What might a next generation digital learning environment look like?

Commentators have been predicting the death of the VLE for almost as long as people have been predicting that online learning would signal the death of the physical campus.

Our research indicates that the VLE is likely to continue as an important tool for most institutions in the medium-term but people are beginning to think about what will come next. Research into next generation digital learning environments (resulting in the unpronounceable acronym NGDLE) is already being undertaken by organisations such as EDUCAUSE and Jisc.

Most of the conversations around NGDLE amount to a backlash against VLEs becoming increasingly feature rich and 'monolithic'. There is an alternative vision that replaces the VLE with a thin interoperability layer allowing institutions to pick and choose effectively 'best of breed' tools for communication, collaboration, assessment and feedback etc.

Practical signs that these changes are starting to happen include the fact that the standards organisation IMS Global Learning Consortium has an increasing focus on internationalising standards that are currently US centric and a number of UK universities are piloting Aula which brands itself as a communication platform that can eliminate the need for a VLE.

The Jisc (2018) report on next generation [digital] learning environments (see the resources section) is a good starting point for a consideration of the opportunities afforded by new types of tools and the risks of abandoning existing good practice.

This is the goal of the NGDLE idea: a digital confederation of tools, content, and applications, dynamically connected by means of open standards.