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 2013, the Foundation has awarded grants totaling more than $150 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

Research and Design

Grants focus on establishing a new approach to learning research and design experimentation. Foundation funded research includes ethnographic studies, surveys, interdisciplinary research networks—one on youth and participatory politics and another on connected learning—and other projects that examine what young people are doing online, their views on such activities, and the knowledge, skills, and competencies they are gaining.

Scale, Spread, and Field Building

To continue building the digital media and learning field and spread new approaches to learning, the grant portfolio includes the MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning and the MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning. A website with resources and
research related to connected learning and the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, an international research center at the University of California, Irvine, are additional resources for the field.

Innovation Labs

MacArthur supports experimentation in several types of institutions—libraries, museums, schools, community centers, afterschool programs—to demonstrate what connected learning could look like in action. These include:

  • Hive Learning Networks are open, connected networks of institutions and organizations in cities that seek to create opportunities for youth to explore their interests across institutions in both digital and physical spaces. Currently active in Chicago, New York City, and Pittsburgh—with other locations under development—Hives fund innovative youth programming through public-private partnership support.
  • Quest to Learn is an innovative school model—with campuses in New York City and Chicago— developed in response to growing evidence that digital media and games offer powerful models for reconsidering how and where young people learn. Quest schools are designed to bridge old and new literacies, with students working through a challenge-based curriculum.
  • YOUmedia—which first opened at the Chicago Public Library’s downtown Harold Washington Library Center in 2009—is an innovative teen space for engagement and learning based on MacArthur-supported research. Expansion to other libraries, museums and community based organizations around the country is supported by funds from the Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Digital Media and Learning Competition

To encourage innovation and provide resources for new learning environments, the Foundation funds the Digital Media and Learning Competition. Administered by HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), and supported by a grant to the University of California, Irvine, the competition invites U.S. and international participants to compete for grant awards for domestic and international projects that use digital or new media as platforms for connected learning. The most recent competition supported teams of practitioners and designers to develop digital badge systems, an alternative learning assessment and credentialing mechanism that is managed online.
Other projects in Digital Media and Learning are generally identified through staff deliberation and consultation with experts in the field.


Updated March 2015