Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Research Report on Why Maker-Driven, Connected Learning is Important

Young learners today have the whole world at their fingertips in ways that were unimaginable just a generation ago. No matter how broad and deep the knowledge they need, everything is just a click away. How will their learning be different ? How should they benefit from that and not the opposite ?

connected learningA report about an ongoing research, design, and implementation of an approach to education called “connected learning” was just released by Connected Learning Research Network. It advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.

From the report “Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design”:

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. This model is based on evidence that the most resilient, adaptive, and effective learning involves individual interest as well as social support to overcome adversity and provide recognition.

This report investigates how we can use new media to foster the growth and sustenance of environments that support connected learning in a broad-based and equitable way. This report also offers a design and reform agenda, grounded in a rich understanding of child development and learning, to promote and test connected learning theories.

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.

Read this quote from a youngster :

“It’s something I can do in my spare time, be creative and write and not have to be graded… You know how in school you’re creative, but you’re doing it for a grade so it doesn’t really count?”        —     Clarissa, online fiction writer

What do you think ?

Then look into the methodology from Connected Learning :

Connected learning seeks to integrate three spheres of learning that are often disconnected and at war with each other in young people’s lives: peer culture, interests, and academic content.

student-centered learning

Learners can benefit from connected learning through diverse pathways. Schools, homes, after-school clubs, religious and cultural institutions, community centers and the parents, teachers, friends, mentors and coaches young people find at these diverse locales, all potentially can help to bring connected learning opportunity to students. Here are the design principles proposed from Connected Learning Research Network.

Everyone can participate: Experiences invite participation and provide many different ways for individuals and groups to contribute.
Learning happens by doing: Learning is experiential and part of the pursuit of meaningful activities and projects.
Challenge is constant: Interest or cultivation of an interest creates both a “need to know” and a “need to share.”
Everything is interconnected: Young people are provided with multiple learning contexts for engaging in connected learning—contexts in which they receive immediate feedback on progress, have access to tools for planning and reflection, and are given opportunities for mastery of specialist language and practices.

The complete report can be downloaded at and ongoing research results are available at The report and this summary is a product of the Connected Learning Research Network, supported by the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative. Authors include: Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and S. Craig Watkins.

Several years ago, the Digital Youth Project led by Mimi Ito already advocates technology in the classroom, but not only for cutting costs — rather, as a way of giving young people and teachers the power to do individually tailored, passion-driven learning. BoingBoing had a great post giving this summary about the research findings: Digital Youth Project: If you care about kids and want to understand how they use technology and why, this is a must-read.

… in a nutshell, the “serious” stuff we all hope kids will do online (researching papers and so on) are only possible within a framework of “hanging out, messing around and geeking out.” That is to say, all the “time-wasting” social stuff kids do online are key to their explorations and education online.

Ito and her team establish a taxonomy of social activity, dividing it first into “peer-driven” and “interest-driven” — the former being what kids do with their real-world friends, the latter being the niche interests that drive them to locate other people who are as fascinated as they are by whatever brand of esoterica they fancy.

Within these two categories, the researchers break things down further into “hanging out” (undirected, social activities), “messing around” (tinkering with media, networks and technologies) and “geeking out” (delving deep into subjects based on global communities of interest) and for each one, they describe the successful and unsuccessful techniques deployed by parents and educators to direct kids’ activities.

Learners as passion-driven makers with the support of peers and environments is also stressed by Will Richardson, author  of the TED book Why School?

I’ve been droning on for some time now that if we are to save schools, our value proposition has to change. We can’t be the places kids come to learn stuff that they can learn on their own in a gajillion different places now. We have to become the places where we help kids make interesting, meaningful, useful, beautiful artifacts of their learning that they can share with the real world. That’s our value moving forward. That stuff that can’t be “Khanified.”

If you look into Common Core State Standards, there are opportunities for this kind of learning to become under focus of our future education. The following links will bring you to more maker stories of learners as makers happening in different places, each gives us some inspirations.

Unbored: The Power of ‘Making’ in the Classroom

Maker Education Initiative

Urbandale students take hands-on role in learning

Adventures in Project Based Learning part 1: High Tech High

We think the principles discussed in this post also apply to adult learners. What do you think ?


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3 Responses »


  1. Research Report on Why Maker-Driven, Connected Learning is Important | Post TFM |
  2. Research Report on Why Maker-Driven, Connected Learning is Important | Personal e-Learning Environments |
  3. Research Report on Why Maker-Driven, Connected Learning is Important via @nancyrubin | Web 2.0 for juandoming |

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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