As I continue to work on a book on learning environment design, I can’t help but see relevant ideas everywhere I look. As part of a current cMOOC on Connected Courses, I was reintroduced to theory and research around connected and open learning. Although the conversation in Connected Courses is most often about how design more open and enriching learning experiences in the academic environment (K-12 and Higher Ed), the features of connected learning and many of the recommendations from research in that arena have resonated with some of my own writing and advice on learning environment design.
Connected learning “advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest driven, and oriented toward educational, economic or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success, or civic engagement.” (Ito et al, reference below.)
Change a few words around, and we can apply the concept of connected learning to workplace learning as well – ensuring that it is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward achievement (performance, skill development). It requires a commitment to learning and a network of supportive colleagues.
In their 2013 report on Connected Learning, Mizuko Ito and her coauthors suggest four design principles for connected learning: open access, learning by doing, challenge, and interconnectivity. These principles provide terrific quality markers for learning environments as well. (For more, see p. 81 of the report)
Given these design principles, here are some of the questions I might ask when designing a learning environment:
ease of access, multiple ways to participate, multiple levels of expertise in community, recognition for support for each other’s learning
- How can we make participation inviting and allow people with different communication preferences and levels of interest to effectively engage with the group as needed?
- How can we open up the learning environment so that learners have access to people and ideas that are different enough to provoke innovation?
- How do we make sharing easy and encourage reciprocation?
We know that building social engagement among learners who don’t have a history together can be tricky business. It’s important to do what we can to make it easy for learners to engage with one another and with experts within and outside of the organization. There is a lot of additional material on building communities that has also proven helpful in meeting this design principle.
Learning by doing:
authentic and relevant engagement in the work, access to experts and mentors who can mitigate risk, abundant resources for learning in the flow of work
- How can we support learning by doing – make it safe to experiment and support the development of new practices?
- What tools can support learning by doing?
- How can we make job aids and other supports more readily available as needed?
Doing the work is often the most fertile ground for learning IF people attend to what they are learning and take advantage of opportunities for learning that are embedded in everyday projects. Having a culture of learning that provides just-in-time resources and lots of social support makes a difference in terms of how much people learn in the work. We also need to recognize and celebrate that learning.
scaffolding learning, sharing within a context that supports constructive feedback
- How do we ensure that learners are sufficiently challenged in the work environment to develop the knowledge and skills needed?
- How do we scaffold the harder aspects of learning and ensure people are supported through any stumbles they might make along the way?
- How can we enable constructive feedback processes and collaboration for joint learning?
There are some who say that problem-solving and failure are at the root of all learning. While I don’t believe that, I certainly endorse the idea that work challenges provide great opportunity for learning – many people will tell you that the projects they struggled with are some of the most developmental. But work challenges can also just be a bane on our existence; how do we ensure that challenges are positive learning experiences and not just ordeals to get through?
alignment of multiple paths for learning, easy sharing between platforms
- How do we ensure that all of the components that support learning are aligned so as not to confuse with conflicting advice or goals?
- How do we bring diverse supportive tools together for ease of access?
- How do we help people leverage one another’s work to advance practice as a whole?
- How do we connect to the “outside” world to bring in ideas and expertise that would be helpful?
This criteria harkens back to the idea of a learning ecosystem; the tools we use for sharing, working, and communicating need to be in synergy with one another if they are to be useful. And it isn’t just systems that can be interconnected; we can also advocate for and strengthen learner’s ability to connect with people and ideas outside of their normal flow of work. These infusions of new perspectives can be a real boon to learning. (Just like taking Connected Courses has helped me in expanding my ideas on learning environment design.)
If these ideas resonate with you, you may be interested in joining the Connected Courses conversation. If you’d like to learn more about learning environment design, please join me for my Guild Academy course, Learning Ecosystems: Designing environments for learning – it launches again on October 15. In it, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with others who are working on these kinds of strategies and get advice and feedback on your own work.
Source: Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. (2013) By Mizuko Ito, Kris Gutiérrez, Sonia Livingstone, Bill Penuel, Jean Rhodes, Katie Salen, Juliet Schor, Julian Sefton-Green, and S. Craig Watkins. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.