Aspen Institute Task Force Releases “Learner at the Center of a Networked World”


The Aspen Institute launched a Task Force on Learning and the Internet to better understand how young people are learning today, and to address how to optimize that learning through innovation. With the support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Aspen Institute gathered a group of 20 respected minds in the fields of technology, public policy, education, business, and privacy to develop a comprehensive report.

Yesterday, the report was made public.  It can be accessed digitally, and the launch event is also available online.


The Task Force provides a starting point for the kinds of actions policy makers, education officials, and industry can take to move the education system forward.

The Pillars of the Report are:

(1)   Learners need to be at the center of new learning networks

(2)   Every student should have access to learning networks

(3)   Learning networks need to be interoperable

(4)   Learners should have the digital literacies necessary to utilize media and safeguard themselves

(5)   Students should have safe and trusted environments for learning

As it relates to privacy, the report focuses on creating trusted environments. “The Task Force recognizes that many of the benefits of data and technology require parents to be confident student information will be handled ethically and responsibly. The report’s call for policies, tools and practices that build a framework of trust is exactly the right prescription to address education privacy concerns,” Jules Polonetsky noted. The core of that being ensuring (1) safety, (2) privacy, and (3) security.  The Task Force set out several principles intended to guide the process of developing a trusted environment.

Additionally, the report briefly examines the effectiveness of existing privacy laws like COPPA, CIPA, and FERPA.  For instance, there is some attention placed on the unintended consequences and ineffectiveness of COPPA’s restrictions: including how the law has caused some websites to bar underage children from using their services, and the illogical age trigger which leaves children over the age of 13 unprotected.  Moving forward, the Task Force recommends that policy makers “base their deliberation on evidence-based research” and encourages funders “to support researchers, legal scholars, and panels of expert to develop new approaches, tools, and practices.”

Similar to the White House Big Data and Privacy Working Group Review, the Task Force believes in balancing privacy and innovation.  Appropriate safeguards must be in place to protect learners, while not impeding access to high quality education.  Specifically, the report suggests that there needs to be a re-examination of federal and state regulations governing the collection and access to student education data.

In building a trust framework for students, the Task Force sees “privacy by design” as the key to designing, implementing, and evaluating technologies that engender trust.  One suggestion is “a tool that allows student access to their own data to encourage agency and allow the student to help define their learning pathway,” similar to electronic health care records.  Another thought was to have service providers and app developers “provide in-service user education on how to manage one’s privacy and safety.”

Finally, the report encourages funding public awareness campaigns that will help inform safe and responsible on and off-line behavior, and further the effect of those campaigns with corresponding risk prevention education that will afford students the know-how to protect themselves online through media, digital, and social-emotional literacy tools.

Notable Announcements from the Launch Event:

  • The Fifth HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition will be focused on the “Trust Challenge” this year. Contenders are to develop digital tools, systems, and platforms that foster trust, safety, and privacy.
  • On behalf of Mozilla Foundation, An-Me Chung announced several commitments to fulfill the action steps laid out in the Task Force report. The non-profit seeks to provide pathways to quality contents, and build digital literacies for both adults and youth.  Lastly, Mozilla is intending to fund a new credentialing system in the form of an open badge infrastructure that would enable crediting new skills acquired across formal and informal learning contexts.