Aspen Institute Report Calls For Redesigned Learning Environments

June 17, 2014
By Educator Innovator

Educators in schools and out have taken up the challenge of supporting youth to develop the digital citizenship skills they need to navigate online spaces safely so that young people can then make best use of the collaborative nature of the web and its myriad, always-available resources.

Online safety for the purpose of greater learning opportunities is the focus of a recently released report by the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet. The report, titled Learner at the Center of a Networked World, details a set of recommendations for ensuring that today’s young people are at the center of, and have access to, safe learning inside and outside of the classroom. The cross-sector, cross-partisan report addresses the serious issues of digital literacy, accessibility, trust, safety, and privacy, especially for underserved students. In their recommendations, the task force outlines actions to help all students connect safely in order to maximize learning experiences online.

The report calls for a shift from the traditional focus on one learning institution, the school, to a focus on the learner and all the places where there are opportunities to learn, like museums, libraries, after-school programs and the home. To be successful, students must have access to learning networks that are interoperable – or have the ability to share information – and that allow them to earn credit for what they have learned regardless of where they learned it. These credits should also be recognized by schools and institutions of higher education. Most importantly, schools, technology leaders, and policymakers need to ensure sensitive student information is secure and protected and there are trusted environments in which that data can be shared and used to improve instruction.

Educator Innovators with ideas for creating safer, more trusted environments for youth should take note. In response to the report, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced a $1.2 million challenge to foster trust in online learning environments and help educators harness one of the most powerful tools of the digital age—online networks. The Trust Challenge, will offer year-long development grants of up to $150,000 to teams with the most promising innovations for fostering trusted learning environments online. The open invitation for proposals will be administered by HASTAC, an alliance of more than 14,000 humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists and technologists working together to transform the future of learning.

The Aspen Institute Task Force report, finalized after a year of study, outreach to stakeholders, public input and internal deliberations, provides a framework and examples to help communities come together to be creative and collaborate about building environments where safety, learning and innovation become synonymous.


Written to be implementable, practical and accessible, this report includes six recommendations along with specific action steps that the government, parents, educators, district leaders, students, foundations, non-profits and businesses can take to ensure that the learners of today are equipped to thrive in the 21st century. They include the following:

1) Redesign learning environments to empower students to learn any time, any place, both in school and beyond

2) Provide educators with skill-building to support and guide learners in a networked learning environment

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

4) Make sure all learning networks are interoperable – or have the ability to share information and data

5) Adopt policies to ensure children are taught basic skills – or digital literacies – for living and learning in the digital age

6) Create trusted learning environments for children to keep them safe

For more details on the recommendations and 26 specific action steps, go to the full report online.

The task force recommends that federal, state, and local governments all take steps to fund pilots, experimentation and eventually full implementation of the steps called for in the report. Many of these recommendations can be embedded in the existing funding streams that already support schools, libraries and nonprofits. Philanthropies and businesses can also mobilize support and funding. Already, Task Force members have turned to their communities to brainstorm creative ways to implement these action steps and keep the momentum of their vision growing