[Source: Connie Yowell, Director of Education, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation] — In 2004, after 26 years of significant investment in traditional school reform with less success than we had hoped for, the MacArthur Foundation stepped back to consider alternative paths. Rather than focus on schools, we turned our attention to learning — specifically how young people are learning outside of school as they participate with digital media. We soon discovered that a dramatic transformation is under way in how young people think, learn, socialize, and engage in civic life.
In 2006, we launched the digital media and learning initiative to test the notion that public education would have to transform as well if it is to prepare young people for the complex and connected social, economic, and political demands of the 21st century. We began by exploring a simple question: Are young people changing as a result of digital media? Our inquiry soon expanded to include three more questions:
How should young people’s learning environments change?
How should institutions like schools, libraries, and museums change?
Based on the answers, what fundamental principles should guide a 21st-century learning system?
The articles in this publication are based on 106 grants involving more than 250 individuals and organizations that have explored these questions, as well as a synthesis of lessons to date. Professor Mimi Ito, of the University of California, Irvine, led a three-year ethnographic study of more than 800 youths and their participation with digital media. The study revealed significantly new forms of learning and socializing outside of school. Professor Joe Kahne, of Mills College, recently completed a longitudinal study of civic engagement and digital media. Harvard professor Howard Gardner has explored the impact of digital media on young people’s ethical development. Kahne’s and Gardner’s studies found that young people’s participation in the political sphere is changing dramatically.
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