With the advent of globalisation and the ever-changing world of technology, the skills required for successful participation in the labour market have shifted, with formal education settings struggling to keep pace (Davis & Fullerton, 2016). Whilst “Educational researchers list competencies such as collaboration, self-direction, systems thinking and complex communication as some of the ‘21st-century skills’ required for full and productive participation in …society” (Davis & Fullerton, 2016 pp 98), the teacher-centred education system, designed for civic participation in a manual or academically-focussed labour market, remain (Cartun et.al., 2017). The emergence of new media technologies are central in determining both the skills that have become relevant to success in the workforce, and to the way in which these skills are taught (Davis & Fullerton, 2016). As such, research suggests that the education system within Australia is failing to address such skills, and thus failing to prepare students for successful participation in a workforce requiring fluidity of knowledge, flexible thinking, collaboration and problem solving skills (Cartun et.al., 2017; Chen, 2016; Harlan, 2016; Ito et.al., 2013).
Ito et.al. (2013) purport that Connected Learning may, in fact, service the skills that the formal education setting within Australia fails to do. Connected Learning, as Ito et.al. (2013, p.4) suggest, occurs when “a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement”. Further to this, Chen (2018) states that “connected learning emphasizes a set of values regarding the creation of social, cultural, and technological foci that enable youth to link, integrate, and translate their interests across different domains”. Moreover, Bilandzic (2013) adds that Connected Learning “does not restrict learning to a particular space (school, organisation, university, etc.), but considers it to be an aggregation of individual experiences made through intrinsically motivated, active participation in and across various socio-cultural environments (school, university, cooking class, driving lessons, libraries, museums, community centres, sport clubs, home, etc.), including online spaces such as platforms for content sharing (Youtube, Flickr), collaborative authoring (Wikipedia), open discussions (blogs, forums), or social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Google+)”. Whilst Connected Learning is not solely about the use of information technology for integrated learning, it centres on how it is used to support learning through networking and collaboration.
Davis and Fullerton (2016, pp.98) purport that new media may be leveraged to “develop learners’ 21st-century skills and knowledge in a variety of formal and informal contexts and share these skills and knowledge across networks, groups, and communities” (Davis & Fullerton, 2016 pp 98). Concurrently, Connected Learning utilises networked technologies in order to provide for learning environments ‘that are academically oriented, peer supported, and interest powered, as well as production centred, openly networked, and grounded in a shared purpose’ (Davis & Fullerton, 2016 pp 98). In doing so, the Connected Learning ecosystem increases access to information and knowledge, allows participants to receive timely feedback from a network of like-minded peers and experts, and makes individualised, self-paced learning a reality (Davis & Fullerton, 2016; Ito et. al., 2013; de Haan et. al, 2014). Consequently, Connected Learning environments are becoming increasingly appealing to youth, as they service the needs of the individual learner that the formal education system fails to attend to. As such, further investigation into a specific Connected Learning Environment will be conducted in order to explore how the learning ecosystem services the needs of its members in accordance with Ito et.al’s (2013) Connected Learning frameworks.
Entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly important in today’s society, however, the ability of the formal education system to address the relevant skills required for successful entrepreneurship is limited. In response to such shortcomings, Griffith University have helped to foster entrepreneurship by developing a Connected Learning ecosystem for those interested in innovation, problem solving, creativity, and start-up businesses (refer Figure 1) (Griffith University, 2018). In order to evaluate the Connected Learning environment that Griffith has fostered, various aspects of the learning ecosystem will be analysed against the Connected Learning framework proposed by Ito et. al. (2013).
Figure 1: Cognitive mapping of the Griffith University Innovation and Entrepreneurship ecosystem. (for a larger view of the mapping of the Connected Learning Environment, please follow this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LlqWG3p_ok6ewdEVgS2WdUwsofzjFWkZ/view?usp=sharing)
In order for a Connected Learning environment to be successful, Ito et.al. (2013) claim that the ecosystem must be interest-powered, peer supported, academically oriented, production-centred, openly networked and promote a shared purpose (Refer Table 1) (Ito et.al, 2013; Maul et.al., 2017). In order to assess the adequacy of Griffith’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship ecosystem (GIEE) as a Connected Learning environment, each category will be analysed in order to formulate recommendations for maintenance and/or change.
