Ed. Dept. Pulls Plug on ‘Learning Registry,’ an Obama-Era Tech Initiative

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The U.S. Department of Education has ended its support for the Learning Registry, which was designed to serve as a cutting-edge information-sharing network but is going away because of what the agency said are its “rapidly aging technologies” that do not mesh with other systems.

The agency said in a statement that it is encouraging researchers and ed-tech developers to take up the registry’s ideas and infrastructure–which are openly licensed–to create their own tools and platforms.

The department ended support for the project on Sept. 24. The agency said that the project’s code base, documentation, and archived metadata have been made available via the platforms GitHub and the Internet Archive, and that it “invites the public to innovate.”

In fact, by design, the code base, documentation, and metadata for the Learning Registry have always been open, Steven Midgley, a former senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Education who worked on the project, said in an e-mail.

Midgley described the registry as an important step in advancing the education community’s use of open educational resources–content created on licenses that allow them to be freely shared, altered, and repurposed.

The department’s decision is based on “industry moving forward, and past, the research aims of the project,” Midgley said. “I think the project itself is no longer needed, and there are interesting successor projects being advanced,” including by private foundations.

“The key fact is that open educational resources are a major factor in education now, [which are] becoming more and more expected and valued,” added Midgley, who is now the managing director at Learning Tapestry, a company that focuses on educational innovation and infrastructure. “These things are, in part, attributable to the technical and cultural impact of the Learning Registry.”

In its online post about ending support for the project, Department of Education officials said the registry’s goals mesh with the agency’s broader ambitions with #GoOpen, an effort to help districts and states use open educational resources.

Supporting open educational resources “continues to be a priority for the department,” the agency said, “and we can’t wait to see what new innovations will grow from this initial investment” in the registry.

The Learning Registry was launched in November of 2011 by the U.S. Departments of Education and Defense. In a 2014 Education Week story about the registry, department officials estimated that about $1 million had been spent on the project up to that point. While the Department of Education oversaw the registry, it was also supported by the Pentagon as well as other federal agencies. In addition, Amazon Web Services hosted the project and had spent  at least $20,000 on it, as of four years ago.

Seeds of Innovation?

In creating the Learning Registry, department officials said they sought to give K-12 educators an easy way to find online resources, without having to scour the internet, site by site. But the agency also did not want to merely launch and send K-12 officials to another website with an online library of content and nothing to distinguish it from the broader universe of web-based material.

There was no single home website for the Learning Registry. Instead, educators accessed its resources through individual sites that they were visiting already, which tapped into the registry. The registry drew its educational resources from a wide variety of sites–department officials at one point estimated that about 500 different publishers had contributed resources to it–including the National Science Digital Library, the Smithsonian, and a Florida online platform known as CPALMS.

As the department developed the Learning Registry, some observers questioned how easy it would be for the federal agency and the educational community to sustain interest in the platform and build awareness of it among the public and educators.

Richard Culatta, who led the office of educational technology at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, said the decision to end it was disappointing but not surprising. He said it was likely that reductions in the capacity of the office ed tech under the Trump administration had hampered efforts to support projects like the registry.

If there was sufficient department support, the registry “could have been updated and maintained as intended,” he said. But there’s not the “bench strength” at the agency, he said, to keep it going.

Department of Education officials did not respond to requests for comment about ending support for the Learning Registry, beyond what the agency said in its online statement.

Even with the registry’s demise, Culatta, who is now the CEO of ISTE, a major ed-tech association, predicted it will continue to influence the development of ed-tech tools among private companies and nonprofit organizations.

For instance, the ideas and infrastructure generated by the registry could help the K-12 community with broader tech efforts to promote “interoperability“– or attempts to allow the easy sharing of data across proprietary and otherwise dissimilar K-12 platforms, he said. The open-sourcing of the platform will help, but so will the Learning Registry’s overall effort to create a vast network of content-providers and educators reading from the same script, argued Culatta.

“From the beginning, we were building it with the intention of providing value that was ongoing, and that’s what happened,” Culatta said. The value is the “ideas behind it, and the community it created.”

Midgley said he believes the metadata–basically, data that describes all that is housed in the registry–will be of “potential great use” to ed-tech companies and to researchers, though he wishes people were more aware of it.

Department officials have directed the public, as well as ed-tech developers and researchers, to several resources that have grown out of the Learning Registry.  The Learning Registry’s code base, documentation, and archived database of metadata can be found at Learning Registry GitHub Page, and there’s a Learning Registry Repository, which contains the code from the platform.

All the project’s documentation, meanwhile, is housed on the Learning Registry Repository Wiki. That site includes a Community Projects page that provides documentation for an Easy Publish tool, a Search Widget, and other features “built by the community for the Learning Registry.”

Additional resources can be found in the department’s announcement.


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One thought on “Ed. Dept. Pulls Plug on ‘Learning Registry,’ an Obama-Era Tech Initiative

  1. This is one more example of privatizing education. Now that companies are stepping in to provide these resources, only wealthy school districts will be able to access them in the near future. This widening achievement gap is growing! “Rapidly aging technology” is just an excuse to help send more education $$$ to corporations. This funding should be going to teachers and schools.

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