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Answers to frequently asked questions about Linked Learning: Pathways to College, Career and Civic Participation

 

What is Linked Learning?
What does Linked Learning look like?
Is "Linked Learning" a new term for Career and Technical Education (CTE)?
Are Linked Learning pathways consistent with a college preparatory curriculum?
What does teaching and learning look like in a Linked Learning pathway?
Is there evidence that Linked Learning is an effective approach to high school improvement?
Can the traditional career-prep offered by high schools prepare students for good-paying jobs that do not require a college degree (e.g., building trades, computer technicians, mechanics, etc.)?
Why not maintain college-prep and technical career-prep programs on separate tracks so that high schools could meet the needs of every student?
Why do Linked Learning pathways generate concern among equity advocates?
Are there successful models of Linked Learning pathways within California?
Are there other questions I can ask in order to ensure a quality Linked Learning pathway is in place?


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Q:  What is Linked Learning?


A:  Linked Learning (formerly known as Multiple Pathways) is a multiyear, comprehensive program of integrated academic and professional or technical study organized around a broad theme or interest area (e.g., engineering, biomedical and health sciences, technology, arts, media and design, global studies) that provide both the academic and real-world foundations students need for advanced learning, training, and preparation for responsible civic participation.

A Linked Learning pathway consists of, at a minimum, four essential and technical components:

  • An academic core that satisfies the course requirements for entry into California’s public colleges and universities. Courses are taught using instructional strategies that intentionally bring real-world context and relevance to the curriculum by emphasizing broad themes, interest areas, and/or technical education.
  • A professional or technical core well grounded in academic and real-world standards.
  • A series of field-based learning opportunities and realistic workplace simulations that deepen students’ understanding of academic and technical knowledge through application in authentic situations.
  • Support services that meet the particular needs of students and communities including supplemental instruction that help students master the advanced academic and technical content necessary for success in college and career, counseling, and transportation.

 

Q:  What does Linked Learning look like?


A:  Linked Learning pathways come in many shapes and sizes. Programs may vary in their theme or career focus, how they organize coursework, the extent to how much time students spend on and off campus, their relationships with 2- and 4-year colleges, and their partnerships with business and industry. School structures include career academies, career/industry majors, magnet schools, occupational training centers, small themed high schools or small learning communities within large high schools.

Q:  Is “Linked Learning” a new term for Career and Technical Education (CTE)?


A:  No. Linked Learning pathways are not synonymous with career and technical education. While a Linked Learning program can incorporate CTE, not all Linked Learning programs are career-based. Further, Linked Learning programs that do incorporate a career focus challenge the one-dimensional view that CTE is for those students who are bound for work rather than college. Linked Learning programs are built upon the position that students who go directly to work need solid academic skills and those who go to college will also have careers.

Q:  Are Linked Learning pathways consistent with a college preparatory curriculum?


A:  Yes. Linked Learning programs retain the cultural core of traditional academic subjects and competencies that are inclusive of the academic “capital” associated with a college preparatory curriculum. By design, Linked Learning programs ensure students complete the courses (A-G) they need for admissions eligibility to California’s public colleges and universities. However, to enhance students’ understanding of complex academic concepts and subject matter applications, college preparatory curriculum instructional strategies involve real-world applications, integrate topics and/or themes of interest to students, provide comprehensive support services and utilize project-based and work-based learning opportunities. These effective strategies make the college preparatory curriculum more meaningful, relevant, and accessible to all students and prepare them for success in whatever postsecondary option or career path they choose.

Q:  What does teaching and learning look like in a Linked Learning pathway?


A:  Teachers of Linked Learning programs blend academic and a theme-based curriculum in ways that connect theoretical knowledge and real-world applications. Academic courses can infuse technical knowledge and project-based learning to teach academic concepts providing relevance to students and making the topic more understandable. For example, a physics class can use the technical knowledge and practice of auto-mechanics to reinforce and teach the physics standards. Similarly, the auto-mechanics class can infuse appropriate and related academic concepts (physics), into the technical course to provide a theoretical foundation and reinforce physics standards that students must master. Teachers make connections, whenever possible, between academic concepts and the real world. Students are often provided the opportunity to explore academic concepts through hands-on and/or project-based approaches and off-campus learning. These instructional strategies support the core elements of a Linked Learning approach.

Q:  Is there evidence that Linked Learning is an effective approach to high school improvement?


