What is Connected Learning?

Connected learning combines peoples’ personal interest, supportive relationships and opportunties. It is learning in an age of abundant access to information and social connection that embraces the diverse backgrounds and interests of all young people.


Leaner's Interests


Abigail is an avid fan of popular culture. She loves Harry Potter and the boy band One Direction.

Leaner's Interests


Abigail discovers One Direction and Harry Potter fanfiction and a supportive community on Wattpad, an online publishing app. She begins writing her own fanfiction on there, gaining a following and confidence.

Leaner's Interests


Based on her experiences writing online, Abigail decides she wants to become a professional writer. She applies and gets accepted to a specialized creative writing program at a magnet high school.

Read more about positive peer relationships on Wattpad here, in a report.


The research is clear: Learning is resilient and relevant when connected to genuine interests, supported by meaningful relationships and tied to real-world opportunity.

Learning Model Vin Diagram
Interests Icon


Learning is intrinsically motivating when it grows out of personal interest. A growing body of research indicates that interest helps us pay attention, make connections, persist and engage in deeper learning. For example, when reading about games they enjoy playing, teenage boys read at a much higher level than their reading level in school.

Interests Icon


Learners need support from peers and mentors to persist through setbacks and challenges. A survey of 30,000 college graduates found that a strong connection to a faculty member doubled the positive life outcomes of graduates. Learn more about the power of interest-based mentorship in this infographic.

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Success beyond the classroom requires tangible connections to real-world career and civic opportunities. The Digital Youth Network provided in- and out-of-school connected learning experiences to low-income students in Chicago. They surpassed their more privileged peers, growing up in Silicon Valley, in 21st-century competencies and digital media engagement.

Learn more about research on connected learning from the Connected Learning Research Network.


YOUMedia, a youth digital makerspace in Chicago’s main downtown public library, embodies the design principles of connected learning.

YOUmedia centers on digital media production such as music, art, poetry and journalism. Young people can “hang out socially, mess around with new projects and geek out” in areas of specialization when they want to take the leap. Librarians and mentors organize showcases, support the production of various projects and broker connections to other opportunities in their interest area.

Youth who participated at YOUmedia saw clear results.

  • Feeling emotionally and physically safe and a sense of belonging
  • Becoming more involved in the chosen interests they brought to YOUmedia
  • Improving in at least one digital media skill
  • Improving academic skills: better communication with adults and improved writing ability
  • Understanding more about opportunities available to them after high school

Read more about research on YOUmedia from the Chicago Consortium for School Research and the Connected Learning Alliance. Learn more about the growing network of YOUmedia learning labs in libraries and museums across the country here.


Fostering connected learning means offering rich opportunities for young people to collaborate, create and pursue their interests. Programs that foster connected learning build connection and pathways to learning opportunities in and outside of school.

Sponsorship of Youth Interests

Connected learning environments offer safe and welcoming spaces for young people to pursue their interests with peers and mentors. Learners are offered opportunities to take ownership of activities, try new things, play and experiment.


Hands-on design, creation, and production develops skills, while engaging learners in projects that build personal portfolios and contribute to their community.

Shared Purpose

Collaborative production, performances and civic activism create a sense of shared purpose and culture among learners and mentors. Young people take ownership of their learning.

Multiple Pathways

Rather than prescribe a single learning pathway, connected learning offers multiple pathways that engage the diverse needs of individual learners. Learning happens across different media and spaces and comes from a broader community of peers and mentors, as well as teachers.


Educators have been putting connected learning into practice through a wide range of networks and organizations, in both formal and informal environments.

National Writing Project
Young Adult Library Services Association

Educator Networks

The National Writing Project, Young Adult Library Services Association and the Consortium for School Networking have embraced the connected learning framework.

Connected Learning In Action

Programs and organizations designed around connected learning are serving young people around the country and world.


Libraries and museums across the country have established YOUmedia learning labs to engage thousands of young people in creative, hands-on connected learning experiences.

Quest to Learn

The Quest to Learn school in New York City continues to be a beacon for game-based connected learning. Students have shown improvement in traditional test scores, as well as assessments designed to measure critical and independent thinking.

Connected Scholars Program

The Connected Scholars Program supports college students in developing networking and relationship-building skills based on a connected learning model. Because of growth in self-efficacy and GPA and improved campus relationships, UMass Boston has rolled out the program campus-wide.

Connected Camps

Connected Camps has developed online STEM summer camps and after-school programs that connect interests in gaming with STEM learning, serving over three thousand children from diverse backgrounds.