Discussion: Next Generation Digital Learning Environments

We think its time to take the next steps

This week Jisc launched #Codesign16 , a consultation to find the next big ideas for technology in education and research. We have identified 6 challenges from the visions that you helped us develop, which we think pose interesting opportunities for our members. We want to find out which of these challenges is most popular with you and what Jisc should be tackling.

The challenge area I’m leading on is Next Generation Digital Learning Environments. This post is here as one of the spaces that you can post comments, find the summary and the latest news about the challenge.

Below you will find the embedded Storify where I will be keeping an ongoing synthesis and on the right a stream of the #NGDLE and #Codesign16 twitter hashtags for the discussion. I will be tweeting out blogs that respond to the challenge and highlighting as much as I can that appears on other sites. You can also email me your comments and I will include them in the storify.

This challenge is about exploring as much as we can around the topic of what a Next Generation Learning Environment should do; take part in it. Remember any idea is worth considering, this is not about the here and now, it is about the future, help us shape it.


  1. I’m finding this discussion apt in this present time whereby upon finishing a ‘Teaching Systems Review’ project at DMU last year (seems just yesterday!) which involved mapping both teaching staff and students’ lifecycle in their engagement with core teaching systems like the VLE. This review unearthed that which most of us are experiencing, a VLE system (‘beast’) which we very critically rely upon purely because we have bolted or integrated technologies to meet with changes to and introduction of new policies internally as well as external influences over time impacting teaching and learning in some key areas of assessment, learning content and collaboration. All this with a view to enable a seamless experience and be less obtrusive in an already busy staff teaching workload.
    Our blended environment model is still very naturally based on face to face teaching, facilitated by technology where appropriate, I guess the question I would like to ask is how far in how we use and design such spaces based on the required course structure e.g. modular or program structure allows for further independent learning and extended collaboration online. That said we may not always see online social learning at the forefront being used in our technologies but students may be using these to support collaborative discussions out of their own making. Such spaces may allow for more free flow discussions than an instituted created one. My question is to what extent do we need to bridge physical and virtual learning environments? I think maybe here the design and ‘use of’ of the online space very much influences engagement in such a space as well as the need and desire to provide opportunities for further ‘social learning’.

  2. Another thought springs to find, we have a diverse student body, let’s ask the learners what they really value and what matters to them in their learning journey at this point in their lives.
    With a plethora range of programmes of study how can ‘one design (VLE) fit all’, how creative or allowing us to be creative are our current VLE offerings for curriculum online design as creators as ‘teachers’ and ‘students’. Tech integrations in the VLE over time have further bound us to processes rooting us deeper to the VLE and increasingly adding to the extensive VLE ingredient list. This made me think about how we learned without the VLE! (showing my age, finishing uni in 1994). Remember living in the library and doing lots of reading!! Don’t recall many moments of group collaborations only that relating to the course therefore if assessed we just got on with it! Learning was one part of the journey of who/how I was at that time, still discovering and developing where my interests lie. Learning never stops just the platform and getting onto to the next train and station in life :]

    Having two sons at secondary level I witness how technology is increasingly assumed to be on hand and available and that which they are exposed to as part of expected routine, from home work calendar online to achievement points, to do list etc. on an individual level. I love listening to their daily musings from school from what they find boring to what they find engaging and enjoyable, from when the honeymoon period of entering the new term and the hustle of settling in settles, then the momentum of discovery seems to plateau. One thing I note they enjoy learning more when it’s interactive and visual in context, therefore whether a physical or virtual learning environment what I would like to know is what helps us to learn and found various useful reading from this ‘Students learn best when’ and this ’reconsolidate learning by concept mapping’.


  3. While the limitations of the Virtual Learning Environment are clear, the idea of a Next Generation Digital Learning Environment is not without its own problems. First among these is the fragmentation of academia that the concept of an NGDLE perpetuates. What of research? Of alumni? Of administration? Creating a modern ecosystem to support just one of these would be akin to Apple creating an ecosystem of apps to support only cyclists.

    A vision of the core concerns for the future academic environment were identified several years ago by Jisc members and others and tackled through the Open Academic Environment project. I wasn’t involved then but this work already reflected extensive real world experience with the VLE model, exhaustion of the idea of a standalone Virtual Research Environment and familiarity with the academic IT landscape.

    Today the OAE software is controlled by the Apereo Foundation and available to the global academic community via *Unity [1] which provides a cloud hosting at cost for universities in perpetuity (which is where we at *Research come in). It has tenancies for 20,000 academic and research organisations and has established Single Sign On with about half of those [2]. Its modern UX and node.js-based stack continues to be developed by Stakeholders. It is used by increasing numbers of universities around the world for research, administration and learning. In France it is receiving consistent support from government and supports a national network of more than 70 universities.

    This doesn’t mean the OAE is a fully formed alternative that can replace your university’s VLE today. But that is part of what it could become. And It does mean the OAE, and the thinking behind it, should I think be central to this NGDLE discussion.

    I wasn’t involved in the OAE at the outset, but John Norman at Cambridge was, and could say more [3]. My own take on the current issues can be found in a recent essay in *Unity [4].

    [1] http://www.unity.ac
    [2] http://oaeproject.org/2015/12/11/reintermediation.html
    [3] https://twitter.com/jrnorman
    [4] https://research.unity.ac/content/rr/ryg0a36M

    1. Thanks William, I agree with you wrt to a standalone VLE, but the debate hasn’t moved on. As you point out several years have passed and a lot’s happened.
      It is also apparent that unity is not the solution to all of the issues that are being raised by the community.

      1. Thanks lawrie. I think maybe the most constructive way to think about it is as a kind of test.

        What is it that we think is important in an NGDLE that the OAE does not address?


        What is wrong with the OAE? And what does that mean for an NGDLE?

        So treat it like a prototype and see where that goes.

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