Connected learning goes to medical school

Connected Learning has evolved since I wrote my dissertation on it a couple years ago. Back then, the Connected Learning Alliance was promoting an awkward framework that combined learner perspectives and instructional design in the same space (who does that?).  But now they have boiled their messaging down to the essence:

Connected learning is an educational approach that combines learner interests, relationships, and opportunities to promote deeper, inclusive, and powerful learning. To break it down, briefly:

  • Learner interests emerge from a spectrum of contexts including personal passions, community and culture, and career goals and aspirations.
  • Relationships between peers and mentors allow everyone to engage in information sharing, knowledge construction, and feedback for the purpose of benefiting everyone.
  • Opportunities are authentic, real-world activities brokered* by faculty, student mentors, and institutions (*brokered =  sharing information and resources, making introductions, providing funding, smoothing out the logistics, etc).
  • Deeper learning means effective learning, in terms of increased retention, better application, and easier transfer.
  • Inclusive learning means that which clicks with more and more diverse student bodies.
  • Powerful learning is that which makes a difference in terms of empowering learners but also benefiting something or someone beyond the individual learner.

Okay, now that that is explained…

Connected learning has reached medical education, although it is not called by that name. You can find connected learning in the Genes to Society curriculum at Johns Hopkins University.  They call it Precision Education.

Johns Hopkins has prioritized digital platforms that allow students to consume, share, and collaborate in the construction of knowledge with their peers and faculty.  They learn to choose what they consume strategically and based on personal interest.  Their mentors focus on helping students make connections between those interests and career goals. In providing a digitally-driven network of resources (peers, faculty mentors, and well-curated content), they are reaching and supporting students of diverse backgrounds and goals.  That’s my summary, but here’s the article:

Excerpts from Precision Education in the [Johns Hopkins] School of Medicine’s 125th Year

Goldberg and his team are designing a system where medical students can explore facets of particular subjects that interest them before, during and after traditional classroom lectures. An online network of articles, videos, discussions and even notes from other students opens up new options for class preparation and engagement. He adds that not only can students assume greater control over their own learning, but that this approach allows courses to grow into dynamic collections of materials shared by faculty as well as students.

I started to bold the parts of this quote with direct connections to connected learning, but I had more words bolded than not, so I gave up. But note the dynamic collections of materials created by FACULTY AND STUDENTS. To continue here is more about community and peer support…

“The idea is that we are creating a community of learners, that we’re all in this together,” says Goldberg. “It’s often more difficult for the expert to explain something to the person who is not the expert than it is for a colleague to explain it to that non-expert.”

and some more about empowering students to see the connections between personal interests and potential career pathways…

“This has the potential to help students learn more about themselves,” he says. “If a student takes an interest in a particular area, such as biomedical ethics, that may be something he or she could make a career of.”

and let’s end with some diversity and inclusivity…

Precision education also addresses the disparate experiences and interests that exist among students who come to medicine from different academic backgrounds.

“Currently, every student receives the same information regardless of their academic needs. Such standardization compromises our ability to enhance creativity, wonder and academic diversity of thought,” Harry Goldberg says.

The digital pedagogies are sinking in, even if people aren’t naming them correctly.  In fact, I can’t think of anything worse than “precision education” as a name for connected learning. Currently, I’m imagining the connected learning gurus hearing that term and immediately turning off and tuning out, thinking that they are about to hear another promotion for learning analytics. Get Johns Hopkins a new branding team for goodness sake but don’t throw away what they actually mean by it, because it’s all good.


Featured Image: Owen Beard on Unsplash

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