What is connected learning?
“… learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.” (Ito et al., 2013)
Times have changed. With the advent of the internet and the rapid rise of technology, a significant shift has occurred in the way people learn, connect and communicate. Knowledge is becoming obsolete at a faster rate than ever before (Siemens, 2005). Old ways of knowing and learning are no longer enough to thrive in a digital world. Technology enables learners to connect “in the wild” with information, networks and like-minded peers (Lupton, 2014). It is within this context, the pedagogical approach of connected learning was developed. Connected learning is underpinned by social constructivist, networked and connectivist learning theories. The Connected Learning Framework (Ito et al., 2013) is a pedagogical model that will be used in this article to critically analyse the gaming connected learning environment of Fortnite Creative Mode.
Connected learning environment – Fortnite Creative
“connected learning environments are generally characterized by a sense of
shared purpose, a focus on production, and openly networked infrastructures.”
The benefits and disadvantages of online gaming for children and youth has been the centre of intense debate in recent times. The use of screens, in particular how much time young people spend on online gaming has been linked to decreasing literacy, gaming addictions and reduced mental well-being. It is within this context, the connected learning environment of the video gaming giant Fortnite (Creative Mode) was chosen for analysis. It is currently one of the most popular online video games for young people. According to game developer, Epic Games, you can invent, design and build your own Fortnite experience. “Your island, your friends, your rules.” Fortnite Creative has a strong emphasis on design and social interaction, allowing players to design their own maps and even different games to play with a group of friends of up to sixteen players.
“Connected learning environments are centered on networks of interest and expertise that have high standards for good work and credible information.”
According to Richardson and Mancabelli (2011), self-directed learning in online-networked spaces begins with a passion to learn. This is certainly the case in the Fortnite connected learning environment, where an interest and passion to learn more about the online video game has connected players across the globe via a variety of openly-networked social media platforms. This passion acts as a catalyst for connecting like-minded peers and driving interest-based learning. The game is a social experience, with players connecting and participating online in the game with friends and acquaintances from the real life. The need to learn more about the game leads to the connection and interaction with others from around the world.
Peer supported, interest driven learning is key to connected learning, acting as a “gateway” to the other connected learning principles (Garcia et al., 2014). It can also be challenging for young people with a specialised interest in gaming (such as game design or pixel artwork) to find others in real-life who share their passion and this is where expert online communities allow people to connect in order to share, learn and collaborate (Ito et al., 2013). In particular, it allows youth from a disadvantaged background to develop skills in areas such as game design and digital media production through the collaboration and sharing of knowledge with others that may not have otherwise been possible (Ito et al., 2013). As a result, the Fortnite connected learning environment demonstrates a strong participatory culture.
A participatory culture can be defined as one where members share a social connection with one another and show strong support for creating and sharing their artistic work and creations. Knowledge is passed on from the most to least experienced in the community (Jenkins, 2006). This is highly evident in the Fortnite connected learning environment, where peers participate in online video games and share their creative expressions and knowledge through online streaming, forums and posts on various social media platforms. Members regularly provide feedback, peer-support and mentoring, both synchronously and asynchronously, through comments on live-streams and forum posts, direct messaging as well as audio commentary during collaborative game play (Jenkins, 2006; Ito et al., 2013). Contributions are encouraged and highly valued as a means of gaining and sharing knowledge. The diverse network of members allows creative ideas and solutions to be shared efficiently. (Dron and Anderson, 2014).
In keeping with the design principles of the Connected Learning Framework, all members of the Fortnite Creative community can participate in the production and sharing of knowledge with low barriers to entry (Ito et al., 2013). The game itself is free and openly-networked on a variety of game consoles and devices. With community forums and groups available on various social media platforms, there are multiple points of entry for gamers to access and share knowledge on a needs basis (Ito et al., 2013). This highlights the connectivism of the community where “knowledge is constructed in a social context” and game participants are able to choose when and what they need to learn (Dron and Anderson, 2014 ; Siemens, 2005 ). There is an informal culture of mentoring, where expert gamers share their knowledge with the less experienced or ‘newbie’ players. This can culture can be seen in the live-streaming of games on Twitch, videos on YouTube, Reddit forum posts and messaging on Twitter and Instagram. Experts share information or creations, where less experienced players are able to ‘lurk’, learn and participate when they feel ready (Jenkins, 2006; Ito et al., 2013).
It is these collaborative, participatory and supportive peer relationships that lay the foundation for individual knowledge construction and learning (Nussbaum-Beach and Ritter, 2010; Dron and Anderson, 2014) . It is through participation in online networks and the creation of content that Fortnite Creative gamers can connect their interest to learning opportunities and future career prospects in areas such as Esports, game design, graphic design, digital media production, soundtrack creation and dance choreography (Dron and Anderson, 2014; Siemens, 2005). The gaming community and creative nature of Fortnite also provides multiple opportunities to develop key 21st Century Competencies such as problem-solving, decision making, creativity and innovation (Ito et al., 2013). According to Dr Marcus Carter, the complexity of the Fortnite game allows children to develop a deep knowledge and create a curriculum for themselves in problem-solving. Research has also found that an interest in video games can be viewed as a potential solution to improving the literacy skills of adolescent boys.
