The Threat of Connected Learning?

Big Sign - Little StepsLike several other folks on the Digital Is website, I was invited to blog about some webinar sessions on Connected Learning. I wasn’t completely sure what Connected Learning was, but it sounded interesting so I decided to give it a go.

After the first session, I found that I Connected with Connected Learning. It seemed to me that Connected Learning was everything I thought learning should be. As I wrote after the first session:

Connected learning is what I’ve always thought learning is supposed to be. It’s about building, and supporting a learning community that lets kids engage with education according to their own interests, building their own knowledge, and reaching out to (yes) connect with other learners.

I was excited to learn more about the model and to think about how it related to teaching in the college classroom.

What I didn’t expect was the response I got to my discussion of Connected Learning. I posted “Can Connected Learning Work at the College Level?” on another blog I contribute to, and I was quickly taken to task by a commenter. The definition of Connected Learning I shared led to the criticism that “‘connected learning’ is yet another buzz word for the corporatization of education.” Further, Connected Learning was accused of being devoid of critical thinking and of relying on “a formula for students getting what they already want to find . . . . . [rather than] broadening horizons to discover what is not already known.”

I was gobsmacked. The comments seemed to describe something diametrically opposed to what I had come to believe was Connected Learning. I assumed that I had misspoken, being, as I am, somewhat new to Connected Learning. I replied and tried to provide evidence to counter the criticisms. I hoped the additional links and details would solve the confusion.

So imagine my surprise when today I found a new criticism of Connected Learning on that post. Today’s commenter “take[s] exception to framing our educational system as broken or wrong.” She continues:

Our system gets the majority of kids out able to read, do basic math, and many with strong enough skills to go on to college. We can do better, but the system itself is not broken or wrong — it works for a majority of kids.

Apparently the word broken is another buzzword in educational literature. My first commenter returned to join the bandwagon. He explains:

The declaration that a given education system (which, for Americans, means public education) is "broken" is often the rhetorical leading edge to some scheme or other to replace it with something else: eg., a voucher system to encourage private school attendance, a charter school system that abolishes teacher tenure and any modicum of academic freedom or independence, or a for-profit learning management package whose adoption converts teachers into automatons. In short, the rhetoric of educational "failure" is part of a code whose semiotic significance is something that educators should be both aware and wary of.

So today I’m left with a post where Connected Learning is lumped in with all the problems of education: vouchers, the loss of tenure, the denial of academic freedom, for-profit education, and so forth.

Who knew Connected Learning was so threatening? Certainly not me. I had no idea that Connected Learning would lead to this response, and I’m no longer sure what to say. I want to reach out to those of you know know more about Connected Learning and ask some questions:

  • Have you dealt with similar responses when they talk about Connected Learning?
  • How do you respond to the critiques that have been raised?
  • What advice can you offer to someone talking about Connected Learning to help ensure that the model is effectively communicated?
  • Are there take-aways in the criticism? Should we be talking about Connected Learning in different ways to avoid such misreadings?

I hope to hear your responses and ideas. It appears that I need some help knowing how to talk about Connected Learning effectively!


[Photo: Big Sign – Little Steps by flattop341, on Flickr. This post has been cross-posted on the Digital Is website.]


3 Responses to The Threat of Connected Learning?

  1. Janah Adams says:

    I have a student right now who wants to be a film director one day. He regularly shows up in my office to go over a script he is working on for an animated film. We read through together, pens in hand, marking areas of weakness and working out improvements. We work on issues of style, grammar, and structure as well as creativity. It is clear to me that this student has learned far more about writing during these sessions than he has during my class. Since then I’ve been trying more and more to bring this kind of learning into my classroom. While I’ve had some success, I am (of course) always trying to make my class better, more authentic, more applicable to my students and their lives. It was exciting, then, when I began to read more about Connected Learning. From what I understand of it, it isn’t meant to “fix” any “broken” anythings but rather to provide another way of looking at education. Students can sense when there is a disconnect between what-we-do-in-the-classroom and what-we-do-in-real-life. Many of them aren’t as concerned yet about what they will eventually do in their working lives, at least not to the extent to which they care about what they do now. That is to say, many students learn well when they perceive that their learning matters. That shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea–its why I learned so much more in graduate school than I did as an undergraduate. It’s why we learn more in classes we are interested in than classes we are not. It’s why some people are “math people” and some people are “english people.” It’s why my student learns more during our discussions of his script than he does when he writes anything for class. Unless I completely misunderstood the concepts and your posts, Connected Learning is simply an approach meant to harness these natural inclinations toward learning for practical use in the classroom–how can that be a bad thing?

  2. tengrrl says:

    Janah, That’s a great example of interested-driven learning and how focusing on students’ interests can influence what they learn. Thank you so much for sharing it. I’m with you. I don’t see how connecting with students and encouraging them to connect to each other as part of their learning can be a bad thing.

  3. Jon Barilone says:

    Left the full-length comment on your Digital Is entry. Here is a recap.

    * I hope that people, upon their first encounter with the connected learning model/principles can avoid the “picking a side” mentality like I’ve seen happening with digital badges.
    * Much of the reception I’ve seen/heard has been positive but I know more pushback is on the way. I think it’s helpful to reference the principles and infographic so everyone’s on the same page.
    * School/education is ONE of MULTIPLE environments in which youth are learning. A “new approach to learning” does not automatically mean a “new approach to education.”
    * It might be helpful to have an FAQ that tackles some common questions–I’ll see what I can do.