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Chicago: From conventional learning to connected learning

Connected learning connects young people to additional opportunities, leading to skill-building, civic participation, and deeper learning.

Connected learning happens at the intersection of young people’s interests, opportunities, and relationships. When young people are afforded the opportunity to pursue their interests and passions alongside their friends, families, and other caring adults, the learning that results can boost academic achievement and prepare kids for career success and civic engagement.

Learning Forerunner


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Learning Forerunners Across America

Web presence






Target group
June 2020

About the innovation

How can connected learning transform whole cities into leaning laboratories?


In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire ravaged the City of Chicago, burning it to the ground. From that tragedy, Chicago rebuilt with an eye toward building “big things” and new innovations. Chicago introduced the first elevated train line — now known as the “L” — and established the Chicago Public Library, a free public library system.

Fast forward 150 years, and innovation is still core to Chicago’s story. Although it’s a lesser-known story, Chicago has played a leading role in hands-on, digital learning that has scaled locally and nationally. More specifically, much of the framework called connected learning originated in Chicago and was first implemented at YOUmedia, the Chicago Public Library's digital learning space for teens.

Chicago is now a global city with abundant opportunities to learn. But it’s also a tale of two cities, where abundance is not equitably distributed and learning experiences aren’t always grounded in young people's interests or connected to further opportunity.

Chicago Learning Exchange (CLX)

Connected learning provides a foundation for much of the Chicago Learning Exchange's (CLX) work and is based on more than a decade of research into the factors that lead to deeper engagement among youth, regardless of their socio-economic background. CLX created a Connected Learning Guide that translates research into an easy-to-use reference for educators, mentors, and other youth-serving professionals. The guide has been the template for organizations in Chicago and across the nation.

Chicago Learning Exchange (CLX)'s Commitment

CLX practices connected learning by fostering connective tissue among organizations to share, collaborate, and exchange resources and best practices. The community aspect of connected learning is pivotal — there is no connectivity without sharing. Connecting educators across disciplines and institutions enables a more holistic array of opportunities for all children.

Examples and highlights:

  • CLX community member Civitas Education Partners: Community Impact Experienceinspires, challenges, and prepares students to impact their communities and the world as consultants, designers, problem solvers, critical thinkers, and innovators. Students from two different charter high schools are given the opportunity to commute off-campus to a coworking space to work collaboratively and use their own interests and passions to solve challenges pitched by community organizations, businesses, or student ventures. Students earn work experience and high school credits in statistics, English, and global studies as part of the program through their project-based, connected learning.

  • YOUmediais a21st-century teen digital learning space at 23 Chicago Public Librarylocations, with 30 expected by the end of 2020. With an emphasis on digital media and the maker movement, teens engage in projects across a variety of core content areas, including graphic design, photography, video and music production, 2D/3D design, STEM, and hands-on making with the support of skilled mentors. All YOUmedia locations have laptops, cameras, music and gaming equipment, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, and more. It's an open environment where youth choose what they want to do, and library staff provide mentoring and coaching as well as connection to experts. A node on a teen’s pathway to lifelong learning, YOUmedia connects teens to other learning opportunities, leading to skill-building as well as college and career development. The concept has been adopted in the US and beyond.

  • The underlying research, conceptualization and creation of YOUmedia was created by Digital Youth Network and funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which in 2004 set out to develop new approaches to pedagogy and instruction in the context of networked media environments that were rapidly changing how information was created, disseminated, remixed, and reinvented.

Impact & scalability

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