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Learners at the Center of a Networked World

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Technology is an essential element of our everyday lives. It empowers individuals with more information, more options and more customized experiences, at home and everywhere else.

Technology has transformed every aspect of our lives, but its current capacity and future potential to transform education and the very way children learn may yield its greatest results yet.

It has the power to accelerate learning, expand parental choice, provide better tools for teachers and make education more exciting and engaging -- both inside and outside the classroom. When education is reorganized around the interests and needs of students, and schools embrace the innovative tools available today, students can achieve extraordinary success.

Recognizing the need to rethink education in today's digital world, the Aspen Task Force on Learning and the Internet released "Learner at the Center of a Networked World." This landmark, cross-sector, cross-partisan report provides clear recommendations to state leaders on how they can advance learning and innovation while keeping the needs of children at the center of the debate and the solutions.

The Task Force is comprised of 20 innovative and respected experts in the fields of technology, public policy, education, business, privacy and safety. As a result of a year of study, outreach to stakeholders and public input, Task Force members are calling for a new paradigm of learning -- an innovative education system that places the student at the center of education.

This enables all students to learn in their own style, to learn at their own pace, and to collaborate with others while doing so. To realize this vision, states should consider policies and practices that embrace learning both on and offline; foster learning networks, equity of access, interoperability and digital literacy; and protect the safety and privacy of students.

Here are the highlights of our recommendations:

Innovative education must be built on high academic standards and strong, transparent accountability to prepare students to thrive in a rapidly evolving, networked world. Students should have the power to decide in which learning opportunities they participate. We recommend states and districts develop competency-based systems for recognizing the acquisition of these skills. Students must have access to interoperable learning networks that allow them to earn credit for what they have learned regardless of where they learned it -- whether from a museum, a library, an after-school program, a massive open online course (MOOC), or in the classroom. In these competency-based models of learning, what you know is more important than where you go. These credits should be recognized by schools and institutions of higher education as well.

Learners must possess the digital literacy necessary to effectively utilize today's media platforms. We must empower students and educators with the knowledge and skills to thrive online. We recommend reforming the Federal Communications Commission's E-Rate program to focus on broadband and internal Wi-Fi connections. Doing so will support the online, blended and flipped learning models that harness faster broadband connections in today's classrooms as well as the continued evolution of digital learning and other yet-to-be-developed education models of the 21st century. Meanwhile, the public and private sectors should explore innovative partnerships to bring broadband access to all students.

Students must be able to learn in safe and trusted environments. Outdated laws and regulations should be modernized to keep pace with the evolving education landscape. But, trust must go beyond mere compliance with privacy laws. It must involve transparency and openness, data stewardship, accountability, oversight, and enforcement. We recommend policy makers and education leaders establish secure mechanisms for reporting students' academic progress.

Schools and content providers must build trust with parents, students and teachers about student data. We recommend developing new technological solutions to protect data, including providing a privacy dashboard that allows parents to see their children's data and gives them the ability to turn on and off certain sharing features, leaving these personal choices to the students' families.

The education community has not yet fully taken advantage of the power of technology, and we are hopeful this report jumpstarts the national conversation about accelerating learning in the 21st century.

We hope to see education and business leaders, communities and parents commit to moving these recommendations forward in the coming year.

Most importantly, we hope education becomes increasingly centered on students and not adults in the system. Providing access to a quality education for every student is the key to restoring opportunity and the right to rise in America.

Jeb Bush served as the governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and is chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Rosario Dawson is an actress and co-founder of Voto Latino, a nonpartisan civic-engagement organization.