Connected Learning: Keynote by Mimi Ito

Mimi Ito opened the one-day conference HighTech Human Touch today at Aarhus University  with a keynote on “Fostering Creativity in a Connected Age”. In the early 2000’s, Ito had investigated mobile phone use and youth culture in Japan long before the smart phone became a staple gadget in everyday life in the West. Questions of media literacy and youth cultures, ways of learning with and in media have informed her research and activities ever since. In his introduction, Martin Brynskow asked where insights about future developments were best to be perceivable, whether in the US, Europe or Asia, and whether there are common lessons we can share to build sustainable societies.

Ito opened her talk with the question in what ways expert cultures and citizens (learners, youth, employees …) can interact beyond the established models of formal education.  Her talk addressed the challenges of learning in an era of abundant connectivity and how to leverage the potential of endless information resources and expert cultures for those who are not socially or culturally connected to them. How can learners from diverse background make the most of this environment? All institutions that channel access to information and knowledge, e.g., schools, universities but also administrations, are largely based on different technological conditions of regulated access (and artificial scarcity). But are they ready for this new interconnected age?

Among young people, usage time of media (in whatever form) is on the rise in the US, peeking at around 9 hours a day used for television, gaming (across gender lines), and maintaining social relationships online and offline. While in the early 2000’s, meeting people online (only) was still regarded as a little weird, now, it more common to meet online (first) and (sometimes) take connections to the “real life”. (Pew Research (2015). “Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015“)

What happens when younger, always connected students confront traditional formats of knowledge creation and learning? Engagement in community services and school activities steadily declines from elementary school to high school. In the US, 45% of college students show very little learning in the first two years (See  Arum, Richard; Roksa, Josipa (2011). Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. University of Chicago Press). In addition, expenditure for out-of-school activities is on the rise for high income families but stalls for low-income families. But informal learning in social experiences, creative work, etc. is becoming more and more important for a successful professional life (See Duncan, Greg J.; Murnane, Richard J. (2011). Whither Opportunity?: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

IN THEORY, the abundance of digital resources for learning should encourage a lot of forms of informal learning. THE PROBLEM, of course, is that an abundance of choices overpowers and that highly educated and well-sourced learners are the most likely to take free open online courses. “The rich get richer” and the better educated you are the better you can educate yourself, ITO suggested (See Hansen, John D.; Reich, Justin (2015). “Democratizing Education? Examining Access and Usage Patterns in Massive Open Online Courses.” Science 350(6265): 1245-1248.)

Trying to overcome this digital divide, connected learning as it is championed and developed by ITO and her colleagues at the CL Alliance needs to be embedded in personal interests, (real) opportunities and peer culture. Learning is best achieved when it creates a form of connected learning where all these three elements are strengthened. SO FAR, individual interests and activities remain isolated and detached from schools curricula and formal learning tracks. People who navigate the classic track in institutions successfully, usually also have a very strong network outside of these institutions that supports the path.

Learning for everyone, to be inclusive and to level social inequalities, must connect learning experiences through mentorship and “guide people to opportunities.” Formal schemes for mentorship are more widespread in companies and as a form of career training. MOST MENTORING in school age happens INFORMALLY (through families, networks of friends). Mentoring does not solve all problems of learning and developing a sense of self. But the HUMAN CONNECTION to a mentor makes LEARNING more successful. Learning and creating something together gives it a purpose beyond the formal attainment of grades or degrees. Sharing work and getting recognition for achievements is the single most important factor for successful learning.

Connected Learning Research Network // // Affinity Project

Mimi ITO / 伊藤瑞子 //


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