Notable Notes: Connected Learning vs. Project-Based Learning

I have been a fan of project-based learning for some time now. I use it in my classes and I blog about it. Similarly, I have been involved in the connected educator community by both blogging about being a connected educator and joining the #CLMOOC community (I participated in the 2014 CLMOOC and plan to participate in the 2015 CLMOOC). However, it was not until recently, when I attended a Kentucky Writing Project retreat led by Rachel Bear, that I really thought about connected learning and my classroom and I realized that what I do is connected learning much more than project-based learning. I am still struggling to wrap my mind around the differences, and so this week’s notable notes will focus on connected learning.

At first glance, it might seem that project-based learning is about the projects, but that is not true project-based learning. Projects are an end result usually used to demonstrate learning. In project-based learning (PBL) the project is the learning – and the teaching and learning take place throughout the design and creation of the project. One of the things that attracts me to PBL is the focus on the process rather than the product. Projects are a fine way to demonstrate learning, but project-based learning is a tremendous way to engage and educate.

Connected learning takes project-based learning to the next level. The Connected Learning Alliance (CLA) describes connected learning as a model of learning that leverages technology to create a customized, supported, and inspired learning experience that helps learners develop and utilize higher order skills.

Like PBL, CL is interest driven. I like to refer to my students’ projects as passion projects because I know that harnessing learning to topics already interesting to students will be more engaging and inspire them to work harder. Also, like PBL, CL is firmly fixed in academic purpose. Students work on projects that both teach them about the content they are studying as well as the skills associated with that discipline and professional work. My PBL classroom is a very collaborative experience, but I have also seen PBL classes that are more individual. However, the CL class is expected to be very collaborative with peers helping to problem-solve as well as provide feedback.

PBL is about production and that is also a central piece of CL. Learners actively experiment, design, and create products in both types of classroom. However, CL uses technology to take PBL to the next level in two ways. First, social media and online communities are used to find others with the same shared interests and engage those people in the learner’s project. Second, multiple tools and platforms are employed to link learning and production with the real world.

I see connected learning as the next generation of project-based learning – PBL2.0 perhaps – and with every iteration my PBL classes become more about connected learning.

Cathy Davidson makes a compelling argument for connected learning in her blog post “Why Are We Still Learning Alone?” and you can learn more about the #ConnectedLearning community on Twitter and by following the Connected Learning Alliance.

What are the differences that you see between project-based learning and connected learning? Do you agree that connected learning is the next generation of project-based learning?

This post originally appeared on my Metawriting blog at: where you can find other “Notable Notes” as well as posts about writing, teaching, and teaching writing.