Connected learning quadrant model

Connected learning in higher education involves connecting learners, experts, networks and information in open systems. A rationale for connected learning in higher education is exemplified in the predictions of the 2014 Higher Education Horizon Report.  It is seen in the ubiquity of social media for developing learning communities and for content creation, interaction, engagment, sharing and curating. It is seen in the development of more sophisticated approaches to online and blended learning, and in the use of learning analytics and adaptive learning capabilities.

Connected learning elements in 2014 HE Horizon Report

Connected learning elements in 2014 HE Horizon Report

Connected learning as a pedagogical approach moves beyond closed learning environments to open learning environments. Higher education has traditionally been a closed learning environment where interactions have been confined to student-to-student and student-to-teacher. An open learning environment is where the student interacts with the world, and the world with the student. This is achieved via social media and engagement with open interest-based learning communities, such as those I describe here.

Open vs closed environments

Open vs closed environments

Connected learning curriculum design incorporates use of closed and open content and communities where appropriate. It is useful to think of this as a continuum from less connected to more connected. I have developed a connected learning quadrant model to assist curriculum designers to analyse existing course design and use as a basis for course development. The structure of the quadrant considers open and closed content and open and closed communities:

CL quadrant

CL quadrant


Open content is freely available (i.e. not restricted by authentication or a pay wall). It includes open educational resources such as those available on YouTube, iTunesU, Khan Academy, blogs, open digital repositories and open journals. Open content is also created by students in a connected learning environment and shared via social media. Closed content is restricted behind authentication and pay walls such as traditional academic journals, library databases and learning management systems.


Open communities are those seen in open interest-based communities such as Q&A forums (e.g. Stack Exchange, Source Forge, listserves), expert collaboration and feedback (e.g. Github, Code Academy, Hackathon) and professional communities anyone can request or subscribe to join (e.g. those on Google Communities, Facebook groups, Linkedin groups, Twitter# and listserves) and MOOCs. Closed communities are those restricted to a particular cohort such as a university class (e.g. specific class Google Community and Facebook group, learning management systems).

CL quadrant model

CL quadrant model

The benefits of connected learning include:

  • Engagement with authentic information environments (participatory professional and interest-based communities)
  • Engagement in authentic information & knowledge building practices (liking, rating, sharing, following, curating, commenting, creating)

The risks of connected learning include:

  • Managing students’ digital footprint and digital reputation
  • Teaching staff & students how to use unfamiliar tools or familiar tools in new ways
  • Tension between university sanctioned and supported learning environments (such as learning management systems) and open learning environments
  • Failure due to the above

Curriculum designers in higher education can use my connected learning quadrant model to make decisions on the level of connectedness they formally use in designing courses. Students can use it to create their own personal learning network and learning pathways regardless of the design of their formal university courses.

I have trialled using this model to audit my own courses for their level of connectedness and to work with my colleagues in auditing their courses.  I have found that at the very least, using the model is a way of opening up a conversation on curriculum design that questions the assumptions underpinning traditional university curricular. In my experience high connectedness in course design brings a higher risk, but also higher rewards in terms of students’ learning outcomes and engagement. Please feel free to use the model, and to comment on ways it can be improved or refined 🙂

2 responses to “Connected learning quadrant model

  1. Ooooh, this is very useful: thank you! My courses are of the open-open model, and making that distinction between open content and open community is very helpful. For many years I used closed blogging platforms (for example, I used a private class Ning for several years) while having open content… but then when Ning discontinued the mini-Ning educator experiment, I decided to go open. And wow, I just wish I had done that sooner. It was such a big boost for students to have their own blogs. A few spam comments the first semester and the second semester, just one spam comment this semester (my third semester of open blogging)… So I definitely can vote for open blogging as being worth it!


  2. I’m glad you find the model useful, Laura! I feel that having my students create open blogs enhances their professional digital footprint, and part of the assessment criteria is that their blog is a professional resource and contributes to a professional conversation, rather than just being an assignment. My students are qualified teachers undertaking a Master of Education, and I encourage my students to share their blogs with their school community and throughout their professional networks.


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