Linked Learning, an educational initiative first piloted in California, integrates academic instruction with technical curricula to foster real-world skills and facilitate work-based learning. The intent of Linked Learning is to prepare secondary school students for both college and career by providing high-quality academic instruction while facilitating relationships between students and adults through a variety of job-shadowing programs.
This qualitative study of 91 administrators, pathway coordinators, teachers, and students involved in California career-oriented academies was motivated by the following question: Is Linked Learning viable as a public policy to increase the career readiness of high school graduates in Southern California? To answer this question, four ancillary questions were
developed that have not been addressed by previous research:
- What are the relationships between students, teachers, administrators, and employers like in a Linked Learning program?
- How do industry partnerships happen in Linked Learning programs?
- Do teachers feel like they have a meaningful voice in decisions about school policies and practices?
- Are these relationships sustainable and scalable? Or, are they so cumbersome and complex that they are not able to increase the capacity of the workforce in Southern California?
Related to these questions, our study had four key findings:
- Industry contacts are difficult to forge and maintain without teachers and coordinators who have significant professional experience, knowledge of the local context, and can navigate between the different organizational cultures of industry and education.
- The “family atmosphere” of a Linked Learning Pathway allows for trust, raised expectations, and a sense of ownership. Through these bonds, teachers can provide personalized support that enables students to build confidence, develop their academic skills, and – in some cases – clarify their personal interests. Nevertheless, teachers who develop a deep knowledge of their students’ needs and interests may find themselves conflicted about the dual goals of career training and college preparation.
- Teachers may be enticed to join a pathway due to the potential for autonomy and the empowerment gained by taking on a leadership role. Once they have assumed a leadership role, however, they may find that their vision for the pathway contradicts the accountability measures that are externally imposed by district- and state-level mandates. Additionally, teachers may find that work expectations increase dramatically as they are asked to cover a variety of leadership roles for which they have had little to no training.
- Without significant “buy-in” from teachers, administrators and students, Linked Learning is unlikely to make headway into districts that are already successful in sending students to college. Even when “buy-in” is likely among teachers and coordinators, incentives – whether they are financial or intrinsic – need to match the personal motivations and capabilities of the academic staff. Moreover, the interests of students and parents in the different types of careers offered by a potential Linked Learning pathway should be taken into account.