Digital Media & Learning Grant Guidelines

Understand guideline and funding cycles

MacArthur publishes program guidelines to help applicants determine whether their idea for a grant fits within a particular grantmaking strategy.

As a general rule, applicants should base this decision on three related criteria that appear in program guidelines: the topical focus addressed by the grantmaking strategy; the geographic area covered by the grantmaking strategy; and, finally, the type of funding (i.e., general operating support, research, program support, etc.) that supports the grantmaking strategy.

Like most strategic grantmaking foundations, the MacArthur Foundation considers funding only those applications that closely match the topical, geographic, and funding criteria for a specific grantmaking strategy.

The Foundation is not accepting unsolicited proposals for work in digital media and learning at this time. Recipients are identified through staff deliberations resulting from consultations with current grantees and others in the field.


One of the most significant forces shaping student learning and educational experiences in and out of school in the 21st century is  rapidly evolving new technologies, including digital media. Through research, demonstrations, and innovations in schools, libraries, museums and other institutions, MacArthur is exploring that trend and helping to build a new interdisciplinary field at the intersection of digital media and learning. From the work, a new way of thinking about and supporting learning, called "connected learning," has emerged. It posits that the most robust and enduring learning takes place at the intersection of activities that engage young people’s personal interests, their peer culture, and academics.

Through 2012, the Foundation has awarded grants totaling more than $100 million.  With support to scholars, educators, designers, and practitioners, the Foundation continues to explore and expand on the hypothesis that digital media use is changing how young people think, learn, interact, confront ethical dilemmas, and engage in civic life, and that there are significant implications for the formal and informal institutions — schools, libraries, and museums among them — that are responsible for educating American youth. After an initial exploratory phase, the current focus is on advancing the notion of Connected Learning, demonstrating Connected Learning in action in several sites, and creating the conditions for broad understanding and adoption.  

Questions about this grantmaking area can be addressed to Senior Executive Secretary Karen Hott.

What MacArthur Funds

Foundation-funded research is contributing to a growing body of evidence about young people and digital media. Ethnographic studies, surveys, interdisciplinary research networks, and other projects are examining what young people are doing online, their views on such activities, and what knowledge, skills, and competencies they are gaining. Critical research is underway through interdisciplinary research networks on Connected Learning and on Youth and Participatory Politics.  Research is coordinated by the Digital Media and Learning Hub at the University of California at Irvine.

Grants also support efforts to develop new learning environments to understand how schools, libraries, museums, and other formal and informal institutions need to adapt, change, and collaborate as a result of young people’s use of digital media. Projects are looking at learning through game design, with mobile devices, and through the interactions in social networks—in and out of school. Resources support the Quest to Learn school design, which reflects an approach based on the principles of game design and shapes all aspects of teaching and learning. They also support new thinking about public libraries and museums, inspired by the YOUmedia teen space at the Chicago Public Library,, and benefiting from a partnership between the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is funding planning for similar learning labs in libraries and museums across the country. Hive Learning networks operate in Chicago and New York City, through which civic and cultural institutions work together to help young people integrate learning across formal and informal, virtual, and physical environments, and  innovative work is underway on ways to assess learning, wherever and whenever it occurs.  New game-based assessments are being developed at the Games, Learning and Assessment Lab (GLASS) housed at the Electronic Arts Corporation campus and jointly funded with the Gates Foundation.

Field Building
To help build the emerging digital media and learning field, the Foundation portfolio includes the MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, and the MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning.  The interactive Web sites and, for the further development of Connected Learning as a theory and in practice, are additional resources for the field, as is the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, an international research center at the University of California, Irvine.

To encourage innovation and provide resources for new learning environments, including those developed by young designers and scholars, the Foundation funds the Digital Media and Learning Competition. This endeavor invites U.S. and international participants to compete for $2 million in grant awards administered by HASTAC. The Competition seeks U.S. and international projects that use digital or new media as platforms for participatory learning. The 4th Digital Media and Learning Competition recently made 30 awards related to the development of badge systems for motivating, assessing, and displaying learning and additional awards for academic research on the topic. The 5th Digital Media and Learning Competition will issue a call for proposals in 2013.

Other projects in Digital Media and Learning are generally identified through staff deliberation and consultation with experts in the field.


Updated October 12, 2012