User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Connected Learning: A New Research-Driven Initiative

with 11 comments

Connected Learning, a new research-driven initiative, was introduced at the Digital Media and Learning Conference 2012.

We see a growing gap between the learning mediums with which young people engage in-school and out-of-school. New social media enables young people to have greater choice and autonomy in pursuing their interests—whether academic, creative, or social—in domains outside of formal learning institutions. While engagement with culture and knowledge outside the classroom has changed markedly in the past decade, schools have been slower to adapt to digital and networked media. This gap between the more engaging social learning environments young people encounter outside of school, and the top-down and standardized curriculum that they encounter in most classrooms, is the source of a troubling and growing generation gap that is leading to academic disengagement for many young people. Addressing this gap requires a reconsideration of how learning is organized between settings of school, after-school, home and peer culture.  When informal and youth-driven interest-driven learning does cross over to other learning contexts, we see the opportunity for what we call “connected learning”—learning in a socially meaningful and knowledge-rich ecology of ongoing participation, self-expression, and recognition (

The historical roots for this current research agenda is grounded in two pieces of work:

  1. Henry Jenkins’ Participatory Culture
  2. Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures

Participatory Cultures

Henry Jenkin’s introduced Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century through a white paper in 2006.  He speaks more about it in his 2010 TEDxNYED talk.

Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media

Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures” was a three-year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explored how kids use digital media in their everyday lives.  Mimi Ito discusses it in the following video.

Connected Learning

At the core of connected learning are three values:

  • Equity — when educational opportunity is available and accessible to all young people, it elevates the world we all live in.
  • Full Participation — learning environments, communities, and civic life thrive when all members actively engage and contribute.
  • Social connection — learning is meaningful when it is part of valued social relationships and shared practice, culture, and identity (

This initiative is being driven by the following design principles:

  • Shared purpose — Connected learning environments are populated with adults and peers who share interests and are contributing to a common purpose. Today’s social media and web-based communities provide exceptional opportunities for learners, parents, caring adults, teachers, and peers in diverse and specialized areas of interest to engage in shared projects and inquiry. Cross-generational learning and connection thrives when centered on common interests and goals.
  • Production-centered — Connected learning environments are designed around production, providing tools and opportunities for learners to produce, circulate, curate, and comment on media. Learning that comes from actively creating, making, producing, experimenting, remixing, decoding, and designing, fosters skills and dispositions for lifelong learning and productive contributions to today’s rapidly changing work and political conditions.
  • Openly networked — Connected learning environments are designed around networks that link together institutions and groups across various sectors, including popular culture, educational institutions, home, and interest communities. Learning resources, tools, and materials are abundant, accessible and visible across these settings and available through open, networked platforms and public-interest policies that protect our collective rights to circulate and access knowledge and culture. Learning is most resilient when it is linked and reinforced across settings of home, school, peer culture and community (

Questions I Pose:

  • What is the role of connected learning within established school institutions?
  • Will teachers and students find “themselves” within the demonstration case studies?
  • How will the ideas of K-12 teachers and students drive and provide feedback to this research agenda?
  • What proactive steps will be taken to help the public-at-large (kids, parents, students, community members) understand and connect with Connect Learning?
  • What are the researchers long term mission and agenda in terms of affecting broad and deep change in the educational policies in the United States?


The importance and significance of connected learning cannot be understated.  Young people are engaging in informal learning stating that they often learn more outside of the school environment than inside of it.

The urgent need to reimagine education grows clearer by the day. Research has shown that too many students are disengaged and alienated from school, and see little or no purpose to their education. Business leaders say there is a widening gap between the skills of the workforce and the needs of businesses seeking competitive advantage. Additionally, technology and the networked era threatens to stretch the already-wide equity gap in education unless there is decisive intervention and a strong public agenda (

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

March 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm

11 Responses

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  1. Thanks for such a well written recap. I agree — we need to think about these questions more deeply.

    What is the role of connected learning within established school institutions?
    Will teachers and students find “themselves” within the demonstration case studies?
    How will the ideas of K-12 teachers and students drive and provide feedback to this research agenda?
    What proactive steps will be taken to help the public-at-large (kids, parents, students, community members) understand and connect with Connect Learning?
    What are the researchers long term mission and agenda in terms of affecting broad and deep change in the educational policies in the United States?

    Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

    March 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    • Thanks, Sheryl – I really love the work these folks are doing but am concerned that all of the people connected with the project – – are of the university level.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      March 4, 2012 at 2:32 pm

      • Thank you for the thoughtful posts Jack and Sheryl. I just wanted to clarify one thing – which is the relation between the connected learning research network (that I chair) and the connected learning principles and site. The connected learning principles were developed with a very diverse range of practitioners in K-12 and other learning institutions like museums and libraries, as well as people working in popular culture/media, technology, and university researchers. So while the research network hopes to provide a research component to feed the broader connected learning effort, we are by no means the driving force behind it. You’ll see on that our first lineup of webinars includes technology makers, K-12 educators, a librarian, a youth mentor… so not just researchers! We really need input, feedback and course corrections from a broader network, and this current crop of sites and research is part of our perpetual beta.

