User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Connectedness, or lack of, in Education (School)

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This is a post about connectedness and its importance for human growth and learning.  Prior to this discussion, though, it is important to note that many educational institutions are silos of isolation (thanks to Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach for this term).  Learners are often isolated from one another – told to pay attention to the teacher, not interact with one another during class time.  Their connectedness often comes through recess, lunch, and secret texting to one another.  Teachers and classes are often isolated from one another – remaining closed and isolated within the four walls of the classroom.  Schools are often isolated from other educational and community organizations – “safe” within the confines of literal and figuratively self-built walls – done so under the auspices that learners must be kept inside and strangers kept from entering.  These walls include firewalls that prevent the entering or exiting of social media and Internet content.


To continue to exist, a system must be able to import energy across its boundary or have a capacity to create new sources of energy. A system that is able to import and export energy is called an open system. One that cannot import energy is called a closed system. A closed system that cannot generate a sufficient amount of energy internally to replace what is lost to entropy will die.

The improvement of quality involves the design of an educational system that not only optimizes the relationship among the elements but also between the educational system and its environment. In general, this means designing a system that is more open, organic, pluralistic, and complex. Frank Betts

Openness and connectedness has morphed into something qualitatively different due to the Internet, Web 2.0, and social media.  In an interesting re-mix of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs in this age of social media, Pamela Rutledge proposed that connectedness is at the core of all other needs.


Needs are not hierarchical.  Life is messier than that.  Needs are, like most other things in nature, an interactive, dynamic system, but they are anchored in our ability to make social connections.

Social networks allow us to see, as never before, the interrelated nature of society and the palpable development of social capital from the emerging and intricate patterns of interpersonal relationships and collaboration.  The strength of our networks and our bonds improve our agency and effectiveness in the environment.  Our need for survival through connection plays out through every successful social technology.

The Connected Learning Research Network introduced the Connected Learning initiative.  It advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.


This week (January 2013), the Connected Learning Research Network released a report entitled, Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design:

Connected learning taps the opportunities provided by digital media to more easily link home, school, community and peer contexts of learning; support peer and intergenerational connections based on shared interests; and create more connections with non-dominant youth, drawing from capacities of diverse communities.

Connected learning environments have the following characteristics:

  • Equitable: Connected learning environments ideally embody values of equity, social belonging, and participation.
  • Production-centered: Digital tools provide opportunities for producing and creating a wide variety of media, knowledge, and cultural content in experimental and active ways.
  • Shared purpose: 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.
  • Openly networked: Online platforms and digital tools can make learning resources abundant, accessible, and visible across all learner settings. (See my related post: Information Abundance and Its Implications for Education.)


The benefits of connected learning cannot be overstated.  Not only are learning objectives and content-area standards more likely to be achieved as students become more excited and engage in learning; but their social-emotional needs have a greater potential to be met.  Schools are doing learners a disservice (verging on being unethical in my perspective) by putting up all of those walls that prevent connection.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 15, 2013 at 6:46 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I love your work, Jackie. In the #etmooc a group of us are discussing this at the middle level. I just started a Diigo group with this article as our first discussion article. Connect In The Middle I will write an #etmooc post and refer to this, so you’ll receive a pingback. Thanks for this wonder list of ideas to guide us!

    Sheri Edwards

    January 22, 2013 at 4:00 am

    • Really appreciate your feedback, Sheri – especially since I know you are a critical consumer!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      January 22, 2013 at 2:04 pm

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