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Contributing to The Connected Learning Manifesto

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

Much of the writing on Education Unbound is focused on evaluating existing programs or innovations to explain how best to use them or to examine their efficacy or applicability in larger contexts. The recent open call on Twitter to help develop the Connected Learning Manifesto provides a different focus however. This invitation to help create a document that will define what connected learning is and should be is a unique opportunity to help guide the course of e-learning.

In keeping with the mission of Education Unbound to help bring the fire of education to the widest possible audience, this post will examine the Connected Learning Manifesto as it currently stands and contribute suggestions for enhancing it. These suggestions will also be added to the Manifesto itself to further the discussion about the impact of connected learning.

The Connected Learning Manifesto
According to the document: "A revolution in technology has transformed the way we can find each other, interact, and collaborate to create knowledge as connected learners. What are connected learners?" They are learners who:

  • collaborate online
  • use social media to connect with others around the globe
  • engage in conversations in online spaces
  • bring what they learn back to inform their classrooms, schools, districts, and the world

The Manifesto aims to define the way that we function in the information age and how this affects learning. It emphasizes several of the key points of what education should be in the 21st century:

  • Social construction of knowledge
  • Technology mediated social interaction
  • Global engagement and dissemination of ideas
  • Virtual participation in distributed conversations
  • Connectivity of learners to world-wide resources for learning

In addition to this statement and the graphic above, the Manifesto contains several pages of individual declarations about connected learning. The most informative of these provide insights into what connected learning means to those most interested in promoting it as a model for education. These declarations fall into several categories: Connectivity/ Collaboration, Empowerment/Self-Directed Learning, Creativity/Innovation, Diversity/Breaking Down Boundaries, Self-Awareness/Reflection, and Lifelong Learning. Here is a closer look at each category as well as some of the declarations that help to define them (Twitter handles are provided when listed in the original document).

Connectivity/Collaboration
It stands to reason that connectivity would be one of the primary attributes of being a "connected learner." In this context the term means far more than just being online or participating in social media. Connected learners interact with others in order to learn, share their knowledge, and collaborate in the creation of new knowledge. In the words of those contributing to the Manifesto:

  • "Asking our questions out in the open in connected ways leveraging technology and social media brings forth our learning for all to participate and contribute = being a connected learner" (@lisaneale)
  • "A connected learner isn’t afraid to admit that they don’t know the answer to a question or problem, and willingly invite others into a dialogue to explore, discuss, debate, or generate more questions." (@barb_english)
  • "We believe in mass collaborative learning… mass collaborative knowledge creation…" (@ssandifer)

Empowerment/Self-Directed Learning
Being a connected learner is also a liberating experience according to those adding their voices to the discussion. Choosing what, when, where, and with whom to learn as well as actively participating in the formation of knowledge is a source of personal empowerment.

  • "Connected learners direct their own learning–they connect, collaborate, and grow their own professional practice."
  • "I believe in the freedom of connected spaces.  Learning what I want, when I want, where I want and with whomever I want is a beautiful thing." (@plugusin)
  • "Connected learning exemplifies social justice principles.  Once you have equal access provided by basic skills–then comes individualized learning–resulting in relationships with desired experts and co-learners–for expanding knowledge and skill growth=adds up to career and economic empowerment."  (@dreeveslipscomb)

Creativity/Innovation
One of the key goals of Information Age education is to push people to be creative thinkers capable of generating the innovations that will fuel global progress. Connected learners believe that the contributions of the collective allow greater creativity than any single individual can achieve on their own. Those contributing to the Manifesto also believe that these innovative connections will drive education to adapt and improve.

  • "Connected learners contribute to ongoing conversations where everyone actively participates to create something bigger than if each person acted alone." (@elisaw5)
  • "Connected learners will push learning into innovative, powerful and meaningful directions changing the education system as we now know it."
  • "We value learning as an ever-changing, evolving process that leads us towards the pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons."

Diversity/Breaking Down Boundaries
A globally connected community works to break down the boundaries that separate individuals and thus allows for a greater diversity of perspective and experience to enter into discourse on any topic.  Connected learning not only makes it possible to incorporate diverse perspectives, it mandates it by flattening power structures and inviting multiple voices into the process of meaning making.

  • "We believe we must seek out opinions that are different than our own.  Being connected means we can ask questions and challenge our own thinking to broaden our perspectives and understanding" (@joniturville)
  • "Honor the learner and what they know — even if that learner is younger than you."
  • "Connected learning levels the playing field, brings out the surprising wisdom of the student in the back corner, makes cultural understanding an authentic experience, never ceases to surprise, empower and delight" (@taniatorikova)
  • "Connected learners gain deeper understanding through becoming more tolerant and empathetic and then are able to stretch themselves even further." (@HeidiHutchison)

Self-Awareness/Reflection
Connected learning, through its reliance on technology, interaction with others, and its ability to make learners self-directed, promotes self-awareness and reflection both at the individual and group levels. Technology allows others to function as mirrors to the learner, prompting discussion and eliciting critical feedback of the persona presented to the virtual world. This is a powerful force in education that pushes learners to become critical thinkers about themselves and the wider world.

  • "We believe in transparent, open, reflective, and distributed learning" (@ssandifer)
  • "Reflecting on doing is called learning. Others reflecting with you is called connected learning." (@deanc001)

Lifelong Learning
Connectivity to vast resources online and social interactions that constantly promote the ever-changing parade of innovation pushes the connected learner to become a lifelong learner. Interactions with others drive an individual to keep up-to-date with the latest technological and social developments in order to remain a part of the global community. The result of this constant push to stay in touch and in tune with others in the network is lifelong learning. Connected learning does not inspire lifelong learning, it requires it.

  • "Connected learning helps me to fulfill my quest to be a lifelong learner!" (@marypb)

My Contributions to the Connected Learning Manifesto
In addition to writing this post, which I hope will help to clarify and solidify some of the principles generated in the Manifesto, I submit the following declarations about connected learning:

  • In the information age, all learning is hybrid – making use of technology and offline resources and interactions to create a whole experience. (@drjwmarquis)
  • Connected Learning helps develop the literacy skills necessary to survive in a hi-tech world. (@drjwmarquis)

These points represent two of the most significant aspects of being a successful participant in the digital age that I believe connected learning supports. Connectivity does not only happen online, nor should it. We live in a hybrid world where the best education makes use of both virtual and face-to-face- resources and interactions to engage learners the way that the world works in the Information Age.

In order to participate in a connected, technology mediated world, students must be fluent in the language of the times. That language is technology and it encompasses more than just computer skills. Being literate in the 21st century requires an entire set of skills and knowledge in both technical and social spheres including critical thinking, analytical thinking, systems thinking, and communication ability in a variety of media (Supporting Information Age Literacy in Higher Education). Connected learning and all that it encompasses provides a rich environment in which to develop these competencies.

The Connected Learner Manifesto is a work in progress that may never be completed. It may never come to fruition, not because it is a bad idea, but rather because the concept of connected learning is and will remain in flux as long as the technology that supports it continues to advance. Perhaps this and other digital age declarations should remain works in progress, living documents that never stop growing. That notion fits with the idea of connected learning very nicely.

Add your voice to the Connected  Learning Manifesto at: http://plpnetwork.com/2012/07/23/connected-learning-manifesto/
Or discuss it on Google + or on Twitter @drjwmarquis.