Connected Learning and Implications for Libraries as Spaces and Mentors for Learning

“Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success, or civic engagement.”
from Connected Learning:  An Agenda for Research and Design

For the last month or so, I’ve been dwelling in Connected Learning:  An Agenda for Research and Design, a research synthesis report that outlines the research and findings of the Connected Learning Research Network, a group chaired by Dr. Mimi Ito.  In addition to the report, I’ve enjoyed the series of recent webinars centered around the report:

Supplementary readings have also informed my understanding of this report:

Additional definitions and explanations can be found here; the infographic embedded here is also a helpful visualization.

In “Connected Learning:  An Agenda for Social Change”, Dr. Ito asserts that connected learning:

“…is not about any particular platform, technology, or teaching technique, like blended learning or the flipped classroom or Khan Academy or massive open online courses. It’s agnostic about the method and content area. Instead, it’s about asking what is the optimal experience for each learner and for a high-functioning learning community?”

In the Connected Learning:  An Agenda for Research and Design report, the authors describe connected learning as a design model:

“Our approach draws on sociocultural learning theory in valuing learning that is embedded within meaningful practices and supportive relationships, and that recognizes diverse pathways and forms of knowledge and expertise. Our design model builds on this approach by focusing on supports and mechanisms for building environments that connect learning across the spheres of interests, peer culture, and academic life. We propose a set of design features that help build shared purpose, opportunities for production, and openly networked resources and infrastructure” (5).

I’ve recreated this visualization embedded in the report to provide another way of looking at connected learning and thinking about how this model seeks to “knit” together the contexts of peer-supported, interest powered, and academically oriented for learning (12):

Slide1

I’m still coding and organizing my notes from the report as I try to pull out the big takeaways for me, but as I review these notes and the ones I took from the webinar on assessing connected learning outcomes last week, I’m thinking about this first wave of big ideas and questions:

  • How do libraries develop learning agendas that are aligned with agendas for social change in their community?  How do the two inform each other?
  • How can libraries embrace this approach to designing learning environments to help us move from “nice to necessary?”, a question that was posed at ALA Midwinter in 2013, and that I’m attempting to flesh out in my work here as a Learning Strategist at Cleveland Public Library (and that I hope to share with you later this year).
  • How do we create learning environments and experiences as well as relationships with those we serve to move beyond the initial “sweet spot” of attachment to building a deeper level of engagement?  How do we as librarians (with the help of our community) design learning environments that provide diverse entry points and access for people to form communities of learning where they can create more nuanced narratives of learning as they create, share, and connect with others?  How do we design learning spaces and experiences that create more “pathways to opportunity” and participation?
  • How might libraries of all kinds serve as an “open network” that is a medium and a mentor to helping people connect and move more meaningfully across multiple learning spaces and spheres within their local community as well as a larger and more global community of learners?  Kris Gutierrez’s metaphor of “learning as movement” across many kinds of contexts has spurred this thinking.
  • Kris Gutierrez and Bill Penuel discussed concepts of horizontal learning and boundary crossing in their webinar and explored the question of how do we help people leverage the practices, disposition, and expertises honed in one learning space to another to go deeper with that learning and expand the possibilities for action and participation.  How do libraries support communities of learning in engaging in this boundary crossing and engaging in horizontal learning to build greater personal as well as civic capacity?
  • Both Gutierrez and Penuel emphasized the need to further contemplate and explore individual and collective assessment of these practices.  In the words of Dr. Gutierrez, “What tools, dispositions, practices, forms of expertises TRAVEL and how do we know it when we see it?”  I’m also thinking about how we frame formative and summative assessments as touchpoints for learning.
  • How can librarians help people take deep “vertical knowledge” in a specific content area and apply it across multiple learning contexts and spaces?  This question relates to horizontal learning and boundary crossing.  I like to think of these concepts as cross-pollination of ideas and learning.
  • How do more effectively build vocabulary for this kind of learning in our learning communities?
  • How do we more effectively thread and address issues of equity across our instructional design and assessment processes?
  • How do libraries cultivate deeper and more meaningful partnerships and connections with other institutions of learning in their communities for more strategic impact?
  • How do we as librarians facilitate the creation of sustained networks to help people make connections between social, academic, and interest driven learning? ( see page pp.46-47 in the report for more on this question)

As you can see, these learning and design principles as well as the findings and concerns shared in the report have saturated my thinking.  As I make additional readings and passes through my notes from the report, I will continue to take an inquiry stance to further unpack the concepts and language embedded in this work.  I’ll also revisit the case studies included in the report to further develop ideas on what this work could look like in practice in different library settings.  In addition, I will carve out more time to listen as well as contribute to conversations about connected learning in the NWP study group as well as the Connected Learning Google Plus group.