Understanding Connected Learning


So I’m really into musicals. 98% of my readership may have just dropped out after that first sentence, but for the remaining 2%, I’m hoping this anecdote will help illustrate the topics I touch on in this blog. Musicals are a niche market and hard sell for anyone who really likes… you know… living in reality. But I digress. So. Musicals.

If you’ve been keeping up with music recently, you’d know that the 2016 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album was awarded to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of Hamilton: An American Musical.

Hamilton‘s overwhelmingly positive critical reception is a result not only of its stellar production quality. The libretto was written by lyrical genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, and it tells the biographical story of America’s most-overlooked founding father, Alexander Hamilton, and the events of his life that eventually led to his fatal duel with Aaron Burr.

A musical about the American Revolution performed in period costume is not a revolutionary concept. What makes Hamilton revolutionary is its decision to tell the story of America’s beginnings through a multi-racial cast of actors and actresses who would, in any other retelling of our nation’s history, play no significant part whatsoever. The songs are not musical theatre standards – they’re sung in the styles rap, hip-hop, reggae and R&B genres of music that were born in communities of color. Hamilton takes a traditionally white-dominated medium and uses it to showcase those who are so often ignored in history lessons; it adapts the subject matter to create a story that both honors an extraordinary man while also reclaiming elements of his story for minorities to relate back to their American experience.

What I’m interested in talking about is the aftermath of Hamilton. The cast’s Grammy performance understandably led to a large spike in interest in February of 2016, but prior to that, Hamilton had been steadily growing a community of die-hard fans online since its opening a year prior. Fan-made artworks, fanfiction, and the regular fandom fare was generated but with a unique twist: with Hamilton being a work based so heavily in historical non-fiction (Ron Chernow’s thorough biography of Alexander Hamilton served as the main source material for the show), fan-generated works began retelling other historical events with the same air of remix and tinges of pop culture.

One innovative musical breathed new life into the old, musty memories of elementary school history classes and 4th grade colonial days. American History began to be memed. Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Instagram, news sources and more erupted in a tsunami of dialogue regarding Hamilton that continues to span over topics of music, history, social activism, feminism, racism, philosophy, psychology, governmenteducation, literature and more. Musical theatre geeks, history buffs, and every impassioned nerd in between took to the Web to dissect and connect and discourse over a singular work of art.

The craziest part of all?

The majority of people involved in these discussions have never seen the musical performed.

Does it all chalk up to hearsay? Or perhaps something more?

While it’s not connected learning in the purest academic sense, I love this example. I think it speaks to the power not only of sharing work, but also of building communities and (re)discovering interests through Web-based connections. Community is, in my opinion the most valuable and tangibly enjoyable aspect of connected learning. When the day came to create a video about connected learning at ALT Lab, I knew I wanted to incorporate a cohesive style that speaks to that idea.

 The aesthetic of this video is rather simple — I used lots of smooth, vector-based images and pastel-tinged colors to create a friendly, stylized environment in which our characters (including Molly) would demonstrate the more technical aspects of connected learning. The world of aggregation, syndication, tagging, setting up plugins and every other tool we use to create Web-based connections can be daunting for a beginner– I thought it was important to lay things out as clearly and unembellished as possible. With the exception of video samples, all the elements in this video were born in the same stylistic world. They make sense together.

That visual continuity helps make the illustration of harder-to-get topics a little easier. I liked using clean lines to communicate the exchange of information between instructors, students, and online resources. One of my favorite things to animate was the white, thin “web of ideas” (there has to be a better term for that) that floats behind Molly in the opening sequence. Simplicity can be a powerful tool.

I hope that this video helps guide newcomers through connected learning in a way that helps them understand how to use these tools to expand their horizons. As my long-winded story about Hamilton shows, sharing your passions can end up like a pebble thrown into a lake — the ripple expands beyond itself, widening and widening until it touches new shores all around. Connected learning offers a means of accomplishing this in ways that are efficient, trackable and most importantly, beneficial to community building.





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