Given the pervasiveness of media and the amount of time today’s young people spend using it—about six and a half hours a day—the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation decided to explore the effects of digital culture on learning.

As part of its five-year, $50-million initiative on digital learning, the foundation sponsored a series of six books with contributions from 51 thinkers in a variety of fields—from education guru Howard Gardner at Harvard to games designer Katie Salen, professor at Parsons New School for Design. The books, which have just been published by the MIT Press, examine how children’s activities, decision making and very identity are affected by wielding a mouse in one hand and a remote in the other.

For MIT Press director Ellen Faran, the decision to publish the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning was an easy one, given the press’s strong technology list and success with books like Eric von Hippel’s Democratizing Innovation and Christine Borgman’s Scholarship in the Digital Age. Faran hopes to keep the debate raised by the books going with the winter ’09 launch of a quarterly MIT Press journal, the International Journal of Learning and Media, to be published in partnership with the Monterey Institute for Technology in Education with support from MacArthur.

In the meantime, to make digital learning ideas as accessible as possible, MIT is offering all six books as free digital downloads, in addition to selling them as $16 paperback originals. There has been some evidence that free PDFs can boost sales at the press. The von Hippel book, one of the first that MIT made available gratis online when it came out in spring 2005, has sold twice as many copies in hardcover as the press had originally projected. Faran intends to continue to experiment with dual publication, which, she noted, can provide a bigger publicity impact by combining traditional marketing with word-of-mouth from open-access bloggers.

In keeping with the multimedia nature of the series, the press launched it in several media channels at once. A standing-room-only panel at the 275-seat Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Mass., was broadcast in real time on Second Life and via Webcast. A podcast is also available online at

Going forward, Faran said that MIT plans to continue to aggressively publish in the new media, design and game studies categories. Senior editor Doug Sery anticipates “a large area of continued growth” in game studies in particular. Both he and Faran view the new journal as an opportunity to seek out new voices among digital culture authors.