This past week the subject in my emerging technologies course was Next Generation Digital Learning Environments. That term is likely to be more familiar to you if you work in a higher education environment than in a corporate one. In corporate L&D, you are probably discussing similar ideas and calling the concept learning and performance ecosystems.

Both conversations are focused on expanding the (mostly) digital tools available to support learning while at the same time streamlining access to these tools and making it easier for us to engage a variety of teaching and learning strategies, and some additional cross fertilization of these two conversations would be useful, I think. The key words are interoperability (standards that allow links and data transfer) and personalization (structures that allow for instructor and teacher choice of which tools to integrate).

Leaving aside the challenge of getting a wide array of ed tech vendors to converge on agreed standards, I wonder if any mythic NGDLE will be able to live up to expectations. The number of potential configurations of tools for courses or learning environments is huge, and the “best” one is open to interpretation. Additionally, new tools are released every day, and some of these may be the next “killer apps” that we’ve been awaiting.

Every player in the chain from design to implementation has his or her own views about what is most important to include and what the “look and feel” of a NGDLE might be. Designers and faculty have their own favorite tools, and the pedagogical strategy for each course will be different. Learners, too, have preferences, both in terms of the tools they use, and in whether or not they want to engage with learning activities in the same places they interact more socially. Other stakeholders also have opinions: the IT department, the online learning or ID departments, the vendors, and the administration or management teams. There may be regulations to consider, especially FERPA, government regulatory agencies, and copyright law. It’s quite a quagmire, I think.

One of the things that has struck me in digging into resources on NGDLE and having discussion with the folks in my class is that the “next generation” being described at the moment looks a lot like a more complex version of the current generation LMS. There doesn’t seem to be a wow factor or the kind of giant step forward that would live up to the grandiose “next generation digital learning environment.” To be sure, better interoperability and personalization will indeed be welcome characteristics. I think I was hoping for something a bit more transformative, although I couldn’t tell you exactly what I mean by that.

Part of the issue, I think, is trying to consider what the environment should look like when we haven’t laid out a full vision of what next generation learning looks like. We continue – for many good reasons – to build new learning strategies around and on top of course design foundations that were envisioned in the last century. Perhaps what we truly need is a completely different view of learning in the 21st century. Perhaps where we’re heading in terms of competency based education, microcredentials, personal learning environments, domain of one’s own, and other initiatives will have better seeds for the next generation. That’s what I’ll be noodling going forward.

In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about next generation learning environments, I have curated a set of resources you might find useful. I would welcome comments.