Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media

About Digital Youth

"Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures" is a three-year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at the University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives. Read more

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Photo Credits: Ritchie Ly and Geert Allegaert.


Since the early 1980s, digital media have held out the promise of more engaged, child-centered learning opportunities. The advent of Internet-enabled personal computers and mobile devices has added a new layer of communication and social networking to the interactive digital mix. While this evolving palette of technologies has demonstrated the ability to capture the attention of young people, the innovative learning outcomes that educators had hoped for are more elusive. Although computers are now fixtures in most schools and many homes, there is a growing recognition that kids' passion for digital media has been ignited more by peer group sociability and play than academic learning. This gap between in-school and out-of-school experience represents a gap in children's engagement in learning, a gap in our research and understandings, and a missed opportunity to reenergize public education. This project works to address this gap with a targeted set of ethnographic investigations into three emergent modes of informal learning that young people are practicing using new media technologies: communication, learning, and play.

The Principal Investigators on this project are Peter Lyman at the University of California, Berkeley, Mizuko (Mimi) Ito at the University of Southern California, Michael Carter of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education, and Barrie Thorne of the University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, the project is administered by the Institute for the Study of Social Change. With the help of a large number of graduate students and postdocs, a variety of projects are under way in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas.

The project has three general objectives. The first objective is to describe kids as active innovators using digital media rather than as passive consumers of popular culture or academic knowledge. The second objective is to think about the implications of kids' innovative cultures for schools and higher education and to engage in a dialogue with educational planners. The third objective is to advise software designers about how to use kids' innovative approaches to knowledge and learning in building better software. This project will address these objectives through ethnographic research in both local neighborhoods in Northern and Southern California, and in virtual places and networks such as online games, blogs, messaging, and online interest groups. Our research sites focus on learning and cultural production outside of schools: in homes, neighborhoods, after-school, and in recreational settings.

This project is sponsored by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Principal Investigators Contact Information:

Mizuko (Mimi) Ito - mito at itofisher dot com
Michael Carter - mcarter at montereyinstitute dot org
Barrie Thorne - bthorne at berkeley dot edu