        Mimi Ito

        March 5, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      • Mimi – thanks for your comment. I have been following your work for several years, and often quote you and your research within my blog and talks regarding informal learning and participatory cultures. I love the Connected Learning initiative and research agenda as it fits my own mission and agenda of youth/user-generated education. As as advocate of participatory cultures, my concern was driven from the “people” page of your site that shows only higher education professionals. Any initiatives that involve youth, and K-12 and youth-serving professionals should, in my perspective, include members of those communities in their efforts. I might have missed how the learning principles were developed and the involvement of K-12 – can you direct me to the process as to how they were developed? Thanks for your response, Mimi.

        Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

        March 5, 2012 at 7:09 pm

      • Hi Jackie – your comments are making me realize that the relation between the connected learning effort and the research network is not specified, so is confusing. The research network ( is really just the research component, and is meant to represent the broader community who is driving the connected learning effort –

        Mimi Ito

        March 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      • Mimi – I finally understand. There are two different but connected ; ) initiatives: the Connected Learning demonstration site and the Connected Leaning Research Network – – whose mission is “This interdisciplinary research network is dedicated to understanding the opportunities and risks for learning afforded by today’s changing media ecology, as well as building new learning environments that support effective learning and educational equity.”

        I think that calling the demonstration project and the research network by the same title may cause confusion as can also be seen in this blog post and accompanying comments .

        I have several thoughts and questions related to this now that I have an understanding: (1) How were the learning principles developed? There is a limited historical overview. (2) What is the relationship between the two initiatives? (3) How can participant action research be integrated into your research agenda? This is still a concern with only having higher education professionals on a research agenda. I am wondering how practitioners could help shape the questions you pose and evidence you examine.

        Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

        March 5, 2012 at 8:06 pm

  2. So am I to assume that the university system will then perhaps take the lead on emphasizing the role of connected learning in their institutions. Our technology cohort in Bangkok is struggling with the question about how detrimental it is to secondary schools to prepare learners for college…but the college approach will most definitely turn off students who have been engaged in active, inquiry based learning where collaboration is emphasized. Are any education academics calling for changes that will enhance the skills 21st century industries and the private sector will value? They better.

    Timothy Pettine

    March 4, 2012 at 3:23 pm

  3. Thanks Jackie – I think we can definitely do better on our messaging! It quite honestly didn’t occur to me that people would think that our network of researchers were claiming we “owned” the connected learning concept or agenda. But I can see now how the joint announcement of the two sites and the lack of clarity on how the principles were developed could sow that perception. On the site we are really just trying to coalesce and facilitate an already existing set of efforts and conversations. And our challenge is really that the connected learning model is about bridging so many different communities– K-12 educators for sure, but also technology makers, hobbyists, artists, media makers, parents, youth and youth serving programs. Almost all of our research network members are practitioners/designers/developers in one or another of these sectors. I’m hoping that all of these groups will engage, contribute, and push back on the research like you are, just as we hope to to broaden the communities that we are directly engaged in.

    Mimi Ito

    March 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm

  4. I posted this on George Siemens’ elearnspace blog, regarding the same issue:

    It would be a shame if this miscommunication were not corrected (through the kind of conversation that is happening in this thread right away), because I see the site as a community resource for all of the networks of researchers and educators who are approaching connected learning. I know people on both sides of this perceived divide — I interviewed Will, Sheryl, and Steve for the blog that is produced by the same people (Mimi, Jeff, Jon).

    I emphasize what Sheryl and Mimi pointed out — the research network and the community resource at are separate, connected enterprises. I’ve been hired by to help them grow a community that will benefit all researchers and practitioners, and I’m excited by the opportunity to connect the different networks I’ve encountered as I’ve explored what is now called connected learning. As I perceive it, “connected learning” is not an attempt to proclaim a category de novo, but an attempt to name and support some things that have been emerging and which Mimi and her colleagues at UCHRI want to encourage.I know that my own work with the social media classroom, online courses, and peeragogy has been encouraged and supported by DML and HASTAC.

    I’m being paid by DML to help them with the community effort, but I think most people in the connected learning world trust my judgement — and know that I’m willing to be corrected when I’m wrong.

    In my experience, if you want to foster a community, you start by providing rich nourishment for the people you want to attract, and give them ways to communicate with each other. To that end, and at my suggestion, will start a regular weekly webinar series. These will be in part guest lectures by people who have been working on some aspect of connected learning; as I see it, they will also be opportunities for the participants to communicate with each other through multiple channels. I learned a lot from Steve Hargadon’s Elluminate interviews and George Siemens’ MOOCs in regard to the value of active participants in webinars. If there are issues like this one to discuss, I hope to provide a venue.

    We should be connecting networks, and that means perceived divisions between them ought to be dealt with frankly when they come up. Otherwise, no connection. And we do all share an interest, I think.

    When I started working on peeragogy, I realized that I had learned about paragogy from Corneli and Danoff and that I certainly wasn’t the first in a line of thought that does go back to Freire, Vygotsky, Dewey, and others. So I recruited a grad student to help create a literature review, then invited the community of peeragogy volunteers to grow and edit it. It’s turned out pretty well, so far. Maybe that would be a project for people interested in connected learning — a literature review that makes the connections between the people and ideas that are adding up to connected learning. The peeragogy lit review:

    Howard Rheingold

    March 5, 2012 at 10:41 pm

  5. Hi Jackie, I’m so glad you wrote about this and it’s still available, since the CL Alliance ended and moved to Irvine — all the great graphics are gone, and so is this easy to read and understand information. Thanks! Yu are awesome!

    Sheri Edwards

    December 27, 2018 at 1:20 am

    • thanks, Sheri.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      December 27, 2018 at 7:48 am

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