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The Threat of Connected Learning?

Like several other folks here, I was invited to blog about some webinar sessions on Connected Learning. I wasn’t completely sure what Connected Learning was, but it sounded interesting so I decided to give it a go.

After the first session, I found that I Connected with Connected Learning. It seemed to me that Connected Learning was everything I thought learning should be. As I wrote after the first session:

Connected learning is what I’ve always thought learning is supposed to be. It’s about building, and supporting a learning community that lets kids engage with education according to their own interests, building their own knowledge, and reaching out to (yes) connect with other learners.

I was excited to learn more about the model and to think about how it related to teaching in the college classroom.

What I didn’t expect was the response I got to my discussion of Connected Learning. I posted “Can Connected Learning Work at the College Level?” on another blog I contribute to, and I was quickly taken to task by a commenter. The definition of Connected Learning I shared led to the criticism that “‘connected learning’ is yet another buzz word for the corporatization of education.” Further, Connected Learning was accused of being devoid of critical thinking and of relying on “a formula for students getting what they already want to find . . . . . [rather than] broadening horizons to discover what is not already known.”

I was gobsmacked. The comments seemed to describe something diametrically opposed to what I had come to believe was Connected Learning. I assumed that I had misspoken, being, as I am, somewhat new to Connected Learning. I replied and tried to provide evidence to counter the criticisms. I hoped the additional links and details would solve the confusion.

So imagine my surprise when today I found a new criticism of Connected Learning on that post. Today’s commenter “take[s] exception to framing our educational system as broken or wrong.” She continues:

Our system gets the majority of kids out able to read, do basic math, and many with strong enough skills to go on to college. We can do better, but the system itself is not broken or wrong — it works for a majority of kids.

Apparently the word broken is another buzzword in educational literature. My first commenter returned to join the bandwagon. He explains:

The declaration that a given education system (which, for Americans, means public education) is "broken" is often the rhetorical leading edge to some scheme or other to replace it with something else: eg., a voucher system to encourage private school attendance, a charter school system that abolishes teacher tenure and any modicum of academic freedom or independence, or a for-profit learning management package whose adoption converts teachers into automatons. In short, the rhetoric of educational "failure" is part of a code whose semiotic significance is something that educators should be both aware and wary of.

So today I’m left with a post where Connected Learning is lumped in with all the problems of education: vouchers, the loss of tenure, the denial of academic freedom, for-profit education, and so forth.

Who knew Connected Learning was so threatening? Certainly not me. I had no idea that Connected Learning would lead to this response, and I’m no longer sure what to say. I want to reach out to those of you know know more about Connected Learning and ask some questions:

  • Have you dealt with similar responses when they talk about Connected Learning?
  • How do you respond to the critiques that have been raised?
  • What advice can you offer to someone talking about Connected Learning to help ensure that the model is effectively communicated?
  • Are there take-aways in the criticism? Should we be talking about Connected Learning in different ways to avoid such misreadings?

I hope to hear your responses and ideas. It appears that I need some help knowing how to talk about Connected Learning effectively!

 

[This post has been cross-posted on my personal  website.]

 

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Comments

JonBarilone's picture

Traci, thanks so much for recapping some of the pushback and for highlighting a growing issue that I've seen playing out with the discussion around digital badges lately: an innate drive to "pick a side."

Much of the reception I've seen/heard has been genuinely positive and responses generally lean toward "Yes, this make sense, how do we implement?" And, while that sentiment is great, we're not collectively at a point yet where we can make those kinds of recommendations.

I have not yet personally dealt with pushback, but I imagine--as awareness of the connected learning principles and model grows--that time is quickly approaching. I think it's helpful to reference the principles and infographic to ensure everyone in the conversation has the same foothold when discussing connected learning.

For me, it's important to understand why someone is raising a concern or comment rather than jumping right to counterarguments. In reading the comments on the post you referenced, I saw an underlying assumption that connected learning only applied typical education environments. I would point out that school/education is ONE of MULTIPLE environments in which youth are learning and the the connected learning vision emphasizes this observation. In talking with my peers, friends and family, I often have to make this similar distinction: that a "new approach to learning" does not automatically equate to a "new approach to education." Education reformation could certainly be a by-product of the model, but the focus now is helping others realize that youth learn most effectively when they can combine their three "spheres" of Interests, Peer Culture, and Academic success.

As for takeaways, I think you've illustrated that it might be helpful to devise a sort of FAQ that tackles some of the more pertinent questions such as "what makes connected learning different from blended or participatory learning?" I'll see what I can do. :)

tengrrl's picture

Thanks for your comments, Jon. Your explanation that

     a "new approach to learning" does not
     automatically 
equate to a "new approach
     to education." 

actually makes me think of many disclaimers we might add. A new approach doesn't mean it's the only approach or that it negates all other options. There's a tendency toward polar thinking that seemed to flow through the comments I got. They all seemed to believe that I was proposing a complete replacement for everything that had come before. 

Maybe I spoke too definitely in what I wrote leading people to that polar understanding. I'm not quite sure. I do believe that the conversation needs more FAQs and friendlier language, so I'm happy to see you want to work on that. 

As I muse on the "pick a side" notion, the polar response that I received, I'm wondering if I ought not to start over and describe learning as making choices from a salad bar. Choosing lettuce doesn't mean you can't have carrots and broccoli too. Then again, maybe it's just that I'm hungry right now :)