EDUCAUSE Report: Next Generation Digital Learning Environment

In April, EDUCAUSE released a report based on consultations with 70 thought leaders around around the need for Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE). The report aims at exploring the gaps between current learning management tools and a future digital learning environment to meet the changing needs of higher education.

The report notes that the LMS has been successful in enabling the administration of learning but less so in enabling learning. It notes particularly that it is useful for the distribution of materials and the use of the gradebook. But it goes on to say that higher education is focusing on students playing a more central role in learning (and lessening the focus on the instructor) and also looking for greater variety in how courses are delivered. To address this the authors propose a Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). This will not consist of a single system, but an ecosystem. Some of the characteristics of this ecosystem are:

  • Confederation of IT systems (content repositories, analytics, etc)
  • Adherence to interoperability standards
  • Support for personalisation
  • A cloud-like space (aggregate and connect content and functionality)
  • Still likely to have a single interface with content from various sources (what I would call a portal)

5 Dimensions of NGDLE are proposed:

1. Interoperability and integration

This includes the ability to integrate tools and exchange content and learning data. An important aspect is common formats for content so that content can easily be exhanged and used. Another is the ability to integrate new tools easily without need for IT support. The focus will be on aggregating, integrating and analysing learning data.

2.  Personalisation

This involves the configuration of the learning environment to construct pathways to accomplish learning tasks (both at individual and departmental levels). It also involves adaptive learning, where the environment provides coaching and suggestions according to learner needs.

3. Analytics, Advising and Learning Assessment

  • Learning analytics – using learning data for understanding and optimising learning (focus at course level)
  • Integrated planning and advising systems – shared ownership of educational progress through holistic information and services (focus at degree level)
  • Assessment – support for competency-based education

4. Collaboration

Support for collaboration needs to be a main design goal (across student academic careers). A major issue to address is the “closed” nature of the LMS so that parts or aspects of learning can be public or private.

5. Accessibility and universal design

An important principle is that all learners and instructors must be able to participate. This involves adopting a universal design approach.


Overall it is an interesting report to read and to provoke thinking about the vision of learning in the future and how technology can play a role. However, I think there is one missing dimension and that is the “people factor”. In the first section of the report, a statistic is quoted that “just 41% of faculty used the more advanced features (in the LMS) to promote learning outside the classroom”. In my experience and contexts I have worked in, I would say that this figure is probably much lower. A considerable portion of what can be done using an LMS is not utilised by most lecturers. Without a considerable mindshift, the same would apply to NGDLE. Technology provides us with the tools, it is up to us to use them in a way that best meets the needs of our learners.


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