Table 1: The Connected Learning Principles and Core Properties (Ito et.al., 2013)
In order for rich, interest-driven learning to achieve longevity, Ito et.al. (2013) suggest that peer networks are imperative. Concurrently, Kellogg et.al. (2014) assert that peer-supported learning serves to facilitate learning outcomes, claiming that “studies have found relationships between network measures and academic outcomes like knowledge construction, academic performance, and positive dispositions toward the learning experience”. Furthermore, the Constructivist learning theory posits that “learning takes place when learners make connections between ideas located throughout their personal learning networks, which are composed of numerous information resources and technologies….[and] from an individual’s learning network” (Dunaway, 2011).
With this in mind, it could be suggested that GIEE not only centres on peer support and networked learning, but it relies on it for its successful continuance. A variety of learning opportunities form the core of the GIEE, with face-to-face networking, social media support groups, challenges, workshops and competitions being developed both by the institution, and by interest-driven peers themselves. Such opportunities conform with the Connected Learning design principle of interconnection, whilst allowing for mutual, collaborative contributions, and timely feedback from a number of sources, all in “…inclusive social experiences that are fluid and highly engaging” (Ito et.al., 2013). Whilst formal education in the 21st century in Australia often offers some form of peer interaction via in-class tasks or study activities utilising social media-style platforms, the fluidity, engagement and ownership of knowledge traditionally remain highly restricted (Ito et.al., 2013). As such, it could be suggested that support groups such as the Griffith League of United Entrepreneurs (GLUE), the availability of maker spaces around the campus and the accessibility of collaborative workshops and challenges such as Hackathons and pitching competitions allow for continual feedback and feedforward loops, allowing students to support each other in flexible environments whilst learning the 21st century skills required for success in the current and future labour market (Corneli & Mikroyannidis, 2011). In this vein, GIEE effectively incorporates peer-support for improved learning outcomes.
Student-centred, peer-supported learning is at odds with the formal education system as a whole, with interest-driven activities being limited due to the rigid, highly structured nature of educational settings due, in the most part, to the necessity for formal outcome measures and the ability (borne in human resources) to be able to support students en masse (Ito et.al., 2013). In conflict with traditional education systems, Connected Learning offers students the opportunity to develop skills, gather and produce knowledge in accordance with one’s interests. Martin (2016) suggests that "in interest-driven communities, youth have the opportunity to grow and explore, where they can gain expertise and experience in a plethora of areas". Thus, it is imperative, for the success of the Connected Learning ecosystem, that it be interest-driven.
As GIEE is not bound by formal education, it is not driven by outcome measures and enrolment requirements. As such, GIEE is routed in voluntary, interest-driven participation. Peers can come and go as they please, and engagement with each aspect of the ecosystem is entirely at the mercy of the individual. In recognising this, the ecosystem provides for social media interaction (through platforms such as Facebook, You Tube and Twitter), face-to-face informal meet-ups (through their maker spaces), and more formal interactions (such as workshops, mentorship and competitions) (refer Figure 2). This allows the individual choice and flexibility in how they engage with their interest, thereby increasing the likelihood of active, meaningful, and prolonged participation (Ito et.al., 2013; Martin, 2016).
Figure 2: Optional elements of the GIEE connected learning ecosystem (Griffith University, 2019)
Whilst interest-driven learning increases engagement, youths’ “…ability to take that further often depends on the connected learning environments they are in and the opportunities they have to see their interest in a larger environment” (Martin, 2016). Ito et.al. (2013) further supports this by suggesting that “learners flourish and realize their potential when they can connect their interests and social engagement to academic studies, civic engagement, and career opportunity”. Therefore, for increased success, a Connected Learning ecosystem must have benefits peripheral to that of the core interest environment.
