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Connected Learning, Deconstructed, with Connie Yowell of Collective Shift

Connie Yowell is the CEO and Visionary of LRNG one of the key initiatives for Collective Shift, a non-profit organization in Chicago. Prior to her current role Connie was an Academic and Professor with the MacArthur Foundation for 15 years. She credits her experience and time there with the path that has led her to running Collective Shift and launching LRNG.  She believes that ideas and work are a steady act of mix, remix, and synthesis. Connie credits her work and thought process to those she has encountered and continues to encounter on a regular basis including, researchers, scholars, practitioners and youth.

While at the MacArthur Foundation, she worked on a grant making portfolio with a budget of $250,000,000 in 2003. People were trying to understand the development and impact of digital media on the learning experiences for youth. From that deep research and experience, several fundamentals ideas came about in terms of how youth best learn. There must be a connection between youth and their learning/futures.

This connected learning approach is at the core of engaging and enhancing the level of learning. The simplistic and overarching themes can be reduced to three points; 1) Youth must be interested and have passion, 2) There must be peer groups with shared interests and passion and finally 3) there must be a path to opportunities for them. LRNG seeks to help students find their passion along with connecting their skills with real world applications.

Coming out of MacArthur she learned that there are extraordinary assets available for students and recognizes that there is a staunch gap between those assets and underprivileged students. There is a loss in connecting underprivileged youth with social and capital networks. Connie shares the need for there to be a shift from a single-sided teaching approach to enhance the learning experiences for today’s youth.

Connie lives on the southside of Chicago which is one of the 10 communities, out of 77, that is plagued by youth violence. She is raising two children one 14 and one 17. Every spring she tackles the problem of aligning summer activities with the dreams and aspirations of her boys. She dedicates a great deal of time finding and researching available programs. Then, even more time coordinating schedules and ensuring her boys have proper transportation and that they enjoy them. Realizing that she has the time and resources to connect her two sons to activities during their summers, not all are so lucky. This led to the creation of a huge goal for LRNG – the connection of programs and youth.

The Uber Analogy
Connie shares that when she first moved to the south side of Chicago and traveled a lot, she would call a taxi and then would wait…and wait. They wouldn’t show up and she missed flights because of it. Taxi drivers didn’t want to go to the Southside. When Uber came along, drivers showed up on time and when they said they would. This proved there wasn’t a shortage of drivers or cars but, an issue with regulations that prevented companies from engaging certain communities. Uber puts people together; drivers don’t have to start their own companies to work; they are able to use their platform to work and structure their activities and front facing platform for users is extremely friendly and connects the two. In correlation, consider drivers as practitioners.

Traditionally, practitioners in out-of-school programs within communities have to create their own business and back-end activities with unproven front facing platforms that more than likely don’t appeal to youth.  We need to do the same for practitioner/student relationship and out of  school activities. LRNG strives to bridge that gap and provides connections for youth and practitioners/educators. There is a need for an ecosystem for career learning and opportunities for all kids regardless place within the community.

LRNG is excited that new features are launching in April such as Librarians creating a playlist for museums so students can tap directly into their interests. LRNG has a mobile platform and through progressive development are modifying to help point students to opportunities. For example, a student interested in basketball will see there is youth program 2 blocks away. The mobile app is the tool for connection, not the prime source of involvement.

As the equity gap continues to grow we, as a society cannot afford to duplicate efforts and activities. The LRNG platform ensures all practitioners aren’t duplicating work and collectively can focus efforts on those that will benefit more over time. In closing, Connie shares the excitement about future growth and the continued increase of accessibility and inspiration of youth in school and out of school for their futures. LRNG hopes there are more connections with youth and organizational involvement.

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