New like e-textbook new?

I started writing a comment on George’s spot post Connected Learning: What have they done with Alec, Will, Vicki?, prompted by the announcement coming out of the DML conference in San Francisco of a “new” learning model called connected learning. I quickly realized that what I wanted to say was not a comment, but a blog post.

It’s a post that is also a reaction to a tweet that Alec Couros made about the same connected learning initiative over the weekend:

I get Alec’s point. Reading about the initiative did feel more than just a bit familiar. Is this really “new” as the press has been spinning it?

Well, it’s probably new like e-textbooks became “new and revolutionary” once Apple decided to get involved. Get a juggernaut like the MacArthur Foundation on board with an initiative and it is bound to cause a splash.

I also take George’s point that it is important to acknowledge the people who have been pushing this model of learning for may years. But I actually take the connected learning initiative as an acknowledgment of their hard work, and the hard work of many people over the years. It is the continuing evolution of many conversations that have been pulsing around the edges of numerous communities for quite a while now.

It has me wondering if we aren’t hitting some kid of tipping point in the whole networked/connected/distributed learning world? That there are more conversations going on about it in many diverse communities? In short, is “connected learning” (or whatever you choose to call it) going mainstream?

One of my staff said to me recently “edtech is the new vertical”. Once the public educator in me suppressed my urge to throw up at the VC speak, I found myself agreeing. It seems that the edtech space is “in play”. Money is being invested. Startups are being funded. Things seem to be happening.

Not that I want to lump connected learning with the edtech startup space. Rather, my point being that there is a lot of conversation happening in many diverse communities about this topic, so it seems inevitable that a high profile initiative like connected learning seemingly pops up out of nowhere. It’s in the air.

But I look at the names of the people floating around the initiative and I wonder – did this really just pop-up? I mean, it is coming out of the MacArthur Foundation, an organization that has more than a casual relationship with learning & technology.

I see names like Mimi Ito and Howard Rheingold associated with this initiative. Hardly newcomers, or people who have popped up out of nowhere. John Seely Brown gave the keynote at the conference and, judging from the casual banter, obviously knows Mimi Ito and her work. Howard Jenkins seems to be a fan. These are people who’s work I deeply respect and admire, and who have been either directly in the edtech space or working very close to the edges of the space for a long time. I see their names floating around a project and I pay attention.

Ultimately, I think the connected learning initiative is a good thing. A very good thing, actually. A research initiative that focuses on the type of learning I think is important – networked, collaborative, digital. A pedagogy of the internet, which is what I think open learning/open pedagogy, connected learning, distributed learning, networked learning <insert phrase of your choice> is all about. It what drew me – and continues to draw me – to the work of people like Alec, George, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormie (and others) just as it draws me to the work of the people who I see associated with the connected learning initiative.

New? No. Which I actually think the connected learning initiative acknowledges when they state that (emphasis mine) “Connected learning is a work in progress, building on existing models, ongoing experimentation, and dialog with diverse stakeholders.”

As Alec noted in a tweet later in the day, that last point is crucial. A “dialog with diverse stakeholders” :

The conversation is longer. Much longer. But it is happening. And in a lot of different spaces. I saw many people in my PLN at the DML conference, getting excited about what they were seeing. Talking about it. Practicing connected/network/distributed/open learning. Which is, ultimatley, what we all want to see happen.

So, let the conversation begin continue.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


2 thoughts on “New like e-textbook new?

  1. I think there’s even a deeper reason for the recognition of theorists & practitioners in this space – one of the tenets of connected learning *should be* attribution, not just because attribution is ethical and professionally the right thing to do but because without it, you are disconnecting from previous understandings of individuals and groups – those that have explored these questions and spaces for many years previous to this *new* initiative.

    1. I was happy to see both Mimi Ito and Howard Rheingold comment on George's post because that is what I see as part of the conversation & connections that need to happen.

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