Connected Learning: Inside and Outside the Classroom

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What if your extracurricular activities weren’t just extra but a part of your academics too? New thinking on education intends to bring students’ interests into the classroom. It’s called Connected Learning and promotes the idea that students will excel in school if what they are learning is relevant to their lives, experiences, and passions. This plan is spelled out in a new report, by Mimi Ito, the research director of the Digital Media and Learning Hub at the University of Ca. Irvine.

While students would still learn core subjects like math and science, Connected Learning provides ways for students to link their classroom lessons to their lives outside the school. Ito says the objective of Connected Learning is to, “meet young people where they are in terms of their peer culture, their interest in popular culture, social media, rather than say you have to meet us where we are as adults.”

Ito uses the Harry Potter Alliance to demonstrate how Connected Learning’s can be effective. She says, “the HPA connects young people who are inspired by the civic virtues portrayed in the Harry Potter books, and want to apply them to the real world.” This fan network organizes over social media platforms (Facebook, Livestream, Youtube, Twitter) to spread awareness and solutions to issues like, equality, and human rights, and to support of charitable causes. Literacy has been a central focus of the group. Their annual book drive has brought 85,000 donations since 2009 and contributions have helped build a library for a charter school in NYC.

Ito says another prime example of Connected Learning is right here at Youth Radio. The youth-driven media organization channels young peoples’ passions into education and job training. For instance, the poetry group inside Youth Radio, Remix Your Life, helps strengthen students’ writing skills, public speaking  and presentation skills while providing an outlet for us to express what we’re passionate about.

Here’s where Connected Learning could help close the opportunity gap. Ito says, “it’s important to diversify the kinds of entry points for the kinds of pathways that young people have.” She adds that “having their interests, their identities validated in the context of academic achievement, civic engagement” is essential to keeping students engaged. This could lead to better student performance.  But even more than improved grades, the goal for Connected Learning Ito states, is “not about individual achievement, it’s about contributing in the real world.”

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