To address the under-investment in learning technology R and D, the President’s FY2012 budget proposes to invest $90 million to create an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED). ARPA-ED will fund projects performed by industry, universities, or other innovative organizations, selected based on their potential to create a dramatic breakthrough in learning and teaching.
ARPA-ED is trying to catalyze development of:
* Digital tutors as effective as personal tutors. Researchers have long aspired to develop educational software that is as effective as a personal tutor, one of the ―grand challenges‖ in the President’s innovation strategy. DARPA and the Navy have supported the development of a ―digital tutor‖ to train new Navy recruits to become IT systems administrators. After using the digital tutor for only seven weeks, Navy recruits are dramatically outperforming their peers who are receiving traditional classroom-based instruction and have the level of expertise of an IT specialist with three years of experience. These early results from the DARPA project show the promise of additional investment in this area.
* Courses that improve the more students use them. Internet companies like Netflix and Amazon have devoted significant resources to develop tools that analyze consumer data to identify patterns, tailor results to users’ preferences, and provide a more individualized experience. Researchers are exploring whether similar techniques can be applied to education. For example, after developing software to teach fractions, researchers could study the learning patterns of how tens of thousands of students mastered different concepts. This ―virtual learning laboratory‖ could draw on this data when presented with new users—taking what it knows about how students learn to tailor material based on how similar individuals successfully mastered those same concepts. The data collected by such software could also provide powerful new insights for practitioners about ways to guide traditional classroom instruction.
* Educational software as compelling as the best videogame. A well-designed game can keep players engaged for hours by becoming progressively more difficult without being impossible, and requiring complex collaborations in multi-player games. The insights from great game designers can and should be applied to develop rich and compelling learning environments for students.
The United States needs to make dramatic improvements in learning outcomes to ensure our future competitiveness:
* On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, only 30% of 8th graders and 21% of 12th graders scored proficient or higher in science.
* In the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math.
* Graduating roughly 75% of our students from high school, America ranks below the average of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and behind 16 other OECD countries.
* Despite having the best colleges in the world, America has relinquished its lead and fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.