A:  Yes. There is considerable research evidence that supports the effectiveness of a Linked Learning approach for increasing achievement, decreasing dropouts, preparing students for college, preparing students for well-paying careers, and civic participation. For more information, visit www.ucla-idea.org about an upcoming 10-site case study.

Q:  Can the traditional career-prep offered by high schools prepare students for good-paying jobs that do not require a college degree (e.g., building trades, computer technicians, mechanics, etcetera)?


A:  Yes, however traditional career preparation classes often fall short of providing students with what they need to succeed in these jobs or in the postsecondary training most of these jobs require. While it is true that many jobs that provide a satisfactory living wage do not require a BA degree, most do require some postsecondary training (an AA degree, a certificate, an apprenticeship, etc.), as well as strong skills in reading, writing, math, science, and/or foreign language. Linked Learning Pathways do not assume that all students will or should go to college. Rather, students can find their own level of proficiency and sort out their postsecondary and career options based on their own performance and exploration.

Q:  Why not maintain college-prep and technical career-prep programs on separate tracks so that high schools could meet the needs of every student?


A:  This is exactly what most high schools currently do, and most everyone agrees our high schools are not working, and fail to meet the needs of all students. In contrast, Linked Learning ends the needless sorting process in high schools that is not only unnecessary but also costly, because all too often we are wrong about what students are capable of achieving and doing. While many people find it normal and logical that schools would guide or determine adolescents’ choices between two destinations—college and work (for those who cannot succeed in college)—these notions do not coincide with the high aspirations maintained by parents and students. Almost 9 in 10 California 10th graders expect to graduate from high school, and a strong majority plan to attain a bachelor’s degree or higher. A recent public opinion survey administered by the Public Policy Institute of California (April, 2009) found that 85% of parents of every racial/ethnic group want their children to attain a bachelor’s degree and/or graduate program. Multiple Pathways can bolster these high hopes.

Q:  Why do Linked Learning pathways generate concern among equity advocates?


A:  The conception of the California approach to Linked Learning described here is not the only version of an integrated curriculum on the table in discussions about high school reform. In some places, reforms labeled with Linked Learning’s former name, “multiple pathways” bear a striking resemblance to traditional tracking practices. The term “multiple pathways” has also been used to advocate “new and improved” vocational education programs. In other places, multiple pathways refer to the alternative school sector that connects various education providers to help over-age, undercredited, and disengaged students get back on a pathway to high school completion and some sort of postsecondary credential. These versions resist changes that would transform the comprehensive high school, including the practice of tracking, which the California approach seeks to replace.

These concerns were considered in the recent name change of the field in California, from “multiple pathways” to Linked Learning. The California approach to Linked Learning, recognized as more than just a technical fix to the broken high school structure and curriculum, can function as a mobilizing tool for real change.

Q:  Are there successful models of Linked Learning Pathways within California?


A:  Yes. More and more high schools throughout the state are turning towards Linked Learning as a means of preparing students for college, career and civic participation. Within California, a number of California Partnership Academies are adopting a Linked Learning approach. Similarly, quite a few high schools supported by the National Academy Foundation and the New Tech Foundation in California embody a Linked Learning model. In addition, ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career supports a network of schools working towards full implementation of Linked Learning programs, and has established the California Linked Learning District Initiative that currently provides support to11 California school districts that have developed master plans for expanding Linked Learning in their high schools. The members of this network serve as demonstration sites to schools, districts, policy makers, and others interested in learning about Linked Learning. For more information visit www.connectedcalifornia.org

Q:  Are there other questions I can ask in order to ensure a quality Linked Learning pathway is in place?


A:  Absolutely. Asking questions that assist in determining whether a school or district is implementing a quality Linked Learning program that works to improve the educational outcomes of all students is critical. Some additional questions might include:

  1. How do students choose a particular pathway program? Is choice based on students’ interests? Is the program open to all students? Does the program reject the practice of sorting students based on perceived ability and/or postsecondary trajectories?
  2. Does the program offer students a real-world context for better understanding the academic and technical foundation they will need to succeed in whatever postsecondary option or career path they choose? (Linked Learning programs are not intended to create a workforce for a particular industry, rather to provide students with the necessary skills that will enable them to move nimbly between school and work as the 21st century workforce requires).
  3. What school structures are in place that support the implementation of a Linked Learning program? (e.g., flexible scheduling, off-campus learning, small learning communities, etc.).
  4. What support services are provided for students who are struggling with the academic and/or technical components?
  5. Are teachers provided an opportunity during the workday to collaborate on curricular integration, and projects?

 

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