What We Do

What is Connected Learning?

Connected learning engages learners in ways that allow them to link different dimensions of their learning environments: personal interests, peer relationships and opportunities. Connected learning pedagogies have been particularly successful in low-resource and marginalised learning contexts.

Why is connected learning important?

Recent international policies and agreements, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, have underscored the importance of higher education for refugees. The demand for higher education is significant, yet only 1% of eligible refugee students are able to access accredited programs and do so mainly through scholarships. Higher education is one of UNHCR’s strategic priorities, and is in line with the organization’s Education Strategy, which aims to make life-long learning accessible to all.

In an effort to meet this demand for higher education for refugees (many of whom live in remote locations), this group of universities and organisations has implemented Connected Learning programs as possible solutions. We define Connected Learning as the development and exchange of knowledge and ideas among students and faculty through use of information technology that enables learning not bound by geographical limitations in contexts of fragility. It promotes authentic self-knowledge, embeddedness in local and global learning communities, adaptive critical thinking and new media literacies to nurture a culture of adaptive life-long learning. This is achieved through linking student interest to relevant, flexible, accredited and sustainable academic programs, creating interconnected learning communities and ensuring academic achievement through dedicated learner support.

Connected Learning Programmes


Quality Guidelines Playbook

The Consortium developed a list of quality guidelines to act as a reference for future work within the field.

  • They aim to serve as a guide for designing & implementing Connected Learning programmes;
  • They are based on the experience of programmes that have been delivering Connected Higher Education since 2004;
  • They are working guidelines and the Connected Learning Consortium welcomes feedback.


Recognition of Prior Learning with / without official documentation

Institutions shall be committed to

  • Recognizing prior learning leading to and within higher education
  • Exploring alternative means of verifying qualification for admission
  • Exercising flexibility within institutional policy guidelines
  • Equitable and Inclusive Access that focuses on learning outcomes to higher education

Formal Academic Credit Corresponding to National/international Frameworks

Institutions shall

  • Recognize student mobility as a guiding principle
  • Clearly describe credit award calculation formulas
  • Flexibly align with institutional, regional, national and international frameworks
  • Recognize and integrate multiple ways of learning and teaching and contextualize different kinds of models that provide scaffolding for student preparation
  • Make provision for and address recognized knowledge and/or skill gaps

Credit Transfers

Institutions shall

  • Commit to the principle of credit transfers within the CL-Consortium where appropriate and explore relevant modalities
  • Exercise flexibility within institutional policies with regard to documentary requirements for admission
  • Working closely with international organizations and institutions on education regarding HE access frameworks (e.g. UNESCO, UNHCR, IO level, public/private sector) and mobilizing support at policy level

Financing access to HE

Institutions shall

  • Ensure that financing access to higher education is at no or nominal cost to students
  • CL-members work on a not-for-profit basis
  • Be open to different financing options, including scholarships for accessing CL-programs


Modularity and Flexibility

Institutions committed to

  • Portability of credits
  • Modules/units that are modularized
  • Post-secondary being lowest entry point
  • Flexible entry and exit points
  • Learning outcome orientation over time orientation

Learning outcomes

Institutions committed to

  • Programme design based on learning outcomes
  • Learning outcomes contributing to the development of relevant skills:
    • transversal skills/soft skills/life skills/learning fundamentals

Learner-centered design

Institutions shall

  • Employ a holistic development approach (learner as a person embedded in a context)
  • Empower learners
  • Share assessment with students (show that students are able to articulate what they have learned, include this in assessment design)
  • Promote movement towards independence and self-advocacy


Optimal learning environments

Institutions are committed to providing

  • Optimal learning environments that build a learning community which is research-based, inclusive, and learner-centered. In partnership with the community, they are contextually and culturally responsive while retaining high standards of academic rigor. Optimal learning environments foster knowledge, skills and attitude development resulting in relevant and meaningful real-world applications.
  • Programs that include policies on access, protection, technology use and management of the learning environment.

Program accreditation

Institutions are committed to providing

  • Programs linked to a recognized accredited institution offering real-world value.

Retention and completion rates

Institutions are committed to providing

  • Programs responsive to change but designed for high retention and completion rates.

