Research Networks

Research Network on Connected Learning

Understanding the opportunities and risks for learning afforded by today's changing media ecology, as well as building new learning environments that support effective learning and educational equity

Connected Learning Research Network

Supported by MacArthur from 2009 to 2018

About this Network

Young people today are coming of an age during a time of rapid economic, social, and technological transformation that challenges them to be adaptive, resilient, and resourceful in their approach to learning and future opportunities. Digital and networked media offer both the promise of self expression, knowledge seeking, and community building, and the peril of disconnecting from academic pursuits and intergenerational connection.

Our work focused on a model of connected learning—learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational opportunity. 

  • As an agenda for research, connected learning is about examining learning that cuts across the contexts of home, school, and peer culture, looking at the links and disjunctures between them. 
  • As a learning theory, connected learning posits that the most meaningful and resilient forms of learning happen when a learner has a personal interest or passion that they are pursuing in a context of cultural affinity, social support, and shared purpose.
  • As a model for design, connected learning offers a way of connecting the often-fragmented spheres of home, school, and peer-based learning, leveraging the affordances of digital and networked media.

Our work cut across research, design, and practice and includes social scientists, learning theorists, educators, and designers. We committed to research that was collaborative, action-oriented, and united by educational values of equity, social connection, and full participation.


The Affinity Project
This project built on findings from a recent meta-analysis of over 70 youth mentoring program evaluations which discovered that when youth and mentors were matched on the basis of shared interest, the effect size of mentoring doubled. A series of follow-up investigations explored the development of youth interests and the role of shared interest in forging close intergenerational relationships.

The Class
This research project examined the emerging mix of on- and offline experiences in teenagers’ daily learning lives. We focused on the fluctuating web of peer-to-peer networks that may cut across institutional boundaries, adult values and established practices of learning and leisure.

Connected Consumption
Connected consumption was based on a culture of access, use, and re-circulation of used goods as alternatives to traditional private ownership. With the potential to foster peer-to-peer learning and social connection, ecological sustainability and economic opportunity, connected consumption has the potential to transform mobility, shopping, travel, work practices, living arrangements, service provision, household production and learning.

The Digital Edge
This interdisciplinary project was designed to explore how students, teachers, and families are engaging digital media in the face of significant social, financial, educational, and familial challenges. Our research was based on extensive interviews, participant observations, ethnography and creative collaborations with students and teachers from a Central Texas High school.

Leveling Up
This research project investigated the learning dynamics of interest-driven online groups that support academically-relevant knowledge seeking and expertise development. Our initial case studies focused on the learning and production resources surrounding gaming. We also developed a case study of fiber arts expertise development and planned to develop further cases that center on interest-groups that attract large numbers of women and girls.

Leveraging Horizontal Expertise
This project examined how the social organization of activity settings, forms of mediation, and tool use can be employed to leverage both horizontal (everyday) and vertical (scientific or school-based) kinds of expertise in children and young adults. We examined how children leverage new tools, practices, and knowledge across different learning environments. In particular, we were interested in learning how children leverage the expertise acquired in an after school setting, El Pueblo Mágico, into home practices.

Longitudinal Study of Connected Learning
A survey-based research study that examined children’s participation in connected learning environments in late elementary and middle school and the relationship of participation to valued outcomes. These outcomes included interest development, persistence in learning, civic participation, and development of a positive sense of the future.

Network Chair

Mizuko "Mimi" Ito, Professor in Residence and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at the University of California, Irvine

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