Digital technologies and social media
“connected learning taps the opportunities provided by digital media to more easily link home, school, community and peer contexts of learning; support peer and inter-generational connections based on shared interests;” (Ito et al., 2013)
Digital technologies and social media makes sharing, connecting and creating content in areas of specialized interest, such as gaming, easier than ever before (Nussbaum-Beach and Ritter, 2010; Ito et al., 2013). This is evident in the Fortnite Creative community, where a shared purpose, including collaborative and competitive elements, is supported by a variety of digital technologies and social media platforms. For example collaboration can be witnessed in the sharing of game knowledge through messaging on forums, social media platforms and real-time conversation during live game play between peers. Players can easily follow hashtags such as #Fortnite, #FortniteCreative and #FortniteCreations to find the information they need on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, demonstrating the interconnected nature of the connected learning environment (Ito et al., 2013). New maps, game builds and other artistic expressions such as pixel art and music can easily be shared via social media. Direct feedback and questioning also occurs during the live-streaming of games on Twitch and YouTube.
Competitive elements are inherent in the game design of Fortnite Creative where players can compete both individually and in teams to be the winner at the end of the round. A need to create and share new maps with the peers and other members of the Fortnite Creative community also demonstrates a culture where “challenge is constant” (Ito et al., 2013). This culture is illustrated recently, when developer Epic Games launched a new Limited Time Mode (LTM) creator contest within the community, where players have the chance to design their own game in Fortnite Creative. Players are encouraged to create and share their creations with the rest of the Fortnite community. The focus on sharing creations and expertise is a key feature of a networked learning environment, where participants are encouraged to give as much as they receive (Richardson and Mancabelli 2011). Individual knowledge is constructed through both contributing, remixing and receiving from the Fortnite Creative network in order to remain current and up-to-date with necessary game information and skills (Siemens, 2005).
The production-centered nature of the Fortnite Creative community is also supported and enhanced by digital technologies and social media. Social media enables Fortnite players to “create, curate and share” content and amplify the exchange of information throughout the connected learning environment (Lupton, 2014; Ito et al., 2013). For example players can create content through the media production elements within the game itself, curate content such as game maps through Pinterest and share content through YouTube using screen capture software. There is a ‘blurring’ of roles in this exchange of information as the social media tools allow for multiple things to occur at once such as commenting, sharing and creating (Dron and Anderson, 2014). It is these collaborative relationships that digital technologies and social media facilitate in the Fortnite connected learning environment that are important (Nussbaum-Beach and Ritter, 2010) .
The openly networked nature of the digital production tools and social media platforms enables an equity of access to all players resulting in a diversity of opinions and the participation of marginalised groups in the Fortnite Creative community (Ito et al., 2013). Participation is open to all who have internet access, with the game itself and other social media platforms free of charge. The interconnected nature and presence of the Fortnite community on various social media platforms, makes it easy for players to connect with each other and find information. The freedom of all to participate and the tolerance of difference is also reflected in the Fortnite Creative’s game code of conduct.
The Fortnite Creative connected learning environment provides a great opportunity for budding game designers to build a portfolio of their work to share with others, including prospective employers. This aspect of designing, building and sharing new games is an area game developer Epic is looking to further develop. An ability to link an interest in game design to future job prospects is particularly important for disadvantaged youth, who may not otherwise have the means to pursue this passion in the traditional schooling system (Ito et al., 2013). However, a risk for the community in this area is copyright and the ownership of intellectual property. Who owns the rights to the game designs? Who profits from others playing the user created games and maps? This issue was recently raised in relation to choreography used in the original Fortnite game. It is a grey area that as of yet, has not been resolved.
There is also an opportunity for educators and teacher-librarians to capitalise on the learning opportunities presented by Fortnite Creative. Due to the age restrictions of the game (ages 12 and up), this would be suited to a secondary school environment. This blending of interest-driven learning with academic outcomes, provides educators an opportunity to re-engage and motivate students in a safe environment (Ito et al., 2013). The library offers an ideal location to provide technology, resources and guidance for students to pursue their gaming inspired interests (Connected Learning Alliance, 2019) For example, students could be involved in game design competitions at lunch time in the library or create artwork inspired by the game in subjects such as art or design technologies. Guided by adult mentors, there is an opportunity for students to gain a deep knowledge of subject areas through engagement in authentic learning tasks.
A final area of risk for the Fortnite Creative community, is the transient nature of online gaming. Fads come and go, with the potential loss of expertise and knowledge as key members of the community leave or become less active when interest wanes. However, this is the nature of connected and networked learning environments, they are in constant motion and forever changing depending on the learning needs of its members. The challenge of the Fortnite connected learning environment is to maintain those connections already formed in order to create any new connections necessary for future learning and personal development of its members (Dron and Anderson, 2014 ; Siemens, 2005 ). It is harnessing what is already known in the Fortnite Creative community and connecting this knowledge to new gaming concepts and contexts in order to maintain currency in an ever-changing online environment.
“Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today” (Siemens, 2005)