Microsoft to build an education 'vault' inspired by HealthVault

Microsoft is building a "digital learning archive," which may be akin to its HealthVault electronic-medical records system.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

My eyes often glaze over when it comes to press releases touting corporate donations and White House visits. (Hey, what can I say? I am a product-focused kind of reporter.)

But I couldn't help but notice a reference to a longer-range Microsoft initiative in a White House release from July 18. Others who covered the $15 million investment by Microsoft Education in research and development for "immersive learning technologies" focused on how Microsoft is looking to apply social/video gaming technology in classrooms. I was more intrigued by a mention of Microsoft's plans to create "a lifelong learning digital archive."

Microsoft officials expounded a bit on the archive plans in a post on the Microsoft "Education Insights" blog. From that post:

"Microsoft also recognizes that with the growth of both informal and formal learning opportunities, we must do a better job capturing and sharing our learning artifacts and achievements. To support this need, Microsoft will invest in the development of a digital learning archive. This will allow kids the ability to capture their learning artifacts, achievements, and various other types of data in a secure repository, allowing them to gather in one place their lifelong learning record, and share this information with those they choose."

I had never heard of "learning artifacts" (until yesterday). But after a quick search, I discovered this term can mean anything from posters and video clips, to compositions and poems. Armed with this new knowledge, I put two and two together and deduced that Microsoft execs are talking about building something like a HealthVault for educational materials.

HealthVault is Microsoft's electronic medical records service. Patients, caregivers, family members, physicians and others (with the patient's consent) can enter health information into a repository that is hosted on Windows Azure. Those with permission can access/edit stored information.

I asked Microsoft officials whether my HealthVault/"learning vault" comparison was off-base. A spokesperson said:

"What that (learning digital archive) will exactly look like and how it will work is something Microsoft will be developing the coming months, but we’ve certainly seen the power of the digital archive in the healthcare industry through the use of HealthVault, and will take that learning into account. We are currently working with industry and government partners to identify the best solution to bring the ideation to market. Our learning’s from HealthVault have demonstrated this is a complex undertaking and we are looking forward to the opportunity."

(Another new-to-me word: Ideation. And it looks like other blogging colleagues are simultaneously ideating, as well.)

The learning vault concept is an interesting one. And one that could make use of lots of Microsoft and third-party hardware, software and cloud technologies.

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