Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge

Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge / A 21st Century Agenda for the National Science Foundation

Report of the NSF Task Force on Cyberlearning

Christine L. Borgman (Chair), Hal Abelson, Lee Dirks, Roberta Johnson, Kenneth R. Koedinger, Marcia C. Linn, Clifford A. Lynch, Diana G. Oblinger, Roy D. Pea, Katie Salen, Marshall S. Smith, Alex Szalay

June 24 2008 / Posted August 11 2008

Executive Summary

Imagine a high school student in the year 2015. She has grown up in a world where learning is as accessible through technologies at home as it is in the classroom, and digital content is as real to her as paper, lab equipment, or textbooks. At school, she and her classmates engage in creative problem-solving activities by manipulating simulations in a virtual laboratory or by downloading and analyzing visualizations of realtime data from remote sensors. Away from the classroom, she has seamless access to school materials and homework assignments using inexpensive mobile technologies. She continues to collaborate with her classmates in virtual environments that allow not only social interaction with each other but also rich connections with a wealth of supplementary content. Her teacher can track her progress over the course of a lesson plan and compare her performance across a lifelong “digital portfolio,” making note of areas that need additional attention through personalized assignments and alerting parents to specific concerns. What makes this possible is cyberlearning, the use of networked computing and communications technologies to support learning. Cyberlearning has the potential to transform education throughout a lifetime, enabling customized interaction with diverse learning materials on any topic—from anthropology to biochemistry to civil engineering to zoology. Learning does not stop with K–12 or higher education; cyberlearning supports continuous education at any age.


Cyberlearning has tremendous potential right now because we have powerful new technologies, increased understanding of learning and instruction, and widespread demand for solutions to educational problems. In the last decade, the design of technologies and our understanding of how people learn have evolved together, while new approaches to research and design make the development and testing of technologies more responsive to real-world requirements and learning environments. [The National Science Foundation (NSF)] ... has played a key role in these advances, funding interdisciplinary programs specifically to support research and activities in the area of cyberlearning. NSF can continue to lead this revolution by leveraging its investments in the productive intersections between technology and the learning sciences.

Several factors have come together to open these opportunities for cyberlearning. Web technologies enable people to share, access, publish—and learn from—online content and software, across the globe. Content is no longer limited to the books, filmstrips, and videos associated with classroom instruction; networked content today provides a rich immersive learning environment incorporating accessible data using colorful visualizations, animated graphics, and interactive applications. Alongside these technology improvements, “open educational resources” offer learning content and software tools that support search, organization, interaction, and distribution of materials. Private companies are investing in projects to make pervasive learning technologies more affordable and accessible. The global scope of networked educational materials, combined with “recommendation engine” software, helps individuals find special, niche content that appeals to their needs and interests. New models of remote data and application storage combined with broadband network access allow wireless, mobile computing, not just with laptop computers but also with cellular phones. Internet-telephony, videoconferencing, screen sharing, remote collaboration technologies, and immersive graphical environments make distributed collaboration and interaction much richer and more realistic. [snip]

The Task Force on Cyberlearning was charged jointly by the Advisory Committees to the Education and Human Resources Directorate and the Office of Cyberinfrastructure to provide guidance to NSF on the opportunities, research questions, partners, strategies, and existing resources for cyberlearning. This report identifies directions for leveraging networked computing and communications technology. It also calls for research to establish successful ways of using these technologies to enhance educational opportunities and strengthen proven methods of learning.

Full Report Available At

[] / 62 pp.

1 comment:

Ray Tolley said...

The NSF Task Force Report on Cyberlearning is a well-researched document based, as they recognise, primarily on desk-based research. It reads refreshingly well and pulls together the whole range of technological developments that impact on teaching and learning. Although written from the US perspective the picture that the Report paints rings true with the situation here in the UK.

However, despite repeated allusions for the need to embed modern technologies into learning practice in our schools I am disappointed that nothing of the urgency of the present situation appears to come across.

Firstly, as we know there are, according to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, a vast range of learning styles. I do not think that any one subject should be limited to one system of learning. To quote (p29) ‘Humans reason differently in STEM domains – and learn differently…’ My argument is that whatever the discipline, sciences, arts or humanities, the whole range of teaching and learning styles should be recognised and supported. Learning materials, therefore, should be presented through a balanced range of learning styles.

Secondly, in terms of the Technologies so well described, many are here NOW and others are only just around the corner. The problem, as identified (pp12,13) ‘Accomplishing such a transformation requires significant change in the processes of learning.’ But nowhere can I find out what these new processes of learning entail for lesson planning and preparation of appropriate resources.

Thirdly, my concern here is that we desperately need our teachers to be trained in the use of these new technologies, of anytime, anywhere learning, of formative feedback, of collaboration and ‘cloud resources’. Only then can we expect new teaching and learning strategies to be planned, tested and delivered to a following generation of students.

Lest we completely fail a whole generation of students, I would humbly ask that a further Recommendation is added:

6.6 Enable all teachers to adopt Cyberlearning
• Appoint Cyberlearning leaders in every school
• Provide adequate time for Professional Development
• Provide technical support for Web2.0 technologies
• Encourage the sharing of developed resources and lesson plans.