Digital Learning

SCE and Digital Learning: How did we get here?

On January 2, 2017, SCE is launching a new Challenge initiative focused on digital learning. In the coming weeks, we will post a three-part blog that will outline SCE’s approach, aspirations, what motivates us to invest in this topic, which questions we hope to answer and what, we believe, would constitute success in this initiative.

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SCE and Digital Learning: How did we get here?


Founded in 2009, SCE’s mission is to help equip youth with the skills needed to thrive in the 21st century. Our emphasis on informal learning environments is intentional: we support programs and platforms that offer youth a way to explore their own interests and connect to their world. We believe that learning does not happen solely in school, and we seek to blend the development of social and emotional skills with digital fluency.

We describe ourselves as an Exchange for a reason. In our seven year history, we have learned that building partnerships with top practitioners, policy developers, applied researchers, and funders creates the optimal environment to address hard problems and to create sustainable change. We continually ask challenging questions and we believe we move closer to solutions by discovering, analyzing, and elevating outstanding field work.

We launched a similar initiative in 2014. SCE partnered with expert practitioners and a team of top researchers to design and implement the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Challenge. The two-year Challenge shed new light on how afterschool programs can equip teens with valuable social and emotional skills by improving the intentionality and impact of skill building and assessment. Our field guide Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices for Social & Emotional Learning attempts to offer a practical roadmap of activities, practices, case studies, and assessment tools.

SCE believes that in order for the next generation thrive as individuals, professionals and citizens in a rapidly changing world, they must become motivated, thoughtful lifelong learners, while becoming fluent in the new language of digital literacy. Our next initiative will bring together a  community of leading program practitioners, researchers and evaluators,  HR professionals, and digital product developers/distributors to explore important questions about what it means to be a 21st century citizen.  This effort aspires to gain and share knowledge about how digital tools and practices can promote the development of skills for the workforce and positive community participation.


Technology has changed how we view, interact with, and shape the world. We have shifted from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, where anyone with access to the Internet can, under the right conditions, tap into an endless supply of information and connect with citizens all over the world. Technology has also transformed how we work. Workplaces require professionals who can quickly adapt to new roles and master new tools, responsibilities, and jobs while communicating and negotiating across companies, sectors, and continents.

While technology has increased access to knowledge and opportunity, there is evidence of a widening digital divide for low-income individuals, families and communities. Obsolete tools, uneven internet access and mindsets around innovation in education often hinder the development of learning the skills critical to success in today’s knowledge economy. SCE’s previous investments in organizations like Common Sense Media, Games for Change, Hive Chicago, PowerMyLearning, Gooru and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop have focused on these issues.

Over the last few years, there has been an increased focus on using digital media for learning in non-school settings as supported by MacArthur’s Digital Media and Learning initiative, the research on Connected Learning Theory, and the growth of HIVE Learning Networks. The initiatives support kids to build, produce and remix, instead of passively consume, media. These ‘makerspace’ programs provide hands-on learning using digital tools in safe spaces where youth can explore their interests and cultivate their passions while building 21st century skills. Most importantly, makerspaces represent a ‘mindset’: makers create something out of nothing by exploring their own interests. The most successful of these programs are able to draw connections between the program activities/skills and opportunities and obstacles that exist beyond the boundaries of the program. Here, the concept of ‘citizenship’ is a powerful one: it empowers youth as agents of change in their own communities.

Through our work in the digital learning arena and consultation with field experts, we have learned that the decentralized, local nature of afterschool programs often makes it hard for technology developers and distributors to fully grasp the dynamics of their intended markets or to reach scale. These findings are further supported by a large body of research that advises that a top down, one-size-fits-all program is not the solution. It is for this reason we are interested not only in the specifics of these kinds of digital learning programs, but also about the place-based context of this work.

Eligible applicants for this initiative do not necessarily call themselves ‘makerspaces’ or a ‘civics’ program per se, but we do believe that these skills and concepts are important for 21st century learners. We wish to elevate exemplary digital media programs that promote the development of 21st century skills and understand the process by which they overcome challenges specific to their population or community using limited resources.

Check back for next week’s blog: SCE’s BIG QUESTIONS