This project and toolkit shared on this website start with a key theoretical assumption that learning is not something that only takes place in schools, but instead one that spans the many settings of a young person’s life. An interest in web design, for instance, might have been sparked by teen’s desire to create a blog, then extended when their school offers a web design course, deepened when they participate in an afterschool program where a group creates a campaign, and associated website, about an issue facing their community, and continued informally through conversations with friends that share their interest. The reality that learning take places in these many settings – home, school, peer groups, online contexts, early work experiences and community-based programs – is framed by learning scientists as cross-setting learning or learning as a cross-setting phenomenon (Barron, 2010; Ching et al., 2015; Penuel & Bevan, 2014)
Acknowledging this as a starting point, educational researchers have focused on the question of how continuities and discontinuities happen for young people (Bronkhorst & Akkermann, 2016). Continuities resulting in robust learning pathways around an interest that are supported across multiple settings in a way that’s mutually reinforcing. This reinforcement can result in a greater likelihood of future opportunities through deepening expertise and development of rich social capital around an interest. Discontinuities, however, can mean that an interest might get stymied, with perhaps an early experience starting in one setting, but a failure to extend that learning through new experiences in other settings.
This challenge of discontinuities in interest-driven learning pathways is a fundamental issue of equity, with youth from non-dominant and under-resourced communities often unable to pursue learning across settings. This can happen for a range of reasons – opportunities related to their interests might not exist, youth or those they’re connected to might not know about them, the timing or location of an opportunity can be a barrier, or an opportunity, while it might fit an interest, may not be in a supportive environment.
In order to address this challenge, this project focused on identifying and developing ways that educator can engage in brokering future learning opportunities. Brokering is a practice that:
- Connects youth to meaningful future learning opportunities including events, programs, internships, individuals, and institutions that will support youth in continuing their interest-driven learning.
- Enriches their social networks with adults, peers, and institutions that are connected to/have knowledge of future learning opportunities.
Through our research, we developed the model above that highlights factors relevant to a “brokering moment” – an occasion when an educator might attempt to connect a young person to a new learning opportunity. Our approach in this project was to use this theoretical model as a basis for engaging in the development of new routines and practices around brokering with community-based informal learning organizations in order to identify promising approaches and also better understand how different factors played into brokering processes.