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MacArthur Foundation Spins Off $25 Million "Connected Learning" Nonprofit

The Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation announced this week that it will provide $25 million in seed funding for a new nonprofit charged with building on the foundation's decade of major investments in digital-media-based learning and "connected cities."

The new organization, dubbed Collective Shift, will be headed by two digital-learning heavyweights: Chief Executive Officer Connie Yowell, the former director of education at the MacArthur Foundation, and Chief Operating Officer Jessica Lindl, who most recently headed the games-and-analytics nonprofit GlassLab.

The pair's first project, called LRNG, aims to connect schools, businesses, libraries, museums, and city leaders in efforts to build new "ecosystems of learning," according to the group's press materials. An initiative dubbed "Cities of LRNG" will seek to rapidly expand MacArthur-supported demonstration projects in Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Washington.

Read Education Week's coverage of Pittsburgh's Cities of Learning initiative.

Scaling up such work requires "a new, more diverse set of investors and partners; alternative funding models and mechanisms; and a more entrepreneurial and innovative way of operating than is possible as a foundation program," said MacArthur President Julia Stasch in a statement.

The foundation is investing in the spin-off effort as "a new model of a nonprofit organization, combining the vision and structure of a nonprofit with the business rigor, product development mentality, agility, and growth potential of a technology company," Stasch said.

The new learning ecosystems envisioned as part of the LRNG initiative center around the idea that young people's interests should drive their learning both inside school and out, with a focus on real-world applications and connections to peers and mentors. Citywide efforts based on that philosophy aim to provide structured opportunities and paths for young people to connect to such learning opportunities.  Progress is documented through digital badges, among other technologies.

The new effort's goal is to engage 1 million young people in 70 communities by 2018, according to its press materials.

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