The GIEE learning environment encourages the development of skills which will prove beneficial within the realms of academia, civic engagement and career opportunities. The integration of peer-supported, feedback-oriented networks (e.g. the GLUE social media focus group), industry-specific workshops, competitions and challenges, and formal mentoring structures ensures that the development of skills in the interest-driven environment are relevant beyond the confines of the ecosystem. By allowing the dissemination and co-creation of information from and with experts and peers specifically focussed on innovation and entrepreneurship, achievement possibilities peripheral to the Connected Learning ecosystem are enhanced, and the success of the Connected Learning environment is improved (Ito et.al., 2013).
The Core Properties of the Connected Learning Environment:
Production-Centred, Shared Purpose, Openly Networked
Connectivism requires that “…learning takes place when learners make connections between ideas located throughout their personal learning networks, which are composed of numerous information resources and technologies” (Dunaway, 2011). Moreover, Kellogg et.al. (2014) propose that the reciprocity and knowledge exchange (production) that is normalised by technology serves to increase the likelihood of success of the Connected Learning ecosystem. Concurrently, by requiring such active knowledge production, the design principles relating to constant challenge and experiential learning is adhered to. For such exchanges of knowledge to be possible, Kellogg et.al. (2014) suggest that collaborative problem solving and the co-creation of knowledge is only possible when social networks have a shared purpose at their core. Finally, Ito et.al. (2013) posit that “digital tools can make learning resources abundant, accessible, and visible across all learner settings”.
The GIEE promotes the production of “…a wide variety of media, knowledge, and cultural content in experimental and active ways” (Ito et.al., 2013) through the use of formal and informal systems (refer Figure 3). An example of this is that group members may wish to enter a pitching competition, whereby they are required to develop a business pitch and deliver it in front of a panel and live audience for judgement. Meanwhile, they may contribute to discussion forums, generate informative videos and participate in workshops with like-minded individuals (with a shared purpose) to enhance their skills via knowledge and resource production. Such opportunities that extend data interactions from information gathering to knowledge production enhance the effectiveness of the Connected Learning ecosystem.
Figure 3: A snapshot of the variety of opportunities available through the GIEE Connected Learning ecosystem (Griffith University, 2019)
Based on the above analysis, it is evident that the GIEE thoroughly and successfully meets most of the requirements of the Connected Learning environment, although it falls short in terms of open networking and the design principle focussed on open participation. Whilst the use of social media and websites as a central means for knowledge gathering, sharing and production has been vital to the success of the Connected Learning ecosystem, some of the environments in which the interest-driven learning takes place, restricts membership to those who are currently enrolled as Griffith University students (refer Figure 4). Such restrictions limit the success of the Connected Learning environment by serving to promote inequity amongst individuals who share the same interests, thereby limiting the knowledge pool within the ecosystem (Ito et.al., 2013). However, as Martin (2016) suggests that “not all principles [of the Connected Learning Framework] have to be present for a connected learning environment to be present” there is no denying that the GIEE is a successful Connected Learning ecosystem in its current form. For increased future success, however, it is recommended that the GIEE be extended to allow for the active and complete participation of any individuals with a shared-interest in innovation and entrepreneurship (regardless of their enrolment status). This would more appropriately align the Connected Learning ecosystem by subscribing to the principle of open networking and the design principle of open participation (Ito et.al., 2013). Consequently, the knowledge pool within the environment should increase, the quality of networking and mentoring opportunities should improve, and the products required within workshops, challenges and competitions should increase in quality (Ito et.al., 2013).
Figure 4: Griffith University's representation of their Connected Learning ecosystem (Griffith University, 2019)
Whilst the GIEE is a successful Connected Learning environment, encompassing a plethora of formal and informal learning opportunities across a variety of technological and face-to-face platforms, the ‘restricted’ nature of some of its platforms is limiting. By opening each of the networked learning opportunities equally, the likelihood that GIEE will experience exponential growth in popularity is high. By providing equal access to all GIEE learning experiences, the learning outcomes of all involved is significantly enhanced, and the longevity of GIEE is assured.
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