Connected learning combines personal interests, supportive relationships, and opportunities. It is learning in an age of abundant access to information and social connection that embraces the diverse backgrounds and interests of all young people.
Meet Abigail: A Connected Learner
Abigail is an avid fan of popular culture. She loves Harry Potter and the boy band One Direction.
Abigail discovers One Direction and Harry Potter fanfiction and a supportive community on Wattpad, an online publishing app. She begins writing her own fanfiction on there, gaining a following and confidence.
Based on her experiences writing online, Abigail decides she wants to become a professional writer. She applies and gets accepted to a specialized creative writing program at a magnet high school.
Read more about positive peer relationships on Wattpad here, in a report.
Elements of Connected Learning
The research is clear: Learning is irresistible and life-changing when it connects personal interests to meaningful relationships and real-world opportunity.
Learning is motivating when it grows out of personal interest. A growing body of research indicates that interest helps us pay attention, make connections, persist and engage in deeper learning. For example, when reading about games they enjoy playing, teenage boys read at a much higher level than their reading level in school.
Learners need support from peers and mentors to persist through setbacks and challenges. A survey of 30,000 college graduates found that a strong connection to a faculty member doubled the positive life outcomes of graduates. Learn more about the power of interest-based mentorship in this infographic.
Success beyond the classroom requires tangible connections to real-world career and civic opportunities. The Digital Youth Network provided in- and out-of-school connected learning experiences to low-income students in Chicago. They surpassed their more wealthier peers, growing up in Silicon Valley, in 21st-century competencies and digital media engagement.
YOUmedia, a youth digital makerspace in Chicago’s main downtown public library, embodies the values and elements of connected learning.
YOUmedia centers on digital media production such as music, art, poetry and journalism. Young people can “hang out socially, mess around with new projects and geek out” in areas of specialization when they want to take the leap. Librarians and mentors organize showcases, support the production of various projects and broker connections to other opportunities in their interest area.
Youth who participated at YOUmedia saw clear results.
Feeling emotionally and physically safe and a sense of belonging
Becoming more involved in the chosen interests they brought to YOUmedia
Improving in at least one digital media skill
Improving academic skills: better communication with adults and improved writing ability
Understanding more about opportunities available to them after high school
Connected learning does not rely on a single technology or technique. Rather, it is fostered over time through a combination of supports for developing interests, relationships, skills, and a sense of purpose.
Sponsorship of Youth Interests
Organizations and adults must meet youth where they are in order to foster connected learning. They do this by being sponsors of what youth are genuinely interested in — recognizing diverse interests and providing mentorship, space, and other resources.
Ongoing shared activities are the backbone of connected learning. Through collaborative production, friendly competition, civic action, and joint research, youth and adults make things, have fun, learn, and make a difference together.
Learners need to feel a sense of belonging and be able to make meaningful contributions to a community in order to experience connected learning. Groups that foster connected learning have shared culture and values, are welcoming to newcomers, and encourage sharing, feedback and learning among all participants.
Connections Across Settings
As connected learners develop, they access varied programs, communities and opportunities. In order to support diverse learner pathways, organizations and caring adults can form partnerships, broker connections across settings, and share on openly networked platforms and portfolios.
Educators have been putting connected learning into practice through a wide range of networks and organizations, in both formal and informal environments.
The National Writing Project, Young Adult Library Services Association and the Consortium for School Networking have embraced the connected learning framework. Click [here] to learn more about connected learning in teaching practice.
Connected Learning In Action
Programs and organizations designed around connected learning are serving young people around the country and world.
The Quest to Learn school in New York City continues to be a beacon for game-based connected learning. Students have shown improvement in traditional test scores, as well as assessments designed to measure critical and independent thinking.
The North America Scholastic Esports Federation uses esports as a platform to acquire critical communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in work and in life. In addition to supporting a competitive league, NASEF supports school clubs, coaching, research, and a high school curriculum centered on STEM skills and competencies such as digital production and entrepreneurship in esports.
The Connected Scholars Program supports college students in developing networking and relationship-building skills based on a connected learning model. Because of growth in self-efficacy and GPA and improved campus relationships, UMass Boston has rolled out the program campus-wide.
FUSE facilitates learning through ‘making,’ develops 21st century skills, and builds collaborative, youth-centered learning communities. FUSE is designed for students in middle and high school, but is also implemented in community colleges and in lower elementary in some contexts.