New “Connected Learning” Research Model to Bridge In-School and Out-of-School Time

March 02, 2012
Sarah Jackson
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Out-of-School Learning, Parents and Families, Students, Technology Integration

More and more learning today is happening outside the classroom as access to information online grows, according to Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in youth and technology.

“We are seeing a growing gap between in-school and out-of-school learning … That’s the disturbing news,” Ito said. “The good news is that new technology also hands us opportunities for bringing young people, educators, and parents together in cross-generational learning driven by shared interests and goals.”

Ito is one of the principal investigators in the new Connected Learning Research Network, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. She is one of a team of researchers who introduced a new model of “connected learning” at the Digital Media and Learning Conference last night in San Francisco.  The new model is meant to tap into the potential of information and online collaboration available to youth in a digital age.

The researchers are responding to a growing concern about a class-based equity gap in education that some fear is likely to be accelerated by unequal access to technology and new forms of knowledge sharing.

Common Sense Media’s own research has found that media use varies significantly by race and socio-economic status. Our 2011 study “Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America” found, for example, that 38 percent of lower-income parents don’t know about apps for children, while 47 percent of higher-income parents have downloaded apps for their children.

And although research shows that minorities do embrace mobile technologies and Twitter at a higher rate than whites, S. Craig Watkins, who is a member of the new research network, has written about a “ participation gap” in how teens use new technologies. One of the ways of addressing this participation gap, he says, is to ensure all students have opportunities to create and produce content, and in doing so gain digital literacy skills.  

More broadly, learning is most effective when it is interest-driven and reinforced in the multiple contexts of children’s lives by parents, educators, and knowledgeable peers, and Connected Learning will enable these interest-driven pursuits.

 “I don’t think there’s anyone in education and learning who doesn’t feel an urgent need to reimagine learning for the new century,” said Connie Yowell, Director of Education for U.S. programs at MacArthur.

“Our schools are struggling to prepare young people for fulfilling adult lives and careers. Connected learning represents a path forward,” Yowell said. “It’s learning that is socially rich and interest-fueled -- in other words, it’s based on the kind of learning that decades of research shows is the most powerful, most effective. And connected learning is oriented towards cultivating educational and economic opportunity for all young people.”

The researchers also announced the launch of two new websites, and, which will offer research, blogs, video and weekly webinars for educators, researchers, policymakers, youth workers, and parents about this new approach to learning.

A press release provides more information on the set of principles for connected learning designed to expand educational opportunity in the digital age:

This approach proposes knitting together of three crucial contexts for 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 embraces three key 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.

We’ll have more on digital literacy and “Learning Innovations in a Connected World” next week, when we’ll report back from the 2012 Digital Media & Learning Conference. Stay tuned.