I was recently invited by the National Writing Project’s “Digital Is” site to attend some weekly Webinar sessions on connected learning. The first question I had to ask, however, was “what is connected learning?”
I also found this explanation of Connected Learning by Mimi Ito, one of the educators featured in the video, useful:
In a nutshell, connected learning is learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational and economic opportunity. Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose. (Mimi Ito, “Connected Learning”)
Admittedly, the discussion of connected learning that I’ve read so far focuses on kids and teens, the K–12 crowd, so once I had a grasp on the concept, I was left wondering if connected learning would work in the college composition classroom. For that matter, I wondered, is it already there? Socially constructed, student-centered, digitally based learning? Haven’t we been talking about that in the college classroom for years? Certainly, those of us in the computers and writing field have.
Connected learning does seem different to me, though. It doesn’t have to be found in a classroom. You can find it at the library, in museums, at the zoo, or at the park. The connected learning philosophy is less about pushing out specific kinds of information and more about allowing learners to pursue whatever information they want wherever they want to find it. That’s a harder goal to accomplish in the typical college classroom, where teachers have to create courses that fit within departmental goals and outcomes.
Nonetheless, I know that connected learning spaces exist at the college level. The best example I’ve ever been in was the Center for Computer-Assisted Language Instruction (CCLI, now the HDMZ) at Michigan Tech. Students and teachers alike could enter that space and pursue whatever they wanted. I had access to a dream array of digital software and hardware, and the space was filled with helpful people willing to collaborate, mentor, and inspire one another. It demonstrated the essence of connected learning principles.
How many colleges and universities would be willing to shift all learning to that kind of connected learning space, though? Would schools give up well-defined courses, structured syllabi, and departmental goals? Adopting connected learning models would require quite a revolution in how we think of college education—but it’s a rethinking we may need to consider.
Why? Return to this statement Mimi Ito makes in the video, and think about how your campus struggles with issues like increasing course size and the efficacy of online education:
[Connected Learning asks] how can we use the capacity of these network resources, these social connections, to bring people together who want to learn together, and not [fall back on] the model of how can we deliver content more effectively from a single source to many listeners? And that’s fundamentally reconfiguring what we think of as the problem and goal of education.
As we work for effective writing instruction, we are constantly battling educational models and administrators who want us to “deliver content more effectively from a single source to many listeners.” Think about auditorium classrooms, teacher lectures pushed out on videos, and unforgiving course management software. That kind of unconnected learning is not the best model for teaching writing at any level.
From what I’ve seen so far, the principles of connected learning could support our arguments for effective socially constructed, student-centered, digitally based learning in the writing classroom. I’m certainly interested enough to keep watching the Webinars and learn more. You might say that I feel a connection with the topic.
What do you think about connected learning? Do you think it could work at the college level? Please join me at the next Webinar session, and as always, I’d love you to leave a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.
Tags: connected learning
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