ACT, Arizona State University Partner on Ed-Tech Research, Product Development Institute

Associate Editor

San Diego

ACT, the nonprofit developer of assessments, and Arizona State University are establishing a new institute to collaborate on educational technology research, it was announced today at the ASU+GSV Summit held here.

The partnership will focus on research related to adaptive learning, workforce readiness and social and emotional learning, among other areas, in an effort to impact the future of learning, said Marten Roorda, the CEO of ACT, in an interview.

“A lot of money has been invested in educational technology so far—recently more than $9 billion—but the outcomes are not really impressive yet,” Roorda said. “We want to do more foundational research to improve that, to create more validity and transparency and efficacy in educational technology.”

The institute—focused on the future of learning—will be like a lab, where joint research and development is conducted. It will be operational later this year, Roorda said.

Once the foundational research is finalized, “then we will definitely do prototyping and product development,” he said. ASU will dedicate researchers to the institute, as will ACT, Roorda said. ASU also has students who could work on the pilots or prototypes, he added.

Besides conducting research for product launches, the institute will also work with companies interested in taking their established digital instructional products and making them adaptive to improve academic outcomes, Roorda said.

ASU and ACT indicated, in a joint statement, that they want to identify “dozens of advanced research and product development initiatives designed to enhance the future of learning for all individuals, regardless of their background, from K-12 through career.”

The work with Arizona State University will align with both organizations’ goals to “lead the education world in groundbreaking research and the development of innovative products and services focused on improving learning and readiness,” their release said.

A guide for the institute’s work will include the ACT Holistic Framework, which is intended to provide schools, districts, states and employers with “a more complete and expansive description of the academic and nonacademic factors essential for preparing and measuring student readiness for college and careers.”

ASU was selected because of its strengths as “a highly innovative higher education institution,” said Roorda, and because it is focused on equity. ACT partners with other universities for research as well, he said, noting that he expects other strategic partners like foundations and universities to join their work once the institute is underway.

“We will be investing a lot in human resources and financial resources,” Roorda said. “This is important and it needs to be done. We’re pushing the envelope to make or create more value in educational technology, which I think—until now—was not always the case.”

Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT is known for developing the ACT test and other educational assessments that the organization says are taken by more than 15 million students worldwide. The partnership with ASU is part of what ACT calls its “ongoing transformation to an organization dedicated to learning and assessment.”

Earlier this year, ACT made a $7.5 million strategic investment in Smart Sparrow, an adaptive learning company. And last year, ACT invested $10.5 million in New Markets Venture Partners, citing an interest in advancing ed-tech, and a shared focus on promoting equity in education.

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