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Digital Education Futures Initiative

Researching the new possibilities for education that will shape the future

The Digital Education Futures Initiative (DEFI) works with partners in industry, policy and practice to explore the field of possibilities that digital technology opens up for education.

It is both a Centre for this kind of close-to-practice research and also an initiative to create a new Institute at Cambridge to serve as a global hub and thought-leader in this area. DEFI had its launch event in January 2021 and has already gained interest from more than 800 professionals from around the globe.

Enabling supporters


Current research at DEFI

  • CamTREE: Creating a research platform for educators to promote improved outcomes in classrooms world-wide: www.deficambridge.org/camtree
  • Virtual Internship Project: Transforming proven classroom-based virtual internships to digital delivery, expanding access to work experience for education-leavers.
  • Innovation Lab: drawing upon the expertise of DEFI team members in the application of digital technology to a variety of educational topics and for bespoke research projects: www.deficambridge.org/innovation-lab
  • Inquiring Online: Classroom resources and research for children’s media and information literacy, helping children to navigate the online world.

Mapping new pedagogical affordances

DEFI maps the educational logic of the new Internet Age through research that explores the pedagogical affordances of new technologies, which means the ways of teaching and learning that they make possible for education, ways which were either not possible or more difficult to implement before. While some of these affordances have long been noted in the literature, not enough effort has yet been put into research into how they might or might not transform education in the future. Design-based research implements these affordances in working models of education in order to investigate their consequences.

The core business of the Centre is collaborative research projects with industry partners, in order to:

  • Conduct evidence mapping, horizon scanning and future scoping to analyse emerging trends, anticipate their impact and explore new models of education that may have a ‘real world’ impact.
  • Build and support a global community of stakeholders (including academia, education, policy and industry) to explore and develop new models of education and new research priorities arising due to the growing prevalence of digital technology.
  • Work with Cambridge Partnership for Education and other partners to develop innovative ways of assessing important ‘future skills’ and competences (e.g. teamwork, creativity and collaborative problem-solving).
  • Provide a social enterprise support programme for Cambridge PhD students in the area of education and ed-tech preparing them for possible engagement with a range of start-up incubators and accelerators (the details of this programme will be developed in collaboration with Hughes Hall fellow, Professor Paul Tracey, co-director of the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at the Judge Business School);
  • Host an online-mediated teacher research exchange. This project led by Pete Dudley and Sara Hennessy is developing a platform to support a global network of teachers sharing and developing close-to-practice research. This project builds on and further develops extensive resources informed by cutting-edge research evidence to support the professional learning of teachers through inquiry into their own practice.
  • Host a ‘Virtual Internship’ platform linking schools to enterprises, and other partners such as NGOs, who wish to offer online-mediated educational experiences which at the same time augments the curriculum and offers young people greater engagement with the world of work.

A development period of five years

This initiative seeks to lay the ground for the creation of a permanent institute over the next five years. It is Hughes Hall’s intention that DEFI will become a permanent feature of the global education research community, in the process building a reputation as a thought-leader in the field. Through rigorous research into the affordances and dangers of new models of education made possible by digital technology DEFI will be an invaluable resource for policy makers globally.

Further information