Onsite and online learning support and facilitation

Institutions are committed to providing


  • Flexible programs shall provide responsive and appropriate support for peer-to-peer learning, tutoring, mentoring, coaching, technical support and information literacy throughout the learning process.

Responsible integration of technology and pedagogy

Institutions are committed to

  • Pedagogical models that drive the selection and use of technology.

Creation of learning materials adapted to technological constraints

Institutions shall ensure that

  • Learning materials respond to learner needs, educational experiences and context while recognizing technological constraints and providing adapted solutions.

Infrastructure design and maintenance

Institutions shall ensure that

  • Designs are site-specific, contextually appropriate and sustainable, consider variables that include learner needs; environmental conditions; safety constraints; logistics; available technology, skills and support; power supply and connectivity requirements.
  • Infrastructure design includes resources for all phases of a project, including planning, implementation and maintenance.


Entry assessments for informing program design for academic support

Institutions are committed to ensuring that

  • Prerequisites and standards for CL-programs are clearly articulated and that assessments are conducted to measure student levels of academic readiness, academic performance, language competencies and technological competencies.
  • Programs are designed to be flexible and adjusted to learner needs, as based on evidence.

Targeted learning support throughout program delivery

Institutions are committed to providing

  • Resources and adaptable pathways for individualised student learning support.
  • Digital resources that are optimised to ensure cohesive and high quality learning.
  • Assessments and methods of tracking student performance and progress that are embedded throughout the program.

Technology and related software is essential for the learning design and support

Institutions are committed to ensuring that

  • CL programs are designed with technology in mind to support both access and quality of learning as programs hinge on the development and support of students to be technologically literate and able to access the highest quality of resources and materials to support current and future learning.
  • Technology curriculum is explicitly taught to support skillsets from novice to professional and is viewed as the backbone for learning outcomes in other content areas.


Institutions shall ensure that

  • CL programs are designed to ensure the highest level of protection for its students, ensuring that their rights, security, and welfare are recognized and safeguarded in accordance with international standards.
  • CL initiatives do not jeopardize the legal status, individual protection or psychosocial well-being of refugees, while carefully managing their expectations and their knowledge of digital engagement and safety.

Orientation & Counselling

Institutions shall ensure that

  • CL programs have an inbuilt component that gives students comprehensive face to face orientation on what CL entails, as well as the pertinent rules and regulations.
  • Provision be made to support students’ academic and professional development as well as well as their psychosocial well-being by linking them with mentors, academic and career advisors and counsellors.

Fostering Student Cohesion

Institutions shall ensure that

  • CL programs are designed in a way that builds on bringing students of different backgrounds together.
  • Programs help students understand and appreciate differences in cultures, perspectives, and ideas, while at the same time help students to appreciate common values and shared similarities.

The learning design is scaffolded and created to foster student independence and continued learning post program completion.

nstitutions shall ensure that

  • CL programs are designed to meet learners at their place of entry through a scaffolded and differentiated approach.
  • Student data and student work are utilized in a continuous feedback cycle to improve the pedagogy and modes of learning and adapt to new technologies as they become accessible.
  • The program design is focused to equip learners with knowledge and ability in order to continue learning post program completion through a variety of mediums, including online resources.


Connected Learning Roundtables

In 2018, Consortium members participated in roundtable discussions in Lebanon and Jordan, hosted jointly by UNHCR and respective Ministries of Higher Education. The roundtables convened government officials, national and international university staff and leadership, NGOs, and a broad range of connected learning actors and programme providers. Their discussions centered on the opportunities presented by connected learning, and dug into topics such as accreditation, recognition of prior learning, pedagogy, and partnerships. Additional roundtable discussions are planned for 2019. 

Geneva Summer School

The course will explore post-secondary education in emergency and protracted settings. Participants will be provided with a conceptual framework for Higher Education in Emergencies (HEiE). Through this framework, participants will examine scenarios and design solutions. The course will include high-level seminars with faculty and field experts, which participants will apply to real-world case studies (Capstone Projects) through collaborative learning, tutoring sessions and project presentations. They will also gain an understanding of how multiple pedagogical resources can be leveraged efficiently and effectively to produce sustainable outcomes in fragile contexts.

This course is designed for humanitarian practitioners, graduate students and faculty in international relations, international education, and educational technologies, representatives of donor organizations whose mission and mandate includes education and higher education, and representatives of Education Ministries.