1.1 The Value of Connected Learning Programs

Connected learning is an educational framework for creating engaging learning experiences. In brief, connected learning is characterized by…

  • Teens learning through relationships, with other teens as well as adults
  • Programs that are aligned with teens’ goals, motivations and interests
  • Orientation towards academic, civic, or economic opportunities
  • Production centered learning through creation
  • Providing teens with guidance and resources, building pathways to success
  • Instilling a sense of shared purpose
  • Sponsorship of teens’ interests, validating them through mentorship and other support

what's this all about?

If these terms are unfamiliar to you, or if you need a refresher course on connected learning, review the Introduction to Connected Learning before continuing.

Libraries have been known for access to information — that’s where you get this stuff to read, primarily — but now there’s an iterative process between accessing information and creating new information. So libraries have become spaces for innovation and for making things, whether they’re websites, or podcasts, or even physical objects, like things you make with a 3D printer.”

— Joan Lippincott1

As Dr. Lippincott states in the quote above, libraries have been undergoing transformation from passive archives of information to active community centers for learning and creation. In The Future of Library Services For and With Teens: A Call to Action, an already-seminal work, the authors present a modern vision of teen library services that embrace diversity, build 21st century skills, and engage teens as active participants in their own learning. The 21st century library is no longer a “grocery store” of information, it is a “kitchen” full of tools and resources to help teens create new knowledge in the modern, digital-centric.

Connected learning, with its emphasis on creation and ownership, is well-suited for 21st century library teen services. The Future of Library Services For and With Teens: A Call to Action outlines five issues that libraries face due to changing technology and demographics, four key things that teens need from libraries, along with several implications for library operations. These points are summarized in the box below, and you can use them as the basis for talking to your colleagues about why connected learning is important for your library.

the Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action

The following points are from the YALSA report, The Future of Library Services For and With Teens: A Call to Action, by Linda Braun, Maurnee Hartman, Sandra Hughes-Hassell, Kafi Kumasi, and Beth Yoke.

Libraries are facing the following issues related to teens:

  • Teens make up a significant portion of library users
  • Library services and resources for teens are in jeopardy
  • There has been a significant shift in the demographics of teens
  • Technology continues to impact communication methods, learning, and teaching
  • Teens are entering the workforce without critical skills

What teens need from libraries:

  • Bridge the growing digital and knowledge divide
  • Leverage teens’ motivation to learn
  • Provide workforce development training
  • Serve as the connector between teens and other community agencies

To learn more about these issues and needs, read the full report. A three-page executive summary is also available.

YALSA’s Teen Programming Guidelines

In conjunction with the Future of Library Services, YALSA developed an extensive set of guidelines for teen programming that exemplifies the new way of approaching youth services, including the recommendation to develop programs that support connected learning. ConnectedLib complements many of the YALSA guidelines, including:

  • create programming that reflects the needs and identities of all teens in the community (see the Community Mapping module)
  • facilitate teen-led programs (see the Mentoring module)
  • develop interest-based, developmentally appropriate programs that support connected learning (see the Youth Development module)
  • develop rich, mutually beneficial community partnerships (see the Community Partnerships module)
  • engage in youth-driven, evidence-based evaluation and outcome measurement (see the Assessment & Evaluation module)
  • ensure that programs are staffed sufficiently and appropriately, providing staff with the training and knowledge they need (see the Capacity module)
  • use human-centered approaches to program development and involve teens in the process (see the Design Thinking module)

Connected learning looks beyond traditional programming models and even beyond the library for learning opportunities, leveraging community partners and teens themselves as valuable resources. We’ll look at some of these in the following sections, but first we’ll learn about program design.

Learning Exercise: Your Current Teen Programs

How do your current teen offerings illustrate the principles of connected learning listed above? If they don’t, what are some ways you could integrate them into your existing programs? You can use your work from Section 2 in the Introduction to Connected Learning module if you’ve completed it. If you want, you can focus on a single program, project, or initiative. If you are not currently working in a library, choose a library you are familiar with and learn about their youth programs.

Download worksheet (DOCX)

Programs are aligned with teens’ goals, motivations and interests
Teens learn through relationships, with other teens as well as adults
Orientation towards academic, civic, or economic opportunities
Production centered learning through creation
Providing teens with guidance and a variety of resources to build pathways to success
Sponsorship of teens’ interests, validating them through mentorship and other support
Instilling a sense of shared purpose among teens or between teens and other community members

1: Making the Case for 21st Century Libraries. Learning Spaces Collaboratory, 2018.