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PREFACE

After funding a series of research projects on the nature of learning over the past decade, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation came to the conclusion that 21st century learners had new and powerful ways to connect to their academics, their peers and the vast array of resources now available to anyone anywhere. The opportunities these learners have to adapt a large network of resources inside and outside the classroom to their own particular learning styles and to collaborate with others can solve many legitimate concerns of parents and educators alike.

But a series of barriers could frustrate this promising future. Many are without the tools or resources to engage. Even when the resources are present, they often operate in separate silos, making it difficult to move across the landscape of learning. And sometimes the reactions to legitimate problems such as safety and privacy can result in overreactions that prevent the openness and movement that a learner needs online. These opportunities and concerns led the MacArthur Foundation to support the non-partisan Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program in the formation of a Task Force to envision learning in this rapidly changing environment and to suggest ways to address barriers to realizing that vision.

With this guidance, and financial support from MacArthur, the Communications and Society Program assembled twenty diverse leaders in education, technology and the civic sphere to reimagine learning. The Institute asked the Task Force to understand the potential of new learning landscapes, and to address the tensions of values inherent in fostering learning and innovation, on the one hand, and safety and privacy, on the other. What measures could best reconcile these tensions, or at least move the conversation forward?

We were fortunate to get two leadership teams to co-chair the Task Force. Jeb Bush, Honorary Co-Chair, and John Bailey, Co-Chair of the Task Force, both connect to this topic through their work for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. And actress Rosario Dawson, Honorary Co-Chair, and Maria Teresa Kumar, Co-Chair of the Task Force, lead Voto Latino. We are grateful for their significant leadership skills in bringing the larger group to consensus on both the vision and the recommendations in this report.

They and the other members of the Task Force, whose biographies appear in the Appendix, worked together through four in-person roundtable meetings, multiple virtual meetings, commissioned outreach to the learning community and to the public, and by their individualized editing, to create this set of recommendations. We appreciate the commitment that each Member brought to the process.

The vision of learners at the center of their learning networks has potentially broad and significant implications. If learners are truly at the center, there needs to be more and better efforts to make sure that every learner has access to the hardware, software, tools, content and literacy necessary to take advantage of this vision. Technology needs to work for the learner wherever and whenever he or she uses it. The Task Force uses the word “interoperability,” which is exactly what is needed: the technology should revolve around the learner, not the other way around. And the learner should possess the digital age literacy tools to use and understand the media in both the virtual and physical worlds. These literacies will also help one keep safe and private in the digital world, elements of a “trusted environment” that the Task Force found necessary for effective learning, but one that needs to allow for openness and innovation as the learner moves throughout the system.

We at the MacArthur Foundation and the Aspen Institute are pleased that this Task Force of 20 outstanding individuals could arrive at a unanimous report. We understand that not every Task Force member may agree with every statement in the report, but they have all agreed to this vision, the general principles and the specific action steps that could bring about that vision.

The next step is for governments, public officials, school districts, educators, community activists, parents and students all to move forward to bring these Action Steps to reality. We commend them to you to act in ways you see fit. Only by wide constituencies acting together will we move to the next era of educating our populace. We add our thanks to those expressed in the Foreword by our Honorary Co-Chairs: to the Task Force members, our consultants Penn Hill Group, Swell Creative, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program staff, primary writer Richard Adler, editorial consultant Bob Rothman, and the many others at the MacArthur Foundation and the Aspen Institute who brought this report to fruition.

We should mention that other policy programs at the Aspen Institute work more directly on education issues, focusing primarily on schools, or on comprehensive community impact. So that the reader is not confused, this report emanates from the Communications and Society Program, which looks at the societal impact of information and communications technologies, thus does not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of other Aspen Institute policy programs. The MacArthur Foundation was pleased to support the work of the Program in this regard.

We hope you will read, reflect on, and support this report.

JULIA STASCH,
INTERIM PRESIDENT
WALTER ISAACSON,
PRESIDENT AND CEO
John D. and Caterine T. MacArthur Foundation The Aspen Institute

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