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Infrastructure: People, Processes, and Technologies for Learning

Goal: All students and educators will have access to a comprehensive infrastructure for learning when and where they need it.

Although we have adopted technology in many aspects of education today, a comprehensive infrastructure for learning is necessary to move us beyond the traditional model of educators and students in classrooms to a learning model that brings together teaching teams and students in classrooms, labs, libraries, museums, workplaces, and homes – anywhere in the world where people have access devices and an adequate Internet connection. An infrastructure for learning is necessary to support a learning society in which learning is life-long and life-wide.

Our infrastructure for learning is modeled on the cyberinfrastructure envisioned and deployed by the National Science Foundation to encourage collaboration among scientists and researchers, which was subsequently broadened to apply to learning in all domains (National Science Foundation, 2008). The term “cyber” tells us that the time and distance barriers of the physical world are reduced by virtual connections between people and between people and technology resources and tools. “Infrastructure” reminds us that even in virtual worlds, physical and organizational structures are needed to run a system.

The essential underlying principle is that the infrastructure includes people, processes, learning resources, and policies and sustainable models for continuous improvement in addition to broadband connectivity, servers, software, management systems, and administrative tools.

Building an infrastructure for learning is a far-reaching project that will require the participation and collaboration of individuals from all disciplines and types of institutions across the entire spectrum of education. It also will require education, business, and government as partners. And it will take leadership and a commitment to a shared understanding of its importance to transforming U.S. education.

Revolutionary Opportunity for Change

Over the past 40 years, we have seen unprecedented advances in computing and communications that have led to powerful technology resources and tools for learning. Today, low-cost Internet access devices, easy-to-use digital authoring tools, and the web facilitate access to information and multimedia learning content, communication, and collaboration. They also provide the ability to participate in online learning communities that cross disciplines, organizations, international boundaries, and cultures.

Many of these technology resources and tools already are being used within our public education system. We are now, however, at an inflection point for a much bolder transformation of education powered by technology. This revolutionary opportunity for change is driven by the continuing push of emerging technology and the pull of the critical national need for new strategies to turn around a K-12 system that is failing to adequately prepare young Americans for postsecondary education and the workforce and a postsecondary system that is failing to prepare its graduates for success in life and work in a changing world.

Our model of an infrastructure for learning is always on, available to students, educators, and administrators regardless of their location, the time of day, and the type of access devices. It supports not just access to information, but also access to people and participation in online learning communities. It offers a platform on which developers can build and tailor applications.

An infrastructure for learning unleashes new ways of capturing and sharing knowledge based on multimedia that integrate text, still and moving images, audio, and applications that run on a variety of devices. It enables seamless integration of in and out of school learning. It frees learning from a rigid information transfer model (from book or educator to students) and enables a much more motivating intertwine of learning about, learning to do, and learning to be.

On a more operational level, an infrastructure for learning brings together and enables access to data from multiple sources while ensuring appropriate levels of security and privacy. While it integrates computer hardware, data and networks, information resources, interoperable software, middleware services and tools, and devices, it also connects and supports interdisciplinary teams of professionals responsible for its development, maintenance, and management and its use in transformative approaches to teaching and learning.

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