from high-level district leaders, school board members, and most importantly, teachers. State policies must allow for innovation when implementing Linked Learning, particularly for accountability purposes. Linked Learning entails unique elements, including project-based learning, student portfolios, work-based learning, and other components that prepare students for the world of work, yet deviate from traditional ways of teaching and assessing learning. State policies must allow for nontraditional indicators to measure student performance toward college and career readiness, and provide flexibility in both hiring and seat-time policies. Federal policies should grant states, districts, and schools that are low performing with flexibility to implement innovative approaches to student learning, such as Linked Learning.

3. How has Linked Learning improved student achievement outcomes in the geographic areas where it is used?

Since 2011, SRI International has been conducting an independent evaluation of Linked Learning in nine California school districts. The latest evaluation finds that Linked Learning students are making greater progress toward high school graduation and college eligibility than their peers in traditional high school programs. The outcomes show Linked Learning students

4. Will Linked Learning help students master the content in the Common Core State Standards?

Linked Learning is an appropriate vehicle for delivering the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) because it integrates rigorous academic content within a career theme—an approach that advances both college and career readiness. Linked Learning supports and aligns with the CCSS through 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; and student assessment through authentic demonstrations of learning (e.g., portfolios, project defenses, exhibitions).1

5. What should parents know about Linked Learning?

Linked Learning excites students’ passions and enables them to take ownership of their learning. Additionally, Linked Learning creates more opportunities for students to discover new aspirations and inspires them to graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college and a career.

6. What should educators know about Linked Learning?

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 should members of the business and industry communities know about Linked Learning?

Employers across America have articulated the need for a better-educated workforce to meet current and future demands. A 2015 report from Achieve shows that the majority of employers (62 percent) surveyed believe that public high schools are not doing enough to prepare their students for the world of work.2 The Linked Learning approach invites employers to partner with schools to ensure that both the academic and professional learning curricula prepare students to succeed in careers in high-demand fields. Businesses can 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 than their peers to have twenty-first-century skills that employers require, including

As the Linked Learning approach continues to evolve, parents, educators, policymakers, and employers must contribute to this work, and should be held accountable in the task of ensuring that all students, particularly those who are underserved, are adequately prepared for any postsecondary option that they desire.

End Notes

  1. E. Rustique and B. Stam, “The Linked Learning Advantage: Using Linked Learning to Implement the Common Core State Standards” (Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, 2013).
  2. Achieve, Rising to the Challenge: Views on High School Graduates’ Preparedness for College and Careers (Washington, DC: Author, 2015).