Funding agency: 
National Science Foundation

With this Dear Colleague Letter (DCL), the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorates for Education and Human Resources (EHR) and Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) wish to notify the community of their intention to fund research to support the design of the next generation of digital learning environments for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) content, and in support of STEM education research more broadly. As an important first step in this direction, this DCL encourages a series of synthesis, integration, and design workshops.

This DCL echoes themes that are also important to NSF's long-running Cyberlearning for Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (Cyberlearning) program, which encourages exploratory research in learning technologies to prepare learners to excel in future work at the human-technology frontier.


NSF challenges interdisciplinary science and engineering teams to produce plans for developing forward-looking, highly adaptable, distributed digital environments that can personalize learning for individual, diverse learners in collaborative settings with potential applications across multiple and varying: (a) domains of knowledge, (b) learning contexts (including formal and informal education), and (c) time spans.

Next-generation learning architectures should significantly surpass: (a) learning management systems (LMS) or massively open online courses (MOOCs) that primarily organize, coordinate, and deliver resources (e.g., syllabi, video clips, quizzes); (b) intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) and related activities that narrowly scope learning tasks; and (c) non-adaptive education environments in general.

NSF seeks ideas for rich and highly adaptable environments for learners that may: (a) serve as a forum for active research and development studies by researchers; (b) serve as a testbed for analytics that support the environment's adaptability; and (c) in the spirit of design-based research, serve as a collaborative space for teachers, mentors, and learners to work with researchers as co-developers of the learning environment.

NSF encourages the engagement of a range of disciplines, such as education research, cognitive science, the learning sciences, the science of team science, linguistics, computer science, information science, computational science, mathematics, and statistics. This engagement may encompass experts from areas such as human-computer interaction; data streaming, assimilation, visualization, and analytics; machine learning and deep learning; multi-modal analytics; social network analyses; and adaptive rapid experimental design. While NSF primarily funds domestic institutions, expert advisors may come from academia, industry, or non-profits - both within the US or internationally.

In the spirit of NSF's commitment to broadening participation, activities pursuant to this DCL must strive to be responsive to the needs of each and every learner for access to resources, support for the use of those resources, and achievement of individual learning goals.

While the DCL encourages open exploration of ideas, prospective principal investigators (PIs) should remain cognizant of addressing privacy and security concerns in their proposed activities.

January 22, 2018
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