Researchers Recommend Core Changes in Education

Troubling trends involving work, college, and social inequity cited

(IRVINE, Calif) — Close the gap between the no-frills learning that too often happens in-school and the interactive, hands-on learning that usually takes place out of school. Take advantage of the Internet’s ability to help youth develop knowledge, expertise, skills and important new literacies. Use digital technology to combat the increasing reality of the haves and have-nots in education.

Those are among a series of recommendations outlined in a new report released today by the Connected Learning Research Network, an interdisciplinary research network dedicated to reimagining learning for the 21st century.

As cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito, chair of the research network, put it: “Without a proactive educational reform agenda that begins with questions of equity, leverages both in-school and out-of-school learning, and embraces the opportunities new media offers for learning, we risk a growth in educational alienation among our most vulnerable populations.

“We’re seeing the tremendous potential of new media for advancing learning,” said Ito, a professor of anthropology, informatics and education at UC Irvine. “But, right now, it’s only the most activated and well-supported learners who are using connected learning to boost their learning and opportunity.

“We believe many more young people can experience this kind of learning,” Ito said. “But there’s no question we’re at risk of seeing yet another way privileged individuals can gain advantage — even though the Internet and digital technology has the potential to even the playing field and multiply the opportunities for all youth to find their place and achieve.”

Disturbing Trends
The 99-page report identifies several socioeconomic trends that promise to further undermine existing problems in public education:

Broken pathways from education to opportunity: Youth are entering a labor market strikingly different from earlier generations. Education, even a college degree, no longer offers a sure pathway to opportunity. Young people find themselves competing for a scarcer number of good jobs. An “arms race” in educational attainment has broken out, especially among upper income households to gain further advantage.

A growing learning divide: The achievement gap in public education disproportionately impacts African American and Latino youth. Inequity is aggravated by the accelerating rate of family investments in out-of-school enrichment and learning activities, many of which leverage the learning advances offered by the internet and digital technology.

A commercialized and fragmented media ecology: We are living through a dramatic shift in media and technology and this shift is most pronounced among children and youth. Increasingly, there is a disconnect between classroom learning and the everyday lives and interests of many young people — further alienating many youth from their schooling.

The Response: A New Framework for Learning
As a response to these trends and others reshaping the landscape of learning in the U.S. and other countries, the report recommends a framework for learning called “connected learning.” Connected learning seeks to:

  • Address inequity in education; 
  • Engender 21st century skills and literacies in all youth; 
  • Attune to the learning possibilities of a networked society.

The connected learning report is authored by nine researchers and scholars who belong to a research network carrying the same name and who work at the intersection of learning, technology and youth, including: Kris Gutierrez (University of Colorado), Sonia Livingstone (London School of Economics and Political Science), Bill Penuel (University of Colorado), Jean Rhodes (University of Massachusetts), Katie Salen (DePaul University, Institute of Play), Juliet Schor (Boston College), Julian Sefton-Green (London School of Economics and Political Science), S. Craig Watkins (University of Texas), and Mimi Ito (University of California, Irvine).

Examples of Possibilities for Learning, Schooling
The report offers several examples of the connected learning principles in action, including:

  • A teenager who developed creative writing skills, in large part by interacting with peers on the internet, and eventually, secured college scholarships; 
  • A young man who learned how to become a successful professional web comics artist, again where the internet and peers played a meaningful role; 
  • A public school experimenting with a 2-week period of the year where students become the “bosses” and drive learning activities, defining a challenge and providing each other with ongoing feedback and direction.

In each case, young people built a learning environment together with caring adults that tied together their interests, peer feedback, and academic pursuits — and took advantage of the ability of digital media and internet-based communication to:

  • Increase interactivity and self-expression; Lower barriers of access to knowledge, information and expertise; 
  • Provide social support through social media and online affinity groups; 
  • Offer a more diverse range of learning opportunities.

“Connected learning is about progress and it’s about something everyone in education agrees is urgent and important — the unprecedented opportunity we’re seeing to rethink an approach to education where all young people can realize their learning potential and their right to thrive,” said Connie Yowell, Director of Education at the MacArthur Foundation, which supports the Connected Learning Research Network. “In today’s networked world that is so rich in social connection, we have been handed the ability to suddenly be able to make hands-on, real-world, inquiry-based learning far more accessible. It’s not a question of how we can achieve this — we have that in our sights now — it’s a question of will.”

To see the full report, click here.

To read a summary, click here.

To see brief video commentaries from the connected learning researchers, click here.

News Media Contact:
Whitney Burke
Digital Media & Learning Research Hub
p: (949) 824-4587

About the Connected Learning Research Network
The network’s research is geared towards understanding the opportunities and risks for learning afforded by today’s changing media ecology, as well as building new learning environments that support effective learning and educational equity. Its work focuses on a model of learning — connected learning — that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational opportunity for all. More information on the Connected Learning Research Network is available at: More information on the MacArthur Foundation’s digital media and learning initiative can be found at: