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DML Researchers Introduce "Connected Learning" Model

Written by Erin Wilkey Oh
March 14, 2012

connectedlearning.tvOn March 1, 2012 at the Digital Media and Learning (DML) Conference in San Francisco, a team of researchers supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative introduced a new learning model–connected learning. This new model is based on extensive research into the ways youth are using social media, the Internet, and digital media to learn across different settings, both in and out of school.

As Connie Yowell, Director of Education for the MacArthur Foundation, explains in The Essence of Connected Learning video, the connected learning model is a work in progress. It builds upon existing models as well as ongoing research and dialog. In “Connected Learning: Designed to Mine the New Social, Digital Domain,” Yowell outlines how the MacArthur research team came to develop the new model. She describes connected learning as “an answer to three key shifts as society evolves from the industrial age of the 20th century and its one-size-fits-all factory approach to educating youth to a 21st century networked society: a shift from education to learning, from consumption of information to participatory learning, and from institutions to networks.”

Mimi Ito, the DML Research Network Chair, describes connected learning as “an approach to education that integrates and connects learning across different settings in a young person’s life because learners achieve best when their learning is reinforced and supported in multiple settings, by parents, educators, knowledgeable peers, and communities that center on their interests.”

According to “Connected Learning: Reimagining the Experience of Education in the Information Age,” the model, which is rooted in the core values of equity, full participation, and social connection, explores these questions:

  • What would it mean to think of education as a responsibility of a distributed network of people and institutions, including schools, libraries, museums and online communities?
  • What would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding youths’ active participation in public life that includes civic engagement, and intellectual, social, recreational, and career-relevant pursuits?
  • How can we take advantage of the new kinds of intergenerational configurations that have formed in which youth and adults come together to work, mobilize, share, learn, and achieve together?
  • What would it mean to enlist in this effort a diverse set of stakeholders that are broader than what we traditionally think of as educational and civic institutions?

In the March 1st press release, the group of researchers, technology makers, philanthropists, and educational practitioners involved in developing the new model describe three learning principles for connected learning:

  • Interest-powered…Research has repeatedly shown that when a subject is personally interesting and relevant, learners achieve much higher-order learning outcomes.
  • Peer-supported…In their everyday exchanges with peers and friends, young people are fluidly contributing, sharing and giving feedback in web-powered experiences that are highly engaging.
  • Academically oriented…When academic studies and institutions draw from and connect to young people’s interest-driven pursuits, learners flourish and realize their true potential.

And three design principles:

  • Production-centered…Connected learning prioritizes the learning that comes from actively producing, creating, experimenting and designing, because it promotes skills and dispositions for lifelong learning, and for making meaningful contributions to today’s rapidly changing work- and social conditions.
  • Open networks…Today’s online platforms and digital tools can make learning resources abundant, accessible, and visible across all learner settings.
  • Shared purpose…Today’s social media and web-based communities provide unprecedented opportunities for cross-generational and cross-cultural learning and connection to unfold and thrive around common goals and interests.                                  

The researchers also announced two new websites, and, which feature an evolving collection of research and resources about connected learning for all stakeholders, including educators, researchers, policymakers, youth workers, and parents. 

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