This Funder Wants to Know What Works in Digital Learning

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation's approach to education funding is to aim for system-level changes — and what better way to do that than to target the way in which instruction is delivered in the classroom? This funder also is interested in quality research. A recent grant from the Arnold Foundation speaks to both interests.

Arnold recently awarded $6 million to the nonprofit organization Computers For Youth (CFY) to evaluate digital learning activities. The three-year grant will allow CFY to research the impact of digital learning content in CFY's Power My Learning program. Power My Learning is a free, web-based platform for K-12 students, teachers, and parents that enables access to online educational content, including games, videos, and interactive applications.

With the ubiquity of digital technology, it was inevitable that education systems would embrace online educational activities. No longer just an "add-on" to teacher-led instruction, technology has become increasingly integrated into daily classroom instruction through such approaches as blended learning, which combines teacher-led instruction with digital content that students access with laptop computers or tablet devices. With dozens of providers offering these activities and school systems buying laptops and tablets for students to access online learning content, digital learning activities are as much a part of today's K-12 classrooms as chalk boards and overhead projectors were for past generations.

However, with so much digital educational material available, there is little guidance or transparency about what works or has the greatest impact on actual student learning. With its grant to CFY, Arnold hopes to find an answer to that question. Consistent with Arnold's advocacy of quality research in all areas, including education, CFY states that it will conduct gold-standard research that includes randomized controlled experiments to gauge the effects of digital learning activities.

Through this research, CFY hopes to create a kind of "Consumer Reports" tool for digital learning that will guide educators to the best technology, as well as content that supports the Common Core standards, now in place in 45 states and the District of Columbia.