The Trust Challenge: $1.2 Million in Grant Funding to Foster Trusted Online Learning Environments

WASHINGTON – June 17, 2014: HASTAC and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, responding to a landmark Aspen Institute report, announced a $1.2 million challenge to foster trust in online learning environments and help educators harness one of the most powerful tools of the digital age – online networks.

The 5th Digital Media and Learning Competition, dubbed The Trust Challenge, will offer year-long development grants of up to $150,000 to teams with the most promising innovations for fostering trusted learning environments online. The open invitation for proposals is supported by the MacArthur Foundation through a grant to the University of California, Irvine, administered by HASTAC, an alliance of more than 14,000 humanists, artists, social scientists, scientists and technologists working together to transform the future of learning.

The Trust Challenge is a response to a new report by the Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet that called for innovations that enable people to pursue learning experiences online in an environment that is safe and private. The task force focused on American education, but the Trust Challenge is an international competition because the challenge is global.

“The Aspen Institute Task Force on Learning and the Internet has highlighted the transformative role that digital media can play in helping every learner to reach his or her full potential,” said David Theo Goldberg, a HASTAC board member and the director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute. “Our competition seeks to advance solutions that build the trusted environments learners need online so they can safely and confidently access the rich learning opportunities the Internet affords.”

In the Task Force report, Learner at the Center of a Networked World, also made public on Thursday, Honorary Co-Chairs Jeb Bush and Rosario Dawson argue a trusted online environment is necessary for effective learning. “Technology should revolve around the learner, not the other way around,” they wrote. “And the learner should possess the digital age literacy tools to use and understand the media in both the virtual and physical worlds.”

The Aspen Institute report envisions a future of openness and innovation in education if America can shift away from a fear-based approach to using the Internet that unwittingly blocks access to valuable learning resources.

“Just as the digital revolution changed many industries, its promise is now being realized in learning environments inside and outside schools,” said Connie Yowell, MacArthur’s Director of Education and a leading proponent of Connected Learning. “The Internet is a vital link, and innovative educators are helping learners create unique and personalized learning pathways as they follow their interests online, connect to supportive peers and mentors, and become the creative makers and producers today’s economy rewards. Our goal is to support this explosion of interest-driven learning by ensuring all learners can safely and confidently leverage these rich digital resources.”

The Trust Challenge is open to museums, libraries, school districts, schools, higher education institutions, community organizations, developers, researchers and others committed to creative, open connected learning. Successful projects will develop digital projects and tools designed to build privacy, security, and safety into its digital offerings and build awareness around data and trust. Projects might include web or online applications, digital badge systems, data management platforms, online learning content or other innovations.

Winners will receive grants of $10,000 to $150,000 as well as a year of programming designed to support successful project development. Grantees will be networked with each other and more broadly into a highly innovative, cross-disciplinary community of technologists, educators, scholars and leading thinkers.

Organizations and institutions can also win three $5,000 People’s Choice Awards that will support the purchase of approved technology. People’s Choice Winners will be determined by an online vote.

For more information about the Trust Challenge, visit


  • Sheryl Grant, Director of Social Networking
    HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competition

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