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Depts. of Education, Defense Launch Learning Registry

The U.S. Departments of Education and Defense have launched a new joint project, the Learning Registry, a technology that aims to facilitate the aggregation and sharing of educational resources across multiple learning portals and websites.
The Learning Registry is not a website or a destination in itself, but rather an open source infrastructure that can be installed on any existing learning resource portal--like the PBS or National Science Digital Library websites--to help aggregate a variety of educational content and user data across participating sites. The project was designed so that both commercial and public sector partners could freely take part.

"The Learning Registry stitches these systems together, so educators are supported by an interconnected 'fabric' of teaching and learning communities," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement announcing the launch. "As states move forward with implementing the common core standards, this type of sharing will become even more powerful."

Content uploaded to the registry--current partners include NASA, the Smithsonian, and the Library of Congress--can be "tagged" by subject area and filtered to individual partner sites, allowing NSDL, for example, to archive and display only science-related resources, and OER Commons to omit resources that are not open source.
Anonymous data collected from users searching for content on one site, which might include location, grade level of content sought, or simple star or +1 ratings, will be shared across partner sites, letting educators vet content in a way that will be accessible to a broad swath of their peers in different states and disciplines.
"The notion that people are going to go to a federal website to find their content is unreasonable," said Steve Midgley, the Department of Education's deputy director of education technology. "They're going to go where they usually go--teacher portals, the state level, district level, or otherwise. So we want to change the expectation that to find great new content you've got to go to a new site."

The Learning Registry was built, in part, to fix an imperfection in modern search engine technology, which makes it difficult for educators to search resources for their specific student populations. General search sites like Google do not take into account pertinent information about previous users who have searched for and used the content they find.

To the casual user searching for learning resources, the registry should appear completely transparent and invisible. "What I want to see is a user on NSDL's site who gets a resource from PBS and says, 'This is a great resource. Kudos to NSDL and PBS for making a data sharing partnership,'" Midgley said. "The extent of their awareness of Learning Registry is that they notice there's a great new data stream in their preferred content source."

The project, which had been in beta for more than a year, was made possible by a $2.6 million investment, contributed jointly by the Departments of Education and Defense. The Department of Defense, in particular, sees the project as a way to organize and locate the educational content they purchase within their own system for training and use with their own school district, and to move useful learning resources--particularly free ones--from the civilian sector to be consumed in their environment.

About the Author

Stephen Noonoo is an education technology journalist based in Los Angeles. He is on Twitter @stephenoonoo.