The Future of Learning in a Connected World: Conference in San Francisco draws hundreds of researchers, technologists, educators

(IRVINE, CA) — How must learning and education adapt to digital society? That’s the question hundreds of technologists, futurists, researchers, and educators will take on in the “Beyond Educational Technology: Learning Innovations in a Connected World” conference, Mar. 1-3, in San Francisco.

With provocative talks, inspiring case studies, and panel conversations featuring global thought leaders, scholars, and leading practitioners, the conference will address rapidly-escalating concerns about the urgent need to reimagine education, learning, and school for the present generation and beyond.

At the heart of the conference lies a challenge that is drawing the attention of activists, policymakers and social innovators everywhere: At this historical moment, people, cultures, and knowledge are coming together in unprecedented ways via the internet, digital technology, and social media — how should learners and learning institutions change?

The conference, to be held at the Wyndham Parc 55 Hotel in the Union Square district, will spotlight scores of examples of next-generation learning and innovation, including:

  • The exploding sector of international online social learning networks.
  • How YouTube is being used by youth across the world to teach other specialized subject matter.
  • How a group of Muslim girls is using digital media to tell the world what their lives are like.
  • Youth who are designing and using videogames to explore critical social issues like climate change and human rights.
  • Ways in which social media is being used in local communities to push back on the destructive dynamics of gangs and ethnic rivalries.
  • A school in northern California where teachers let go of the reins and let youth learn by designing solutions to real-world issues they care about.

The conference will be dedicated to illuminating big-picture questions but also everyday ones, such as: What happens when a group of 15 teenagers from an underprivileged community in Texas are given regular access to computers and the internet? Are skills like multimedia production and credibility assessment just as important now as reading, writing, and arithmetic? Is the use of social media a classroom-essential?

The first day of the conference will feature a special briefing during which researchers will outline a new model of learning especially geared to digital society. Called  ‘Connected Learning’, it is a new vision of learning suited to the complexity, connectivity, and velocity of the new knowledge society and today’s economic and political realities. A fresh approach to education, connected learning is anchored in research and the best of traditional standards, but also designed to mine the learning potential of the new social- and digital media domain. The press briefing and reception, including cocktails, will take place Thursday, Mar. 1, from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Members of the news media interested in attending the briefing can get more information by emailing Whitney Burke at the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub,

The conference also will feature a Science Fair, produced by the Mozilla Foundation, a nonprofit organization that created the Firefox web browser and advocates worldwide for internet freedom. Mozilla’s science fair will spotlight many exciting new learning-related undertakings, including: Hive Learning Networks, open, connected communities in New York and Chicago dedicated to transforming the learning landscape for youth; Mozilla Popcorn, a classroom tool for youth to produce video book reports, interactive essays, and digital-age storytelling; Peer 2 Peer University, a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls; and Mozilla Open Badges, an effort to create a new way of recognizing skills and achievements for 21st century learners. The Science Fair will take place Thursday, Mar. 1, from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm. It’s a casual event and cocktails and snacks will be served.

The opening night of the conference will also see the naming of the 2011 award winners for the MacArthur Foundation-supported fourth annual Digital Media & Learning Competition. Winners will receive awards of up to $200,000. This year’s competition has been designed to encourage individuals and organizations to create new forms of recognition – digital badges that identify, recognize, and account for new skills, competencies, knowledge, and achievements for 21st century learners regardless of where and when learning takes place.

The conference theme, “Beyond Educational Technology: Learning Innovations in a Connected World,” refers to a dramatic shift that has taken place even in the last few years: the realization that a renaissance in learning is not tied to any specific tool or platform or individual technology, but to the impact of the widespread creation and acquisition of knowledge that is now possible through observing, interacting and collaborating with others anywhere, anytime. The headline speakers include John Seely Brown, an expert in radical innovation, digital culture and ubiquitous computing; and conference chair Diana Rhoten, digital learning entrepreneur and senior vice president for strategy in the new education division at News Corp.

Rhoten believes the conference topic, timing, and location (so near Silicon Valley) will be an unusual opportunity for critical, diverse voices to challenge assumptions and status quo thinking about reimagining  education in the 21st century — and to take on the compelling if controversial role of digital technology, the internet and social media in that task.

“Technology is just a tool to be put in the hands of the users,” Rhoten says. “So before we start talking about what technology can do to innovate education, we must back up the conversation and really understand what the primary practices and purposes of learning are. There’s no other market in which products are built without significant user input. If we don’t start doing that in this sector, we are failing the teachers, students, and parents who are intended to be the direct beneficiaries of entrepreneurial activity.”

This is the third annual conference produced by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, which organizes the gathering to explore what next-generation learning looks like in a world being remade by innovation, technology, and social networks. Located physically at the University of California, Irvine, and situated within the UC system’s Humanities Research Institute, the Research Hub is dedicated to analyzing and interpreting the impact of the internet and digital media on education, politics, and youth.

“Bringing together thought leaders, major technology developers, prominent researchers, and innovative practitioners nationally and internationally, this is a ‘must attend’ experience for anyone wanting to figure out where learning practices are headed, leading research in the field, and best practices in technologically-enabled learning,” says David Theo Goldberg, director of the UC Humanities Research Institute and executive director of the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. “The Digital Media and Learning Conference is a key forum for discovering leading thought and developments regarding digital media’s impact on the innovation and transformation of learning and educational practice.”

The work of the DML Research Hub, which includes original research, websites, publications, workshops, and the conference, is funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The Gates Foundation, the Mozilla Foundation, and Microsoft Research have also contributed to this year’s conference.

About the MacArthur Foundation and the Digital Media & Learning Initiative

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conversation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. The MacArthur Foundation launched its digital media and learning initiative in 2006 to explore how digital media are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life, and what that means for their learning in the 21st century. More information on the digital media and learning initiative is available at

Whitney Burke
Digital Media & Learning Research Hub
University California Humanities Research Institute
p: 949-824-4587