Blog: The Educated Reporter

Using ‘Linked Learning’ to Prepare Students for College — And Career

We asked some of the journalists attending EWA’s 66th National Seminar, held at Stanford University in May, to contribute posts from the sessions. Michelle Sokol of the State Journal in Frankfort, Ky. is today’s guest blogger. 

Students used to receive their technical education in one classroom and academic education in another — but it’s not your father’s shop class anymore.

Three panelists at EWA’s annual conference discussed how Linked Learning—an approach to secondary education championed by a nonprofit organization of the same name—is changing career and technical education. The Linked Learning model is based on the idea that schools can prepare students academically for college but at the same time give them experience with different technically oriented career paths.

The approach was launched in California shortly after the James Irvine Foundation founded ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career to expand the number of career pathways available to the state’s high school students.

Anne Stanton, program director of the Irvine Foundation, said Linked Learning approach grew from a goal of increasing the number of low-income youths who graduate high school on time and receive a postsecondary credential by the time they’re 25. Another factor was the realization that it’s not college or career — it’s college and career.

“That’s really at the heart of Linked Learning—it’s tapping into the motivation and engagement of young people,” Stanton said. “If we do that well and tie that to rigor, we will see greater achievement, we will see greater persistence, we will see greater high school graduation and then we will see greater postsecondary transitions.”

The approach, which will be piloted in 60 districts across California next year, delivers four core components:

  • Rigorous academics: That includes college preparatory English, mathematics, science, history and sometimes foreign language;
  • Real-world technical skills that can give students a head start on a career;
  • Personalized support, including counseling and supplemental instruction;
  • Work-based learning: Stanton described this component as the opportunity to practice what you’re learning in the real world. “Very, very important is a young person’s discovery of what they’re capable of and how they fit into the broader world, not just the classroom,” she said.


Preston Thomas, principal of the LIFE Academy in Oakland, said he has seen the classroom experience transformed by Linked Learning, and he shared stories of those successes at the EWA session.


The school is made up of 36 percent English-language learners and 87 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunch. He said with Linked Learning the students are given the opportunity to realize their dreams.

At LIFE Academy, for example, a mental health class might look at the science of medicine and also read “Slaughterhouse-Five.” More broadly, Linked Learning can mean studying DNA beyond the theoretical frame by practicing mitochondrial sequencing. And it’s about working with industry partners to provide students work experience through internships, work-based learning or externships.

Thomas said about 250 of his students are placed within the community, but it can be costly. The school pays about $150,000 on top of grants to keep the program running, with transportation accounting for the bulk of the costs. He recognized it can be difficult to set up internships for students with industry partners and recommended that schools work through an intermediary organization.

But it’s worth the effort, he said.

“It’s about getting those kids out there and passionate about something and seeing themselves in a career field and building those skills,” he said.

Nancy Hoffman, vice president and senior advisor of Jobs for the Future, sees Linked Learning finding a place in education outside of California.

California has done a few key things, such as supporting the integration between academics and career preparation, that the rest of the country could benefit from, she said.

“The job market has changed,” Hoffman said. “There’s slowly a perception changing across the country that everybody needs technical skills. That’s beginning to erode a little bit of the stigma about technical education.”