Blog Post

Playlists for Learning Challenge Grantee Convening in Mountain View, CA

LRNG is transforming the way young people access learning and how it is recognized.

And we’re off! On September 28 and 29, the recently announced Playlists for Learning Challenge grantees and Digital Media and Learning Competition team met at the Microsoft Technology Center in Mountain View, California for a special LRNG design convening. The two-day workshop gave our grantee teams an opportunity to meet each other face-to-face and skim the surface of the design work they will be leading over the next 9 months as they begin to develop their playlists and digital badges.

The two-day convening kicked off with a welcome introduction from Connie Yowell, who touched on, among other topics, the theory of change that drives connected learning, and how playlists and digital badges are positioned to address an ever-widening opportunities gap that we are committed to address in the 21st century.


Tim Cook took the bold risk of doing a live demo (go Tim!), walking us through the LRNG platform and the current playlist features that DML 6/Playlists for Learning Challenge grantees will be using to scale their learning content to a broad audience. The platform is currently in closed beta, and our grantees, along with others, will be providing user feedback and suggesting new features as they develop their playlists.

After Connie framed the big picture, and Tim walked us through the LRNG platform, Dustin from Sprout Fund made everything come to life in an overview of the LRNG work taking place in Philadelphia, a sign of what is possible when the people, organizations, tools, relationships, and the will are there to build networks that can have real impact.

After introductions, our group peeled off from the other Cities of Learning groups that are working with LRNG, and met around a roundtable to begin sharing how grantee organizations view playlists, and what they might need from a platform in order to successfully (and sustainably) scale their learning. A couple of early themes emerged, ones that we will be tackling in earnest in the months to come:

  • how do we translate local content and assessment into digital content and assessment?
  • how do we think about pacing a playlist that engages youth?
  • what different ways of assessing do we need to think about that are both accurate and realistic, especially for organizations that anticipate thousands of learners?
  • what are viable opportunities that are both meaningful and realistic for our learners?
  • what are promising practices for educator professional development when it comes to playlists at scale?

It was clear how grounded in research and practice the LRNG team roots this work -- user testing is no more important than it is when adults are designing for youth. All of our aspirations to scale connected learning can come grounding to a halt if youth do not value the content and the opportunities signaled by the badges. As we prepare our own programming for the Playlists for Learning Challenge grantees, we will be keeping this at the forefront of our own work.

With a limited amount of time, we were not able to dive deep into design work, but managed to squeeze in a few teaser sessions. One with Seth Corrigan, an evaluation and assessment expert who conceptualized (and made more simple) some of the thorny assessment tradeoffs our grantees will face in playlist design. Seth’s ability to make accessible what are intensely complex concepts was appreciated by all of us, and we will be revisiting his ideas repeatedly in the months ahead. He impressed upon all of us the ideal design cycle, in which evaluation, assessment, and feedback is built into the whole process, start to finish (and all over again).

We also had time to start a short persona exercise designed by Lucas Blair of Little Bird Games that we hope to finish in the next month or so. Grantees were asked to conceptualize 3-6 personas for their learners, both in terms of local learners and digital (or national) learners, and to think of these personas in terms of before they engaged the playlist, and after. Who do you become as a result of doing this playlist? This was part of a badging exercise that we will continue to work on with Lucas, to help think through the after persona perspective as it relates to the “now what?” aspect of badges. Meaning, now that they have earned a badge, now what? Does it unlock an internship? Does it guarantee a job interview? Can the learner use it to access other privileges or gain free admission, for example? And in what ways are these personas different depending on local and digital/national and even international contexts?

These convenings are always a blend of tough work and hopeful anticipation. We want others to have answers to questions that are invariably new -- and there is always that moment when we realize, collectively, that we are at the edge of a new design space, figuring it out as we go, working with our colleagues to take risks and make informed guesses about the best way to implement learning in a slightly new form.

As always, we invite you to look over our shoulders as we work on playlist design -- we will be sharing out as much of this work as we can in the months ahead. Stay tuned as we collaborate and build, and report out what we learn about designing playlists to scale connected learning. 



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