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The MacArthur Foundation, for example, recently switched from over two decades of funding school-based education reform to what they now call Connected Learning — promoting changes in how youth learn and how we adults can support them. Connected Learning, in short, encourages youth to pursue knowledge or expertise about something that gets them excited while receiving support from both their peers and the institutions around them. From MacArthur’s perspective, we have to stop asking, “What is a child learning?” which focuses on the outcomes, and ask instead, “Is the child engaged?” which focuses on the experience of learning and creating a need to know.
The myth of the self-directed learner suggests youth can do it on their own. But, in fact, they need our help to develop that need to know. Sure, we can all point to an exceptional young person, but most don’t know how to pursue their own interests. They don’t yet know their own minds. That is where we come in.
To ignite their “need to know” we need to train young people to learn how to learn, to be able to navigate the rich “learning ecologies,” or networks, they will cultivate throughout their lives. We already know how to help them navigate their identities as they move in and out of Jewish contexts — why should navigating between their online and offline lives be any different?
The fact is, I may have developed an interest in computers as a teenager, but I could never have pursued that interest without the active engagement of the adults around me. My parents introduced me to my first computer class, while my teacher nurtured within me an aesthetic appreciation of computer code. The anonymous adults who ran my favorite online bulletin boards counseled me on safe online practices and provided me with invaluable leadership opportunities that inform how I teach to this day. The technology might have offered me the opportunity to pursue my own interests, but thanks to the adults around me I also learned how to do that.
Will today’s youth receive the support I enjoyed to apply their new skills and knowledge, learned through digital media use, to better themselves and the world around them? Or will they be left to fend for themselves?
The choice is not up to them. It’s up to us.