Posted by: Carol | March 9, 2012

CTE’s Place in the Connected Learning Landscape

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend the Digital Media and Learning Conference 2012, in San Francisco, CA. It was an amazing event – inspired, inspiring, full of energy, and just sizzling with creativity and great ideas. Who attended? An interesting cross-section of culture, actually – all of whom are interested in what they see as the changing landscape of education.

I don’t know if any of you attended – and it was my oversight not to ask, prior to the event – but as a member of the CTE community, I was incredibly excited by the types of things being discussed and covered in the panel sessions. In the field of CTE, for instance, we talk about and put into active practice, instructional models that are usually pretty far from the norm in terms of traditional classroom instruction. We engage students in “learning by doing” as our most common form of pedagogy. We tie academic concepts and competencies to relevant, real-world applications. We build on the natural interests and affinities of our students, to guide them into courses where they’ll truly thrive and excel. We utilize school, family, and community networks to bring in specialized knowledge sources, mentors, and other learning opportunities, recognizing the value of “cross-platform” education resources.

Keeping all these things in mind, take a look at this info-graphic about Connected Learning below (click on the image to open a larger version):

Essentially, connected learning is the type of learning a person does (and many of us, already do) when learning about and working with a topic, usually of our own choosing, by accessing the communal resources we find online and elsewhere. It’s collaborative, and allows you to build on and add to the insights, products, and knowledge of others. It happens everyday and practically everywhere with our students (and ourselves), when they’re not in our classrooms.

Connected learning, as a movement, is all about acknowledging that this self-motivated and often in-depth knowledge and skills acquisition is real and important, and can change the face of our educational systems as we know them. There’s no doubt that the current schooling systems and structures that we are using in the United States are less than optimal. Too often, they leave students disengaged, disenfranchised, and worst of all, unable to self-identify as learners when the truth is, they usually are – they’re just not feeling successful at doing the learning within the constraints of the traditional classroom setting.

As one speaker at the conference described it, traditional education models utilize defined paths, strategies, and content to create uncertain outcomes, while connected learning utilizes uncertain and undefined paths to create certain outcomes. What exactly does that mean? Well, imagine that you once ate an amazing pineapple upside-down cake. In your memory, it was perfect – moist and flavorful, the best balance of sweet and tart with some nice caramelization that made every toothsome bite just an absolute pleasure. How do you recreate it in your own kitchen? If you were utilizing a more standard educational approach, you’d open a recipe book (possibly the only one you have) and follow the directions. If it didn’t turn out as hoped, you’d chalk it up to lack of practice and try again. You’d attempt memorization of the recipe – maybe that will provide the outcome for which you’re hoping. You’d print the recipe out in bigger font, maybe. Or give yourself a little more time to assemble the recipe. Either way, the cake in your mind may or may not be the one the recipe produces. But that recipe is all you’ve got, and well…that’s that: certain path, uncertain outcome.

Let’s do this again, but this time via the open-education/connected learning method. You start to research. You look up and review several – maybe dozens – of recipes you find online. You consider and weigh the various combinations of ingredients, that you think might result in the cake of your dreams. You try one. It’s not quite right. You adjust and try another. Closer, but that nice caramelization isn’t happening. You call up your Aunt Maggie, who you know is a great baker, and talk it over with her. She makes some suggestions, which you incorporate to what you already have. Now you’re really close. Maybe it’s the oven – it’s old, and you know it’s had some problems heating evenly. You call in a repair specialist, and he confirms your concerns about the oven. He makes the necessary adjustments, and leaves you to do your thing. You again try the recipe  that you’ve cobbled together with experimentation, expert consultation, and consideration, now in the repaired oven. This time, you nail it. This is it – the pineapple upside-down cake you remembered so fondly: uncertain path, certain outcome.

Would you agree that the second model embodies the kinds of learning strategies we want to see our entrepreneurship – and other industry practitioner – students utilizing?

The educators, innovators, and designers that attended the Digital Media and Learning Conference are seeking to promote connected learning and shift the way schools teach by leveraging the tools provided by current and developing technologies along with the learning and teaching strategies I described above. However, as most of these folks come from a more traditional education background that included a stint in a university, I got the sense that there wasn’t a full realization of the kind of learning models employed by CTE professionals and used by CTE students right now in traditional schools. As a collective body, we CTE educators have a lot of practice, insight, and experience to offer the connected learning community, but we’ve yet to sit down at the same table in the same room, together. This is not to discount the few overlapping projects where our two groups may have already intersected, but I think it may be time for the CTE field to come together with the connected learning community and fully partner each other, realizing that we share common goals and strategies. CTE has a lot to offer connected learning, and in return, we have a lot to learn and gain from connected learning resources and innovations, for our own practice and consequently, our students’ benefit.

And I feel compelled to note – when I was telling a friend about the conference, he remarked that he was surprised it didn’t have more to do with “new technology,” as that’s what he’d assumed it would be about, by the title. And I should clarify – there was some focus on new technologies, but overall, they were secondary to the conference’s focus on shifting perceptions of the nature of learning and teaching. Also, many of the technologies that were being utilized in new tools were not particularly new – just remixed to fit a different context. And really, in the end, that’s what makes learning compelling right? Context, context, context.

Here are some connected learning resources, articles, discussions, and talks to check out. Let me know what you think:

Connected Learning Research Network
Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Learner in the 21st Century – John Seely Brown’s DML 2012 Keynote Talk
Connected Learning: Reimagining the Experience of Education in the Information Age – Connie Yowell, MacArthur Foundation
Reflections on DML2012 and Visions of Educational Change – Mimi Ito, University of California, Irvine


  1. Reblogged this on The STEM Blog and commented:
    We can learn much from Connected Learning and CTE.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: