I have been meaning for some time to get around to blogging about the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s (ELI’s) paper on a Next-Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) and Tony Bates’ thoughtful response to it. The core concepts behind the NGDLE are that a next-generation digital learning environment should have the following characteristics:
- Interoperability and Integration
- Analytics, Advising, and Learning Assessment
- Accessibility and Universal Design
The paper also suggests that the system should be modular. They draw heavily on an analogy to LEGOs and make a call for more robust standards. In response, Bates raises three concerns:
- He is suspicious of a potentially heavy and bureaucratic standards-making process that is vulnerable to undue corporate influence.
- He worries that LEGO is a poor metaphor that suggests an industrialized model.
- He is concerned that, taken together, the ELI requirements for an NGDLE will push us further in the direction of computer-driven rather than human-driven classes.
As it happens, ELI’s vision for NGDLE bears a significant resemblance to a vision that some colleagues and I came up with ten years ago when we were trying to help the SUNY system find an LMS that would fit the needs of all 64 campuses, ranging from small, rural community colleges to R1 universities to medical and ophthalmology schools to a school of fashion. We got pretty deep into thinking about the implementation details, so it’s been on my mind to write my own personal perspective on the answers to Tony’s questions, based in large part on that previous experience. In the meantime, Jim Groom, who has made a transition from working at a university to working full-time at Reclaim Hosting, has written a series of really provocative and, to me, exciting posts on the future of the digital learning environment from his own perspective. Jim shares the starting assumption of the ELI and SUNY that a learning environment should be “learner-centric,” but he has a much more fully developed (and more radical) idea of what that really means, based on his previous work with A Domain of One’s Own. He also, in contrast to the ELI and SUNY teams, does not start from the assumption that “next-generation” means evolving the LMS. Rather, the questions he seems to be asking are “What is minimum amount of technical infrastructure required to create a rich digital learning environment?” and “Of that minimal amount of infrastructure we need, what is the minimal amount that needs to be owned by the institution rather than the learner?” I see these trains of thought emerging his posts on a university API, a personal API, and a syndication bus. What’s exciting to me about these posts is that, even though Jim is starting from a very different set of assumptions, he is also converging on something like the vision we had for SUNY.
In this post, I’m going to try to respond to both Tony and Jim. One of the challenges of this sort of conversation is that the relationship between the technical architecture and the possibilities it creates for the learners is complex. It’s easy to oversimplify or even conflate the two if we’re not very careful. So one of the things that I’m going to try to do here is untangle the technical talk from the functional talk.
- I understand that SUNY has since added a 65th campus [↩]