Wednesday, 28 January 2015 16:42

Connected Learning: What is Connected Learning?

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Due to changing funding models, new technologies, the increasing diversity of the student body and rapid change in industry needs, post secondary institutions are undergoing an unprecedented pressure to respond to multiple internal and external pressures. Educational technology has offered a number of micro system solutions that boast improved student outcomes when employed in the classroom (virtual or real).

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However, few system solutions have been offered that would meet the broad scope of challenges experienced by universities and colleges in North America. Certainly e-learning has been a driver in the movement towards sharing of knowledge and increased connectedness, but in order to “increas[e] [the] complexity, connectivity and velocity of our new knowledge society” (, 2014), a systems approach to change that is “integrative, personalized, interconnected, and authentic” (Educause, 2013, p.1) is required.

What is Connected Learning?
Educause (2013) defines connected learning as having the following characteristics:

  1. Seamless integration with planning and advising services helps students connect each course with long-term goals and a plan for success.
  2. Personalized learning helps students connect with optimal opportunities to progress.
  3. Engaged and authentic learning experiences help connect learners to scholars and researchers, to workplace and industry, to local communities, and to global challenges.

Connected learning is about truly preparing students to contribute and participate in civil society and communities both economically and socially (Ito et al., 2013). Although these characteristics themselves are not technology rich, current technologies allow for the transformation of current systems to a connected learning.

Educational Technology in Admissions and Advising
If most of us consider how we chose a post-secondary institution to attend after graduation, I doubt that it would be too scientific. For me, it included a personality test, a short exploration into a few career possibilities and a university choice based mostly on interest, social life and proximity. New software like Naviance and Connect-EDU are providing students with a more scientific match for a post-secondary institution and program (Selingo, 2013). Both software programs store data about student skills, abilities and interests to match the student with prospective post-secondary institutions that they would be qualified to attend and would provide them with the educational opportunities they are looking for. Similar software, like Degree Compass at Austin Peay State University, facilitate student movement through a degree program, advising students towards suggested courses based on their past courses, tracking their progress and even directing them to a face to face advisor when they are not progressing on a path that will allow them to be successful in completion of their degree.
Educause listed “improving student outcomes through an approach that leverages technology” (Educause, 2014, p. 16) as the top IT issue of 2014, it was number two in 2013. This is a broad statement that includes the use of data-analytics, LMSs, automated assessments and other teaching technologies with the intent of improving student performance, persistence and retention. These specific technologies are used to both increase the personalization of learning as well as provide engaging and authentic experiences for students.

Educational Technology for Personalized Learning
Initially, the idea of automated solutions may not conjure up images of a personalized learning experience; however further exploration reveals a number of technologies that are allowing for it. Arizona State University (ASU) uses adaptive software, Knewton, in their math classes (Selingo, 2013). Knewton takes students through a series of tutorials and automated assessments. A professor is still present and keeping track of student progress, they can view who is on track or not, which concepts each student is struggling with and can then offer individualized help to students. The pass rate in the math classes where Knewton was used went from sixty six percent to seventy five percent in just one year. Hoping that they can dispel the ‘make it or break it’ perception of many introductory courses, ASU will soon be taking the software into introductory level psychology, biology courses and economics.

Educational Technology in Instruction
When many of us think technology for engagement, we think presentation software, gamified learning, automated assessment and other ‘exciting’ technologies. Certainly many of these educational technologies are being employed successfully with increased engagement, but how do instructional designers and instructors design these experiences for students. An Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon is employing data analytics with data collected from online students to design learning objects and lessons with the intention of improving student outcomes.
A current and natural trend in educational technology is the increase in online and hybrid models of instruction. No one topic in education has elicited more debate in the last decade than whether online learning can offer the same rigour and opportunity as face-to-face instruction. I have to agree with Selingo (2013, p. 101) who believes that “we tend to romanticize what happens on college campuses”, imagining it as an awe-inspiring experience for students as they soak up the expertise of professors lecturing to theatres full of students. The reality is, of course, that before students had a wealth of knowledge in the palm of their hands, they required this sort of delivery. In the current connected age, students don’t require this delivery method and may in fact disengage from it.

Connected learning is more than a principle used to guide classroom activities or learning design. It is an integrated approach “anchored in research, robust theories of learning, and the best of traditional standards” that also requires the definition of education to be expanded beyond the classroom and even beyond the institution. Education happens in our communities, industries, homes, libraries and online.


Educause. 2013. The Connected Learning Environment. Educause Brief.

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Watkins, C. (2013). Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

Selingo, J. (2013) College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it
Means for Students. New York, NY: Amazon Publishing.

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