The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the MacArthur Foundation recently announced the winners of a national competition that will create 12 digital learning centers for kids and teens. The winners include eight libraries and four museums. The cost of the program totals $1.2 million in grants. It’s a big investment and an even more exciting venture.

If you follow the Spark blog, you’re probably already familiar with YOUmedia — a digital media center for teens in the heart of Chicago. We profiled this center in the past and showed you the impact it has had on students in the area. YOUmedia and the work being done by cultural anthrologist Mimi Ito are changing the way researchers and educators look at the way children learn. The success of the YOUmedia center and President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign are the two driving forces behind this competition. The presidential campaign is aimed at placing American students at the forefront of science and math learning. YOUmedia has proven that one of the best ways to do this is to create a digital environment where students feel involved, in control, and inspired to create something new.

When the competition began, there were 98 applicants from 32 states. These candidates were whittled down to 12 winners. The locations for the 12 new learning labs include: San Francisco, CA; Thornton, CO; Columbia, MD; St. Paul, MN; Kansas City, MO; New York, NY; Columbus, OH; Portland, OR; Allentown, PA; Philadelphia, PA; Nashville, TN; Houston, TX.

Each location will receive funding to create a digital learning space for kids and teens. Overseeing the projects, the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and the Association of Science-Technology Centers will ensure that centers use best practices to meld traditional and technological learning in a way that equips students with STEM skills and a positive learning environment.

Susan Hildreth, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, explained why the competition placed its focus on libraries and museums in an article on the MacArthur Foundation’s website.

“Libraries and museums are part of re-envisioning learning in the 21st century,” says Hildreth, “they are trusted community institutions where teens can follow their passions and imagine exciting futures.”

By immersing teens in digital technology, students are more likely to take an active role in learning. Robert Gallucci, President of the MacArthur Foundation, explained why digital learning and libraries and museums make the perfect combination for spurring innovation and involvement in teens:

“Digital media are profoundly influencing young people’s lives, their behavior, their civic participation, and where and how they learn. These innovative new teen labs are designed to provide young people with engaging and diverse opportunities for learning and exploration beyond the classroom. The nation’s libraries and museums play an important role in leveling the playing field by providing greater access to learning experiences that equip our young people with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st Century.”

With so many of our nation’s libraries and museums facing budget cut-backs and funding difficulties, it’s exciting to see a new program actively investing in the welfare of these essential institutions. The face of learning is changing, and we need more innovative ideas like this if we’re to recapture the attention of 21st century learners.

The addition of 12 digital media learning centers across the country is definitely a start. We can’t wait to see the the impact these centers will have not only on the students they serve, but on the way we understand and value learning as a whole.