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The Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet, with support and guidance from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, is a group of 20 innovative and respected minds in technology, public policy, education, business, privacy and safety. The Task Force’s goal was to understand the ways in which young people learn today and to optimize learning and innovation within a trusted environment. From there, the Task Force defined how parents, teachers, young learners, businesses and nonprofits can expand new learning opportunities, online and off-line, and inside and outside the classroom.

After a year of study, outreach to stakeholders, public input and internal deliberations, the Task Force believes that a new vision of learning is emerging. But to ensure that young learners are able to take full advantage of the opportunity, we must resolve serious issues of trust, safety, privacy, literacy and equity of access. To help resolve some of these challenges, the Task Force has highlighted five essential principles and twenty-six action steps with the intention they be used as a guide for action—a living tool to help those who wrestle with these issues at the local, state and federal levels to tackle them with new insights, clarity and efficiency. A visual of how each stakeholder—government, parents, educators, school district leaders, students, foundations, non-profits and businesses—can take action appears below.

The five essential principles for creating safe, optimized and rewarding learning experiences for young learners are as follows:

Learners need to be at the center of learning networks.

We first make recommendations for actions that will truly put learners at the center of the networks that can enhance and accelerate their learning. Parents and teachers need support to help them integrate new methods of learning into and outside the classroom. Community organizations, including libraries, museums and other civic and cultural institutions, must become full-fledged participants in learning networks.

Every student should have access to learning networks.

We recommend steps that are needed to ensure equity of access so that all young people can pursue their learning goals. This includes every student having adequate connectivity—including reliable broadband connections—as well as access to the hardware, applications, digital age literacy and high-quality content necessary to support their learning.

Learning networks need to be interoperable.

We believe that learning networks need to be maximally interoperable to ensure that valuable educational resources are not isolated in separate silos and that innovations can be shared across networks. Interoperability is also important to allow students to move freely across networks to assemble their learning objectives and to receive credit for all learning accomplishments, wherever they occur.

Learners should have the literacies necessary to utilize media as well as safeguard themselves in the digital age.

We also believe that all learners and educators need a sufficient degree of digital age literacy, where media, digital and social-emotional literacies are present, to be able to use these learning resources to learn through multiple media confidently, effectively and safely. Every student must have a chance to learn these vital skills.

Students should have safe and trusted environments for learning.

We focus on steps needed to create a trusted environment that will protect children’s safety and privacy online without compromising their ability to learn. Parents should be able to trust that their children’s personally identifiable information is safe, secure and won’t be used in ways other than to help their academic progress. We argue for a shift from a negative, fear-based approach that attempts to insulate children from all harm (and may also create barriers to valuable resources) to a positive approach that will enable students to pursue learning experiences online without fearing for their safety or privacy.

Summary of Task Force Recommendations and Action Steps

The icons in this section represent the stakeholder—government, parents, educators, school district leaders, students, foundations, non-profits, and businesses—most suited to that action.



Learners need to be at the center of new learning networks.

Redesign learning environments to empower learners to learn any time, any place and at any pace, both in school and beyond.

Action A: Invest funds to develop next-generation models, strategies, tools, services and platforms needed to enable effective student-centered learning networks.

Action B: Support pilots for new competency-based learning approaches that recognize knowledge, skills and competencies achieved in or outside of schools.

Action C: Disseminate case studies and evaluations of effective programs and best practices in advancing student-centered learning through learning networks and competency-based approaches.

Action D: Develop new assessments and tools to convey evidence of student achievement through learning networks, such as badges or other new credentialing, and encourage states to develop mechanisms, such as portable data backpacks, that can assist with the collection and secure storage of student credentials, work and outcomes.

Enhance the ability of educators to support and guide learners in a networked learning environment.

Action E: Invest in research and professional training to better prepare educators for changing roles in supporting students’ use of new and existing learning networks.

Action F: Align teacher quality policies and professional development funding to ensure that educators have the necessary support, resources and skills to leverage technology and to enhance learning for their students.

Every student should have access to learning networks.

Build an infrastructure that will connect all students in all of the places they learn.

Action G: Base the bandwidth needs of schools, libraries and other institutions, not on the needs of the institution as a whole but on the collective needs of all learners that they serve.

Action H: Build innovative partnerships among the public and private sectors to bring broadband access to all learners.

Action I: Ensure that all learners have access to appropriate devices that connect them to learning opportunities through a wide range of options that include BYOD (bring your own device), leasing and cooperative purchasing strategies.

Action J: Provide pathways to high-quality content, courses and educational experiences through platforms, applications and curation efforts by educators, students and parents.

Action K: Develop appropriate and effective filtering policies.

Action L: Expand access to learning technologies for students with learning differences.

Learning networks need to be interoperable.

Support the maximum feasible degree of interoperability across learning networks.

Action M: Adopt open standards and protocols that simplify and promote interoperability of learning resources.

Action N: As a condition of funding, require developers of learning networks and learning resources to make provisions to ensure interoperability.

All learners should have the literacies necessary to utilize media as well as safeguard themselves in the digital age.

Adopt policies to incorporate digital, media and social-emotional literacies as basic skills for living and learning in the digital age.

Action O: Fund and pilot new credentialing systems to recognize and support the acquisition of digital age literacies.

Action P: Fund the development and use of online programs and innovative peer platforms to build digital age literacies in adults, youth and parents.

Action Q: Research existing state educational curricula that already include digital age literacies to identify best practices and gaps that need to be filled.

Action R: Ensure that digital age literacies are incorporated in the Common Core State Standards implementation.

Action S: Make digital age literacies required skills for all educators and expected of parents.

Action T: Along with Action Z, integrate risks related to digital life into all existing risk-prevention education programs.

Students should have safe and trusted environments for learning.

Create Trusted Environments for Learning.

Action U: Foster collaborative efforts at all levels to establish principles of a Trusted Environment for Learning.

Action V: Invest in deeper research and studies on the efficacy of existing federal privacy laws, such as COPPA, CIPA and FERPA, as well as various state laws, and seek recommendations on how to improve and modernize them or develop more effective alternatives to support learning networks.

Action W: Re-examine federal and state regulations governing collection and access to student educational data to provide appropriate safeguards that protect against specific harms relating to learners’ privacy and security and, at the same time, accommodate the future of learning tools and services.

Action X: Design, implement and evaluate technology-based approaches to providing a trust framework that addresses privacy and safety issues while permitting learners to pursue online learning.

Action Y: Fund public awareness campaigns about the importance of and methods for acting safely and responsibly on and off-line.

Action Z: Arm learners with the capability to protect themselves online through both appropriate risk-prevention education and teaching digital, media and social-emotional literacies.

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