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New method called ‘Connected Learning’ aims to make courses more engaging for youth

engaging-class-connectedMobile technology and its use in the classroom is booming across the country; but outside of the ‘cool tech’ aspect, many educators struggle to understand why students find tech-connected classrooms more engaging. A new method of teaching and learning explains that it’s not about the technology–it’s about the four principles behind it.

Connected Learning, an educational approach designed by the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE), says it harnesses the information age to make learning more powerful.

“For too many young people, particularly our most vulnerable populations, formal education is disconnected from other meaningful social contexts in their everyday lives,” explains AEE in a new brief. “The connected learning model posits that focusing educational attention on the links between different spheres of learning—peer culture, interests, and academic subjects—better supports interest-driven and meaningful learning in ways that take advantage of the potential of digital networks and online resources to provide access to an engaging learning experience.”

AEE cites a 2012 Gallup survey, which found that hundreds of thousands of students across the country are becoming increasingly disengaged in their education—especially high school students.

“Those who do not graduate from high school are not ready for [and do not seek] a college education,” notes the brief. College students who do not find courses engaging often are not ready for a career. Disengagement, emphasizes the report, not only comes with a price to the student, but to the economy.

(Next page: 4 ways to improve your course)

According to AEE, one of the most important aspects to an engaging class is relevance, meaning that a teacher should provide students with higher-order skills; offer students hands-on learning; leverage every student’s passion and interest to foster more “durable” learning, including learning how to continue the “quest for knowledge” in a constantly changing world; and connecting students to the vast resources, expertise, and social connections available on the internet and through the use of technology.

The connected learning approach offers these four ways to improve a teaching and learning:

1. Students are the focus: According to AEE, learners flourish when they can connect their interests and social engagement to academic studies, civic engagement, and career opportunities.

The class should also be personally interesting and relevant. In connected learning environments, students are empowered to assume responsibility for their learning through developing interest-based groups; having the ability to explore different facets of the interest; increasing expertise; and accessing supports and pathways for mastery through experiences.

2. Learning is supported by peers: Using digital tools to connect academics to a learner’s interest is critical for engaging students, and providing online forums where students can conduct exchanges with peers and friends to contribute, share, and give feedback is the purpose of these tools.

“In these connected learning spaces, students can contribute their expertise and questions to other students’ work in a fun, informal, and socially inclusive manner,” states the brief.

Students can also use digital tools for connecting to professionals or more experienced peers to encourage their interests. For example, those with more experience can help students with goal-based projects and competitive situations.

3. Learning is continuous: Students should have access to course materials and additional materials in school and out of school and in multiple settings.

Online platforms and digital tools can make these resources abundant and accessible, as well as offer open assessment, badges, and certificates.

4. Students are makers and producers: Connected learning asks students to experiment and to create, produce, and design—many aspects needed in a career.

“Digital tools provide opportunities for producing a wide variety of media, knowledge, and cultural content in experimental and active ways,” said the brief.

“Online information and social media provide opportunities for expanding the entry points and pathways to learning, education, and civic engagement for all students,” it concluded. “Educators should explore these different entry points and use them as a tool to increase student engagement.”

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Meris Stansbury

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