In multiple conversations conducted with over 70 educators, campus-based technologists, and developers from the private sector, EDUCAUSE—enlisted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—identified five domains of core functionality for the NGDLE:

  1. Interoperability and Integration: The ability to integrate tools and exchange content and learning data. “This is the linchpin of the NGDLE,” emphasizes the report.
  2. Personalization: Outfitting and configuration of the learning environments, which is then used to construct pathways to accomplish learning tasks and attain learning goals; this needs to occur not only at the individual level, but also at the departmental, divisional, institutional, and consortium levels.
  3. Analytics, Advising, and Learning Assessment: Learning analytics should be incorporated to measure, collect, analyze, and report data about learners and their contexts for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs. Integrated planning and advising systems (IPAS) is an “institutional capability to create shared ownership for educational progress by providing students, faculty, and staff with holistic information and services that contribute to the completion of a degree or other credential,” defined the report.
  4. Collaboration: The NGDLE must support collaboration at multiple levels and make it easy to move between private and public digital spaces. The NGDLE must also include a requirement to move past a “walled garden” approach to locking down a course’s LMS, and instead enable a learning community to make choices about what parts are public and what parts are private.
  5. Accessibility and Universal Design: “A holistic, ground-up approach, addressing accessibility within the larger framework of universal design, has the potential to provide the most accessible digital learning environment possible,” states the report. NGDLE designers must consider accessibility in terms of the students as both receiver and creator of content.

[A much more detailed description and outline of implementation and design strategies for each core functionality can be viewed in the report.]

New architectures

Enabling the five core functions also means creating new architectures, say the report’s authors. The NGDLE will not itself be a single application like the current LMS, or other enterprise applications; rather, it will be an “ecosystem of sorts,” characterized by:

  • At the built layer, it will be a confederation of IT systems, including content repositories, analytics engines, and a wide variety of applications and digital services.
  • A full adherence to standards for interoperability, as well as a wide variety of applications and digital services.
  • Instead of uniformity and centrality, it will need to support personalization at all levels of the institution. The NGDLE will not be exactly the same for any two learners, instructors, or institutions.
  • For users, it will be a cloud-like space to aggregate and connect content and functionality, similar to a smartphone, where users fashion their environments directly with self-selected apps.
  • If the paradigm for the NGDLE is a digital confederation of components, the model for the NGDLE architecture may be the mash-up: A web page or application that “uses content from more than one sources to create a single new service displayed in a single graphical interface,” describes the report. “Hence, it uses a heterogeneity of components to produce a homogeneity of function.”

The report notes that if a mash-up is the way institutions will assemble their own NGDLE, then a “Lego” design may be the best option.

(Next page: Incorporating a Lego design)

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