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The Sugar learning platform

Information is about nouns; learning is about verbs. The Sugar interface, in its departure from the desktop metaphor for computing, is the first serious attempt to create a user interface that is based on both cognitive and social constructivism: learners should engage in authentic exploration and collaboration.

In its design, Sugar considers two aphorisms:

1. you learn through doing, so if you want more learning you want more doing; and
2. love is a better master than duty—you want people to engage in things that are authentic to them, things that they love.

The Sugar platform is characterized by three attributes:

1. The presence of other people is always present in the Sugar interface; collaboration is a first-order experience: students and teachers engage in a dialog with each other, support each other, critique each other, and share ideas;
2. Sugar maintains a "Journal" for each learner, which serves as a place for reflection and assessment of progress; and
3. through its clarity of design, Sugar is discoverable: it can accommodate a wide variety of users, with different levels of skill in terms of reading, language, and different levels of experience with computing. It is easy to approach and yet it doesn't put an upper bound on personal expression; one can peel away layers and go deeper and deeper, with no restrictions.

Sugar is based on Python, allowing the direct appropriation of ideas: in whatever realm the learner is exploring—music, browsing, reading, writing, programming, graphics, etc.—they are able to drill deeper; they are not going to hit a wall, since they can, at every level, engage in debugging both their personal expression and the very tools that they use for that expression.

In this presentation, we describe the technical, educational, and community goals of Sugar and Sugar Labs, the foundation that is hosting the project.

Sugar supports the notions that learners should “share by default” and be able to “explore, express, debug, and critique.” Thus Sugar puts an emphasis on “activities” rather than “applications.”

Sugar Labs was created to support community innovation, entrepreneurship, and enterprise. Sugar Labs would like to help community members start projects that help sustain and grow the Sugar technology and learning communities.


Note: The Sugar platform is available under the open-source GNU General Public License (GPL) to anyone who wants to extend it. Sugar Labs is a non-profit foundation that serves as a support base and gathering place for the community of educators and software developers who want to extend the platform and who have been creating Sugar-compatible applications.

Walter Bender

Walter Bender is the founder of Sugar Labs, a non-profit foundation that serves as a support base for the community of educators and software developers who are extending the Sugar user interface. Sugar is designed to enhance the primary educational experience by emphasizing collaboration and expression. Prior to that, Bender was president for software and content of the One Laptop per Child association, where he developed and deployed technologies that are revolutionizing how the world's children engage in learning. Before taking a leave of absence from MIT, Bender was executive director of the MIT Media Laboratory. He was also holder of the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Chair.

Bender is currently on sabbatical from MIT, where he is a senior research scientist and director of the Electronic Publishing group. Bender directed the Gray Matters special interest group, which focuses on technology's impact on the aging population. In 1992, Bender founded the News in the Future consortium and has been a member of the Lab's Simplicity, Things That Think, and Digital Life consortia. He became Media Laboratory director in 2000. He received his BA from Harvard University in 1977. Bender joined the Architecture Machine Group at MIT in 1978. He received his MS at MIT in 1980.