Linked Learning Convention 2018: Keeping Youth at the Center of our Work

Anne B. Stanton, president of the Linked Learning Alliance
February 22, 2018

I can’t think of a better way to kick off my first month as president of the Linked Learning Alliance than the 2018 convention. Did you see the student dancers from El Modena High School who opened our first day? What a treat to watch them and the nearly 50 Linked Learning pathways students who were performers, presenters, and interns at our largest convention yet–reminding us why what we do matters. Over two days, more than 900 convention delegates focused on equity, quality, and the power of partnerships, surrounded by youth who are at the center of our work. I’m proud to say that these themes will be central to the Alliance’s efforts in 2018 and beyond.

“Angelic troublemakers” in our pursuit of equity
I hope that every attendee came away as inspired as I am about equity as an essential pillar of Linked Learning after hearing our keynote speaker, Ryan Smith, executive director of the Education Trust-West. His address motivated me to work even harder to ensure that all young people have access to Linked Learning pathways that prepare them for educational success, fulfilling careers, and economic mobility. I’m counting on all of the “angelic troublemakers” who will join and support our work. We also had nearly 150 presenters who facilitated conversations about equity, cross-systems partnership, pathway design, and leadership, among other topics, in nearly 100 breakout sessions. I was amazed by the creativity generated at the Makerspace, where delegates made animal bots and flashlights and “buddies” to adorn their Convention badges. Activities like these were made possible by the CSU and our other co-hosts and sponsors, to whom we are incredibly grateful.

Balancing growth and quality in pathways
It was my privilege at the Convention to update delegates on the state of the Linked Learning field now, and our focus in the near term. For those who weren’t able to make it to Anaheim, I’d like to recap a few key points here:

First, I’m proud to say that Linked Learning is in a period of tremendous growth. Today’s context is so different than when we began over ten years ago. Our continued growth will rely on us testing and building new muscles, finding new peers and partners, using new tools to help us ensure quality as we increase scale, and maintaining deep connections that help us gain new insights and wisdom. We were thrilled to welcome nearly 100 delegates from other states this year, with teams coming from Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Michigan, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., and Hawaii. They are contributing significantly to our insight and wisdom by sharing their experiences in different state contexts, and we look forward to their continued involvement.

Second, our pursuit of quality in Linked Learning pathways is steadfast. From research and data, we know that fidelity drives quality, and quality drives positive student outcomes. This is one reason we introduced Linked Learning Certification –to enable schools and districts to gauge and celebrate their pathway’s progress against a set of shared standards, requirements, and definitions of quality. At last year’s Convention we introduced candidate- and silver-level certification. This week we announced the imminent availability of gold-level certification.

Among the things we celebrated together is the fact that nearly 500 pathways have registered on Linked Learning Certification, representing 83 districts in 17 states and 3 countries. These encompass nearly 120,000 students in Linked Learning pathways. We were proud to cheer for the 20 pathways have achieved Linked Learning Silver certification. These pathways are now ready to go for the gold by demonstrating even higher fidelity in pathway design and using data to show improvement in student outcomes.

One benefit for pathways that have achieved Silver certification is that students in select pathways will have access to industry digital badges—such as the health badge that we just announced—which signal to employers that students have the skills and expertise they need to be successful in that field. Students that achieve this badge also get preferred access to specific internships and can benefit from financial support to take industry certification exams. In further pursuit of quality, we are employing tools such as LaunchPath to help connect Linked Learning students to thousands of work-based learning and internship opportunities. Our longitudinal database, Linked Learning Analytics, is being expanded to connect K-12, postsecondary, and work-based learning data to highlight our students’ progress from high school to and through post-secondary.

Partnerships and youth at the core of Linked Learning
Even as Linked Learning expands, our core principles abide. First, partnerships and collaborations continue to be critical to this work. Public/private, cross-sector, and cross-system partnerships will continue to help us scale quality pathways. Second, young people will always be at the center of our efforts. We were reminded of this at the Convention this year where we were energized by dancers and musicians in performing arts pathways, informed by student presenters from Linked Learning pathways, and impressed with the professionalism of student interns from hospitality and tourism pathways who managed registration, the SWAG store, and other Convention logistics.

I couldn’t be more proud of the state of Linked Learning today or more excited about where our more than 900 convention delegates and others will take us in the near future.