MacArthur Foundation Launches $25 Million Nonprofit to Inherit Education Projects

MacArthur Foundation Launches $25 Million Nonprofit to Inherit Education Projects

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Since 2006, the MacArthur Foundation has pumped over $200 million into dozens of projects to connect entrepreneurs, educators, researchers, policymakers and learners to re-imagine the learning experience. Among the prominent work carried out under the “Digital Media and Learning” banner: digital badges, research on “Connected Learning” and the creation of “Cities of Learning” networks.

This week, the foundation is spinning off some of these efforts into a separate nonprofit entity, Collective Shift, and providing it with $25 million in seed funding. Connie Yowell, who spearheaded the digital learning work at the MacArthur Foundation as its education director, will serve as Collective Shift’s chief executive.

“We built a very strong North Star about where the future of learning needed to go,” says Yowell in an interview with EdSurge. “What we didn’t do was built an infrastructure to scale the future of learning.”

New media and the Internet can only offer so much in the way of learning opportunities. What’s also crucial to the education experience, according to Yowell, are community-based and face-to-face interactions.

Connecting the digital and physical experience—one of the tenets of “connected learning”—requires buy-in from local governments as well as companies, schools, youth clubs and other community institutions. “This scale can’t happen with just one foundation or institution. We need an entity that can sit at the intersection of the for-profit sector, creative and entertainment [sectors], and the nonprofit and public sectors.”

In a prepared statement, MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch shared financial incentives for the spinoff: “The real scale and spread of the principles, practices and products that have emerged from ten years of investment in digital media and learning require a new, more diverse set of investors and partners; alternative funding models and mechanisms; and a more entrepreneurial and innovative way of operating than is possible as a foundation program.”

Collective Shift’s first project is LRNG, which, according to the website, “is creating a 21st century ecosystem of learning that combines in-school, out-of-school, work-based, and online learning opportunities that are visible and accessible to all.” One of its efforts, “Cities of LRNG,” inherits efforts started by the MacArthur Foundation to provide youth access to educational opportunities in their local neighborhoods. Already piloted in Pittsburgh, New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, the project will expand to other locations in the coming months.

Other MacArthur projects that will be brought into the fold include Open Badges, developed in partnership with the Mozilla Foundation to create digital credentials, and Educator Innovator, an online community for teachers to learn and explore new ideas.

Collective Shift will also have a new partner: GlassLab, a nonprofit launched in 2012 thanks to a $10.2 million grant from the Gates and MacArthur foundations, will be merging with Yowell’s group. GlassLab had an ambitious mission: working with educational game developers to build in-game assessments and an analytics platform that pulls data from different games into a unified reporting platform.

“The backend that powers the data and analytics for GlassLab is the same platform we are using for LRNG,” says Lindl, former executive director of GlassLab and current chief operating officer at Collective Shift. “We’re not looking at just game-based assessment, but leverage data and analytics to personalize experience outside the classroom.”

GlassLab will continue working with developers and adding new titles to its game catalog, assures Lindl.

The Collective Shift team, numbering roughly 30 people (including former GlassLab employees), will be based in Redwood City, CA, with satellite offices in Chicago and Los Angeles. 

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