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Mizuko (Mimi) Ito is a cultural anthropologist and learning scientist who has studied young people’s engagement with digital technology for thirty years in the United States and Japan. She is Director of the Connected Learning Lab and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at the University of California, Irvine. She has two PhDs from Stanford University, in Education and Anthropology, and an undergraduate degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University. She had research appointments at Keio University and the University of Southern California before joining UC Irvine.

Her work centers on how to tap student interests and digital media to fuel learning that is engaging, relevant, inclusive, and socially connected. Her studies include research on the growth of mobile media culture and otaku culture in Japan, youth social media and network and games in the US, and the worldwide adoption of networked Japanese children’s media such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. More recently, her work has focused on how educators, technologists, and parents can honor young people’s diverse interests and identities, tapping their interests and digital engagements to power learning, support wellbeing, and civic engagement.

For over a decade, she directed research for the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative and led the development the “connected learning” research and design framework with an international network of scholars, educators, and designers. The connected learning framework offers a youth-centered and equity-oriented approach towards understanding and supporting learning, development, and wellbeing in a digitally connected era. Ito established the Connected Learning Lab at UC Irvine, and an affiliated nonprofit, the Connected Learning Alliance, to continue research, innovation, and social impact projects in technology and learning.

In addition to the MacArthur Foundation, she has been awarded grants by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, Pivotal Ventures, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, Google, Intel Research, Microsoft Research, the Abe Fellowship Program, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and is the recipient of the Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies from the American Educational Research Association.

“How can we support diverse youth as connected innovators, learners and change makers?”

Leveling the Landscape

In an era of growing disparities in education and income, it has become increasingly critical to ensure that all children have access to social and relevant learning experiences. “Because of its reach, technology can level the playing field — or raise barriers to opportunity even higher,” says Professor Mizuko (Mimi) Ito, a cultural anthropologist of technology use and author of a series of highly influential books on the topic. Her work at the intersection of computer and social sciences is setting new standards in connected learning — learning that is equitable, social and learner-focused.

Redefining Education

“With information and social connection so abundant, it’s heartbreaking that not all young learners have the same access to amazing educational opportunities that are relevant and keyed to their passionate interests,” Professor Ito says. The good news: “Through the smart deployment of new technology, we can begin to turn the tide.” As Director of the Connected Learning Lab, Professor Ito explores the opportunities and risks of learning afforded by today’s changing media ecology. “People assume education has to take place in the classroom with a teacher,” she says. “Instead, we should be leveraging new media to enhance kids’ learning when they’re engaged in the things that inspire them.”

Geeking Out Meets Hanging Out

For many young people, “hanging out” often means texting or chatting on Facebook or Twitter. Others are more exploratory, surfing the web in search of resources or information. High on Professor Ito’s research agenda is investigating strategies that can motivate adolescents to “geek out” — cultivating interests that improve academic skills or prepare them for careers. “Most impactful experiences with new media don’t happen at school,” she says. “I want to encourage educators and parents to be more creative. Rather than kicking kids off of the computer, they can help them use digital media in pursuit of shared life goals.”


Ph.D., Education and Anthropology, Stanford University


  • Algorithmic Rights and Protections for Children
  • Asset and Action-Based Approaches to Civic Learning
  • Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning, From Good Intentions
  • From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity by Design in Learning Technologies
  • The Connected Learning Research Network: Reflections on a Decade of Engaged Scholarship
  • Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World
  • Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media
  • Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children’s Media
  • Personal Portable Pedestrian: Mobile Phone in Japanese Life

Research Areas

View Digital Media and Learning

Digital Media and Learning

Exploring the intersection of technology, education, and communication to understand and enhance how individuals acquire …

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