Can a Digital Learning Environment be an Ecosystem?

A portion of the “Design the Future of IT” Wall at EDUCAUSE 2014.

What does the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment need to do or enable?

“We are all focused on student success, as we define it, so it needs to focus on student learning and success.”

This was the comment that kicked off my table’s conversation during the Next Generation Digital Learning Environments focus group—an activity that took place this week at the EDUCAUSE 2014 Conference. (I was taking notes for the focus group.)

The group seated at Table #3 with me was tasked with identifying what a new digital learning environment should do—from the perspective of an administrator. (There were seven other tables with groups pondering the same question, each from a faculty, student, or administrator perspective. Each table also identified the barriers and potential solutions facing each function.)

Our table conversation quickly covered a variety of topics as participants listed what administrators wanted and needed.

  • The next generation of digital learning environments needs to provide data, the group said.
  • And it needs to make data actionable for faculty, students, and administrators for many different purposes—from identifying students at risk for failing, to providing evidence in support of the time-consuming accreditation process.
  • It of course needs to provide top notch security and privacy, and it should allow students to control and customize who has access to their data.

But the conversation got really interesting, and the idea-generating broke wide open, when a participant asked, “Are we looking at this as a single system, or do we need an ecosystem?”

This question spurred the group to start thinking about how a student or a faculty member could customize their own learning environment in the way you can customize your tablet with apps. But the apps would be interdependent and malleable the way Google Apps for Education works. “As long as the data adhered to a common set of standards,” table participants asked, “why couldn’t the interface vary based on need?”

The participants ended the conversation recognizing that a learning environment structured around courses was a faculty- and administrator-centric view, because students would probably organize their learning in different ways. The group ran out of time to pursue this further, but you could look to College for America for an example of what this might look like. College for America’s solution is its student-centered CfA Learning Environment. CfA has spun off this “learning relationship management system” as Motivis Learning, now available commercially.

Others at EDUCAUSE 2014 are also talking about our need for an ecosystem—a concept that made it to the “Design the Future of IT” Wall (see below).

Will an ecosystem take us into the future? I’ll end with a word of caution from focus group participant, Hannah Inzko, who is the Director of Learning Innovation and Faculty Engagement at the University of Miami:

“If we only create a better version of what we already have, in 10 years we will be back at this table having this same conversation again.”

What do you think the next generation digital learning environment should do or enable? Is the ecosystem possible?

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