School & District Management Opinion

Aspen Report Validates and Accelerates Shift to Connected Learning

By Tom Vander Ark — June 16, 2014 3 min read
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Last summer the Aspen Institute launched a task force commissioned to better understand the potential of
connected learning. After a year of research and outreach, today the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and Internet released a new report that describes a vision for an
approach to teaching and learning that places the student at the center. “Learner at the Center of a Networked World” balances both vision and action by
imagining what a connected set of learning experiences could entail and outlining how we can get there.

In describing the vision, the report describes five essential principles for creating what the task force describes as “safe, optimized and rewarding
learning experiences.”

  1. Learners need to be at the center of new learning networks.

  2. Every student should have access to learning networks.

  3. Learning networks need to be interoperable.

  4. Learners should have the literacies necessary to utilize media as well as safeguard themselves in a digital age.

  5. Students should have safe and trusted environments for learning.

In addition to describing a vision, the report also offers a series of twenty-six actionable recommendations that speak to stakeholder involvement from the
government, parents, educators, school district leaders, students, foundations, nonprofits and businesses.

The recommendations offer advice on everything from learning environments bolstered by “next-generation models, strategies, tools, services and platforms”
to improved infrastructure that base bandwidth needs “not on the needs of the institution as a whole but on the collective needs of all learners that they
serve.” The recommendations and related actions also address policy support around interoperability, funding and student privacy -- echoing many of the
recommendations made in the DLN Smart Series collection of papers.

The paper makes frequent reference to “learning networks” implying linked experiences inside and outside formal institutions--a broader concept than when
we refer to school networks (here for example) as a group of schools with a
common model, support services, and tools. The more expansive use of “network” as connections between experiences is appealing but would require an equally
robust set of guidance and support services as outlined in a recent DLN paper

Core & More: Guiding and Personalizing College & Career Readiness


Perhaps the most challenging of the recommendations is the call for “new competency-based learning approaches that recognize knowledge, skills and
competencies achieved in or outside of schools.” Recent market research shows that the toolset
for performance assessment and mastery-tracking isn’t up to this ambitious vision. Even more challenging will be assessment frameworks that span formal and
informal settings and the weighted portable funding to go with it.

Written by a task force that represents a wide range of political affiliations, interests and expertise, “Learner at the Center of a Networked World”
represents an exciting endorsement and advancement of many of the key principles advocated for by leaders in the shift to personalized learning such as The Clayton Christensen Institute, Digital Learning Now, iNACOL, Educause. The validation of Common Core State Standards and ideas like
competency-based learning and expanded student records as well as acknowledgement of key issues such as data privacy and equitable access signals a turning
point in the national conversation around connected learning.

To learn more about the Task Force’s findings and the recommendations, check out
this video overview

. Join John Bailey, Maria Teresa Kumar and select Task Force members at 3:30 p.m. ET today for a panel discussion moderated by Charlie Firestone,
Executive Director of the Communications and Society Program at the Aspen Institute.

Tune in here
for the live stream. Join the conversation on Twitter #AspenTaskForce, @DigLearningNow and @AspenTaskForce.

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.