Government to Invest in Learning Technologies

Charlene OHanlon

The U.S. government has made a commitment to throw some money behind a new organization that would fund research in learning technology - an idea whose time came a long time ago.

The group, called the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies, is the culmination of at least 10 years of exploration into how institutions of learning -- including schools, museums and libraries -- could take advantage of existing and emerging technologies. It is being funded by the U.S. Department of Education to the tune of $500,000.

But that amount is a far cry from the $50 million it originally requested when the center was authorized by the U.S. government in 2008. It's also a far cry from the amount of money spent on technology outside of education every year.

The center will act much like the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health, parsing out grants for projects that further emerging digital learning technologies such as video games and computer simulations. Many of these projects are currently being built organically in school districts and other learning institutions, as more educators wake up to the fact that students' learning methods mimic today's social networking, multi-distractional society, in which computers play a major role.

However, it's important to note that emerging technologies in digital learning can be so much more than video-based instruction. Many school districts are so underfunded when it comes to technology that the purchase of a few interactive whiteboards is cause for oohs and aahs among parents and teachers alike. And although the Obama administration has committed significant stimulus funds toward education, the percentage of those dollars that make their way toward new technologies is extremely limited.

Education and technology feed off each other; in today's society, you cannot have one without the other. But it has always been a lopsided arrangement-education has never had enough money to fund technology properly. That is a crucial barrier that hinders not only the learning process but also our ability as a country to stay up to speed with our foreign counterparts.

The fact that education regards technology as an afterthought-either because of funding or because of perception-puts us at a serious disadvantage in the global marketplace. But the fact that such a center now exists shows we're moving in the right direction. Let's hope the government doesn't cut off its funding before it has a chance to do some real good.

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