A new report by the Connected Learning Research Network recommends closing the gap between the no-frills learning that too often happens in-school and the interactive, hands-on learning that usually takes place out of school.
Teachers should furthermore take advantage of the internet’s ability to help youth develop knowledge, expertise, skills and important new literacies. Using digital technology can be used to combat the increasing reality of the haves and have-nots in education.
Equity in connected learning?
Cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito, chair of the research network, said: “Without a proactive educational reform agenda that begins with questions of equity, leverages both in-school and out-of-school learning, and embraces the opportunities new media offers for learning, we risk a growth in educational alienation among our most vulnerable populations.”
“We’re seeing the tremendous potential of new media for advancing learning,” said Ito, a professor of anthropology, informatics and education at UC Irvine. “But, right now, it’s only the most activated and well-supported learners who are using connected learning to boost their learning and opportunity.
“We believe many more young people can experience this kind of learning,” Ito said. “But there’s no question we’re at risk of seeing yet another way privileged individuals can gain advantage — even though the Internet and digital technology has the potential to even the playing field and multiply the opportunities for all youth to find their place and achieve.”
The report identifies several socioeconomic trends that threat to undermine existing problems in public education:
- Broken pathways from education to opportunity: Youth are entering a labor market strikingly different from earlier generations. Education, even a college degree, no longer offers a sure pathway to opportunity. Young people find themselves competing for a scarcer number of good jobs. An “arms race” in educational attainment has broken out, especially among upper income households to gain further advantage.
- A growing learning divide: The achievement gap in public education disproportionately impacts African American and Latino youth in the U.S. Inequity is aggravated by the accelerating rate of family investments in out-of-school enrichment and learning activities, many of which leverage the learning advances offered by the internet and digital technology
- A commercialized and fragmented media ecology: We are living through a dramatic shift in media and technology and this shift is most pronounced among children and youth. Increasingly, there is a disconnect between classroom learning and the everyday lives and interests of many young people – further alienating many youth from their schooling.
A new framework for learning
As a response to these trends and others reshaping the landscape of learning in the U.S. and other countries, the report recommends a framework for learning called “connected learning.” Connected learning seeks to: address inequity in education; engender 21st century skills and literacies in all youth; and attune to the learning possibilities of a networked society.
The report offers a range of good practises of ‘connected learning’. For example a public school experimenting with a 2-week period of the year where students become the ‘bosses’ and drive learning activities, defining a challenge and providing each other with ongoing feedback and direction.
In each case, young people built a learning environment together with caring adults that tied together their interests, peer feedback, and academic pursuits -and took advantage of the ability of digital media and internet-based communication to increase interactivity and self-expression, lower barriers of access to knowledge, information and expertise.
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