There are two different conceptions of the term Connected Learning. While the vocabulary describing each concept is similar, the ideas behind them are significantly different. In one case, there is the research and education reform movement, which is mostly driven by the Connected Learning Research Network  (an organization supported by the MacArthur Foundation). In the other case, software products such as “desire2learn”,  which are used to manage students educational experience and trajectory, are often presented as an experience in connected learning. This article relates to the movement of C L as promoted by the Connected Learning Research Network which act as a hub to connect experts and practitioners.
CL is an emerging educational movement that reexamines some older ideas in the context of today's new media technology. The promoters of CL are not simply proposing a new instructional methodology but also a significant reform of the education system that has endured for the last century. Although it is compatible with Siemens (2004) and Downes (2011) work on Connectivism, the CLRN research has a different goal in that it does not seek to explain new practices emerging as a results of new media technology but rather seeks to put these practices to the task of improving the value and the depth of students learning.
CL is mostly based on educational theories that view learning as embedded in the sociocultural context of the learner. In the footsteps of innovators such as Dewey, Montessori, Illich, and Freire, CL educators believe that the goal of education should be to help children to become informed and active agents in the betterment of the political, social, and economic aspects of their community, be it on a local or global level. Connected learners are involved in activities that are relevant to themselves and their community. For this reason, students are often engaged in activities outside of the traditional school environment. Because many of the learning activities consistent with CL are somewhat incompatible with the rigid structure of traditional school, CL also act as a catalyst for school reform. This reform should not be seen as a radical reorganization of school curriculum and administration, but certainly as an agent of change to make learning more relevant. Due to the immense variety of contexts and learners aspirations, there is no universal model to implement CL. The main guiding principle of CL is that it happens where learners' interest, peer culture, and academic goals intersect.
Based on Student Interests
CL educators believe that learners interest is crucial as it drives the desire to learn, therefore they promote activities that are connected to what students are already motivated to learn.
Although the implementation of CL activities is often in contradiction with current school practices, it is still very much striving to assist students in reaching academic goals. CL educators believe that academic success and intellectual development lead to success in the realization of their economic, political, and social aspirations.
Immersed in Peer Culture
While more traditional methods of education resist the integration of social media in their realm, CL embraces them to tap into the culture of young people and to extend their learning networks. Consistent with social constructivist theories, CL takes advantage of the rich dialogue among peers to foster the construction of knowledge.
Use of Technology Tools and Social Media
Although technology and social media are not necessary for the implementation of CL practices, they are often integrated with them because they afford more opportunities to the learners. At the same time, CL adapts to the culture emerging as a result of the new media and seeks to empower learners by harnessing its potential to make a positive impact on their lives. Technology is not simply used to help students achieve better tests scores, but used as a vehicle to connect more effectively with a larger learning community. Learning to communicate effectively is a the core of any educational program and, rather than ignoring today's media landscape, CL addresses the new literacy skills required to navigate it safely and effectively. One of the main goal of CL is to level the playing field between the more and the less privileged members of society. While educators often resist the adoption of technology under the argument that it would exacerbate the inequalities between socioeconomic classes (Watters, 2012), CL educators look beyond the gadgets and see the potential of online media to do just the opposite. The power of media in connecting people who share similar interests and goals is an invaluable tool to afford students genuine learning opportunities and, ultimately, to facilitate the improvement of the students social, economic, and political status.
The Design of Connected Learning Activities
CL strives to connect with the established methods and institutions of education, yet its goals hold the potential to transform the curriculum, methods, and management of education as we know it. Proponents of the movement hold a firm belief that learning is not to be confined within within a particular cultural or political context, let alone the physical walls of any institution. They also believe that learning experiences should be open to everyone with an interest in a particular project or activity, so they suggest that participation be facilitated by providing multiple access points.Although some projects may require a certain level of expertise in some cases, less skilled participants can contribute at their own level. This principle is also very much in line with theories of social constructivism where peer collaboration is identified as a vehicle for development. Each learner bring what they have to the table, and the facilitator assist them in filling the gaps of necessary expertise to complete a task or a project. Open access also means that members of groups can join up with others to give or to receive support for any aspects of a project.
In CL settings, learning happens by doing. More specifically, doing in a genuine context yet in an environment where students can safely experiment and fail. Successes are celebrated, but failures are seen as a necessary step to achieve deeper learning. Effective CL activities constantly challenge learners. The learning goals have to be just so in order to sustain students interest. The goals students pursue have to be within their zone of proximal development; they need to be above what they already master and within what they can accomplish with some experimentation and support from peers or mentors.Everything is interconnected. Larger goals in the social, personal, and academic realm are always included. Any CL project should reinforce the development of participatory and equitable citizenship, sound academic skills, as well as network building.
Example of CL experiences
Quest to Learn
Quest to Learn is a New York school where learning activities are organized around students interest in gaming.
The Hive Project
Also supported by the MacArthur foundation and aims at proving connected learning activities outside of school
Teachers for Tomorrow
A more modest but still power initiative which assist regular schools in implementing CL principles from within.
- The Connected Learning Research Network.(n.d.). Retrieved from http://clrn.dmlhub.net/
- Desire2Learn. (n.d.) Solutions for Lifelong Learning. Retrieved from http://www.desire2learn.com/solutions/
- Educause. (2013). 7 Things you should know about connected learning. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7096.pdf
- Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for teh Digital Age [blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm
- Downes, S. (2011, January 5). ‘Connectivism’ and Connected Knowledge. Huffington Post. Retrieved from (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-downes/connectivism-and-connecti_b_804653.html?
- Connected Learning. (n.d). Connected learning checklist. Retrieved from http://connectedlearning.tv/sites/connectedlearning.tv/files/CL-Checklist-K12Educators.pdf
- Mindshift: How We Will Learn. (2013, April 3) Learning: tying student passions to school subjects. Retrieved from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/04/connected-learning-tying-to-student-passions-to-school-subjects/
- Digital Media & Learning Research Hub. (2011, August 4 ). Cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito on connected learning, children, and digital media. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xuV7zcXigAI
- Watters, A. (2012). T have and have not. School Library Journal, May, 34-37 Retreived from http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/printissue/currentissue/894185-427/to_have_and_have_not.html.csp