Linked Learning is an educational approach to increase college and career readiness in the state of California. At the time of its inception in 2006, California drop-out rate was abysmal. A third of California ninth-grade student population was dropping out of high school at a rapid rate. While students that did earn a high school diploma found it difficult to get a job and to succeed in a college degree program. Many of these students were not prepared for the workforce or a postsecondary setting. It was evident at the time that high schools were not working for large numbers of young people in California.

School Design: What does it looks like?

Linked Learning schools follow an industry-themed pathway design ranging from engineering, arts and media, bio-medicine and health. Classroom instruction focuses on core academics, while simultaneously modeling how to apply academic content to a particulate industry. This approach also requires students to participate in work-based learning. Ninth and Tenth graders take part in activities such as job shadowing or career awareness workshops/boot-camps. As these students transition into 11th and 12th grade, they are placed into an internship or an apprenticeship program in their respective industry pathway.

The school day is organized very differently from a traditional school in order to accommodate career development, hands-on job work experience, and core academics. A student may be expected to attend school activities before school, after school, and during the summer to meet their college and career readiness requirements. The curriculum is project-based, which encourage students to apply academic and technical subject matter to an industry-related issue or scenario. Some of these schools offer dual enrollment. This is when a student is enrolled in secondary school and at a local institution of higher learning, such as a community college or university. If students pass their college course, they receive credit that may be applied toward their high school diploma and/or toward a college degree or certificate.

A Promising Approach: What does the research tell us?

According to the study by SRI International, released December 9, Linked Learning is working.  Students in a Linked Learning school are more likely to graduate and are more engaged in their academics. Here are a few highlights of those findings:
  • Three-quarters of the students in the program said that their teachers challenged them to understand a difficult topic, for instance, compared with 61 percent of comparison students
  • Two-thirds said their teacher discussed how to apply what they were learning in class to the real world, compared with barely half of comparison students.
  • Seventy percent of the students in Linked Learning said they saw connections between their studies and the world outside school, compared with 60 percent of students in regular programs.

It important to note that kids exposed to Linked Learning do not score significantly better on standardized tests than students in a traditional high schools. According to the data,  they are more likely to stay enrolled in school and accumulate more credits than their peers in a traditional school.

All in all , the data from this study outlines that Linked Learning is a promising practice that ought to be considered by school systems nationally.  Especially schools districts that need a new way to retain students in high school.  Linked Learning has recently expanded to Texas and Michigan and  hopes to make a major impact in these  two states.


  • Guha, R., Caspary, K., Stites, R., Padilla, C., Arshan, N., Park, C., Tse, V., Astudillo, S., Black, A., & Adelman, N. (2014). Taking stock of the California Linked Learning District Initiative. Fifth-year evaluation report. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.
  • ConnectED (N.D) Fact sheet on linked learning. Available at:
  •  Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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