Connected learning | Making learning inclusive and meaningful

This is a quick share of a recent report on the ways in which technology can enhance learning that is:

“socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.”

infographic exploring the connected learning framework

The report – Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design (Digital Media and Learning Research Hub) – sets out to explore ways in which technology can be an enabler for learning that allows individual students to engage in ways that are inclusive and meaningful. It includes case studies of students who were able to explore their individual passions as avenues towards higher learning. Like Clarissa and her love of writing, or Louis who was disconnected from school but who was able to forge links back to learning through hip-hop. There is a strong focus on groups of students who are marginalised or not traditionally able to invest themselves in school.

Key ideas here are that learning that is connected to passions is

  • peer-supported, interest-driven and can be academically oriented
  • that technologies can support production, networking and shared purposes
  • interconnected through constant challenge participation and active application of knowledge
  • enabled by new media because it fosters self expression, increases accessibility to opportunities, expands social supports and can build capacity.

The report draws attention to the growing learning divide, changing nature of knowledge and its implications for the workforce, and the types of media that young people have access to. Its discussion of how education can draw on technologies to enable embedded socially supported learning is grounded in socio-cultural and situated learning theories.

“Our learning approach is guided by three key findings that have emerged
from this body of learning research:

  1. a disconnect between classroom and everyday learning,
  2. the meaningful nature of learning that is embedded in valued relationships, practice, and culture, and
  3. the need for learning contexts that bring together in-school and out-of-school learning and activity.”

One of the most useful parts of this report, other than the case studies, is the frameworks the report offers to prompt discussion and review of current learning environments.  These would make useful discussion foci in schools that are reviewing their vision and strategic direction  or for teachers looking to redefine learning to engagement disconnected students.

The concluding comments speak strongly of socially-driven motivators for change:

“Our argument is that for too many young people—particularly our most vulnerable populations of youth— their formal education is disconnected to the other meaningful social contexts in their everyday life, whether that is peer relations, family life, or their work and career aspirations. The connected learning model posits that by focusing educational attention on the links between different spheres of learning—peer culture, interests and academic subjects—we can better support interest-driven and meaningful learning in ways that take advantage of the democratizing potential of digital networks and online resources. We recognize the grim economic conditions and the challenges that educational institutions face, while at the same time seeking to articulate a positive way forward that mitigates rather than exacerbates today’s educational inequities.

Online information and social media provide opportunities for radically expanding the entry points and pathways to learning, education, and civic engagement. Further, there is a groundswell of activity in diverse sectors that are taking to these connected learning opportunities, ranging from entrepreneurial young learners, open and online educational initiatives, technology innovations in gaming and other forms of learning media, new forms of activism, and innovative schools and libraries.”


Ito, Mizuko, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean
Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, S. Craig
Watkins. 2013. Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and
Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

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