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 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.
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:
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).
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 🙂