On 1-4 June, 2014, a group of educators, scientists, and legal/ethical scholars assembled at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California. Their task was to develop a framework to inform decisions about appropriate use of data and technology in learning research for higher education. A modified Chatham House Rule guided their deliberations, which produced the convention presented here.

This convention reflects general principles rather than the views of individual participants.

The Asilomar Convention for Learning Research in Higher Education

Individuals, nations, and international agencies of all kinds increasingly rely on the promise of education to improve the human condition. Contemporary technology has created unprecedented opportunities to create radical improvements in learning and educational achievement, but also conditions under which information about learners is collected continuously and often invisibly. For these reasons, collection and aggregation of evidence to pursue learning research must proceed in ways that respect the privacy, dignity, and discretion of learners.

Virtually all modern societies have strong traditions for protecting individuals in their interactions with large organizations, especially for purposes of scientific research, yet digital media present problems for the inheritors of those traditions. Norms of individual consent, privacy, and autonomy, for example, must be more vigilantly protected as the environments in which their holders reside are transformed by technology. Because the risks associated with data exposure are growing simultaneously with the promise of building new knowledge, researchers and educational organizations must be accountable for how they pursue learning inquiry. This convention reaffirms enduring commitments to ethical conduct, and to the protection of public trust in the institutions of higher education.

The convention affirms two tenets for learning research:

  1. Advance the science of learning for the improvement of higher education. The science of learning can improve higher education and should proceed through open, participatory, and transparent processes of data collection and analysis that provide empirical evidence for knowledge claims.
  2. Share. Maximizing the benefits of learning research requires the sharing of data, discovery, and technology among a community of researchers and educational organizations committed, and accountable to, principles of ethical inquiry held in common.


Six principles should inform the collection, storage, distribution and analysis of data derived from human engagement with learning resources. The principles are stated here at a level of generality to assist learners, scientists, and interested citizens in understanding the ethical issues associated with research on human learning.

These principles are informed by the 1973 Code of Fair Information Practices, and by the Belmont Report of 1979.

These principles will not always produce unambiguous solutions to particular questions, nor should they. Ethical decisions must always be informed by the particularities of their situation.