Digital Loft: A Learning Platform for Instructors and Trainers

Project: Research project

Project Details


Societal problems, such as climate change, poverty, and illiteracy, can only be solved with social innovators--people who understand societal challenges in context, design new technologies, and can work with diverse stakeholders. To become social innovators, learners must gain experience tackling complex, ill-structured design challenges that are not easily solved by a single individual within a fixed time frame. This makes innovation difficult to teach: individual mentoring is effective but expensive; extra-curricular environments provide flexibility but insufficient guidance; and classroom instruction is too rigid and time-bound for solving complex public problems. Social innovators can better be developed via social innovation networks — learner communities collaborating to solve real-world problems. Social innovation networks: a) teach learners to design solutions to real problems, b) are led by learners and supported by faculty and professional experts, c) extend nationally through a network of local hubs and d) have pro-social missions. Unfortunately, such networks are difficult to orchestrate: facilitators must coordinate many project teams with varying levels of expertise and work on different problems to address unpredictable needs of community clients. How might social innovation networks be orchestrated to develop effective innovators? Loft ( a digital studio used by 1700 learners working on more than 275 innovation projects across the US. This research will test the design argument that digital studios can help social innovation networks develop innovators through pedagogical affordances that create networked teaching hubs in support of learner-driven projects. Building on the exploratory NSF design-based research undergirding the Loft, this iCorps project will develop an understanding of the customer needs inherent in social innovation networks and develop a sustainable business model to commercialize the Loft platform. Analysis of digital studios in innovation networks will include interviews, observation, and surveys and empirically grounded design principles. It will build novel systems based on new insights and evaluate developed tools and methods through software deployments. The team’s researchers, designers, and programmers from Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute, School of Education & Social Policy, and industry have expertise in cyberlearning, innovation education, peer production, web development, and scaling educational initiatives.
Effective start/end date8/15/151/31/16


  • National Science Foundation (IIP-1550565)


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