Need-to-Know-News: What Will Next Generation Learning Environments Look Like? Two Reports Share Different Views & MOOC sans Lecture Videos

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.


New white paper suggests the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment requires a ‘Lego-approach’ to its development

1) EDUCAUSE releases paper “Next Generation Digital Learning Environment”

The LMS has been highly successful enabling the administration of learning but less so in enabling learning itself”

Hear, hear! The above quote from the white paper released by EDUCAUSE this week the ‘Next Generation Digital Learning Environment’ highlights the YAWNING gap between what the current learning management systems (LMS) can provide in terms of a learning experience and what is needed to address the needs of a more student-focused, social virtual learning space (Brown, Dehoney & Millichap, 2015). Though the report hits on the key aspects, to gain a broader perspective readers would benefit by reading another report released this month “Future Technology: Infrastructure for Learning” (Siemens, Gasevic & Dawson, 2015). The EDUCAUSE paper identifies the shortcomings of the LMS, highlights how most platforms focus on teaching not learning, operate in silos, and offer little interoperability. The solution, authors suggest, is a mash-up, a mix of applications that will allow individuals and institutions to construct learning environments tailored to their requirements and goals. Sounds good so far.

Yet the article gives the impression that next generation digital learning environments (NGDLE) be built around the needs of the institution, not the learner.  Statements like “assessment is foundational to learning and therefore of central importance to any learning” suggest an institution focus, as does “the analysis of all forms of learning data—is a vital component”. There’s also considerable emphasis on the need for learning analyticsfor all stakeholders learning analytics….must address three levels including institutional oversight” (page 6). Perhaps it’s the word choice (such as ‘must’) that suggests a directive approach to what ‘needs’ to be included in a NGDLE and gives the impression of an institution-focus. The report concludes with an analogy that compares the needs of the NGDLE to interlocking, building components, a ‘Lego approach’ (page 9).

Legos work because of a design specific that ensures the pieces will interlock, while enabling a wide variety of component parts. For NGDLE to succeed, a similar set of specifications and services will be to be defined that constitute the conformance needed to make the Lego approach workable”


Image: Geemo toys as an alternative to Lego-approach used in the analogy of interlocking parts for a new generation digital learning environment. Geemo fits the bill – a flexible “awesome-strange-plaything-slash-art-object” that is adaptable and allows building of fluid, creative shapes and structures.

Insight: Using Lego blocks as an analogy is an unfortunate choice to represent the idea of interlocking components for a NGDLE. Lego blocks suggest rigidity, inflexibility, even resistance. And vintage, given Lego’s been around since 1932. I see the next generation technology platform needing to be innovative, fluid, adaptable and customizable by the learner and the instructor. A more fitting toy for the analogy might be Geemo, a stretchy, flexible, connectable set of pieces that can build a variety of shapes and structures by attaching the ‘arms’ to other pieces. It works on the Lego principle, but in terms of a learning platform, is more representative of a system that can adapt to meet the needs of the students and institution, and allow for creativity, fluidity and flexibility. The latter are characteristics needed for a NGDLE.

Further Reading

2) Another perspective in the Next Generation Learning Platforms in “Future Technologies Infrastructure for Learning” (Siemens, Gasevic & Dawson, 2015, pages 201 – 230).

A similar theme in this report—the next generation of digital learning spaces, but it takes a  different perspective providing balance to the article by EDUCAUSE.  It’s one paper of several in the report released this week “Preparing for the Digital University” written by three esteemed educators—George Siemens is one. This article also suggests a needed change in the type and functionality of education technology infrastructures (platforms) required to support new digital learning spaces. There are parallels between the two papers, both identify the gap in current systems, yet this paper takes an analytical and holistic approach. The authors examine learning platforms in distinct phases, or generations of development:

Generation 1 — Basic technology use: Computer-based training (CBT) and websites
Generation 2 — Enterprise systems: learning management systems (LMS) and content management systems (CMS)
Generation 3 — Fragmentation and diversification: social media, e-portfolio software and MOOC providers, integrated vendor/publishers
Generation 4 — Distributed and digitally shared technologies: adaptive learning, distributed infrastructures, and competency models (page 204)

Insight: The holistic approach includes the perspective of the student. Authors also don’t use the term LMS, which is typically associated with commercial platforms (Blackboard, Canvas, Brightspace), but instead refers to learning platforms as ‘technology infrastructure’. The report examines a range of innovative and unique learning platforms that are either research projects that are being piloted in various higher education settings, or are institution-developed and implemented platforms. This report aims to provide guidance to institutions and educators who want to plan and prepare for future transitions, providing insight into how higher education can anticipate the next generation of education software (pg. 204).  The paper can also be viewed as instructive, since several technology infrastructures are examined—platforms that are unique, innovative and model (ironically) many of the needs outlined in the NGDLE paper. Authors examine the platforms via four dimensions, control, integration, ownership and structure. These factors are critical elements in the learning paradigm and are not addressed adequately in the NGDLE paper. The element of control for instance—who has control of the data that students generate during their learning experience, or the content that students (and instructors) generate?

The paper reviews eleven technology platforms with diagrams that illustrate each of the four dimensions on a continuum.

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 8.05.18 PM

Screenshot of figure showing how the platform KNOWN aligns with the four dimensions examined: control, ownership, integration and structure (Siemens et al., 2015, p. 229)

3) A MOOC Professor Bypasses Video Lectures

This professor cuts right to the point and shares her opinion on the value of lecture videos in massive open online courses (MOOCs):

Despite their popularity in MOOCs and flipped classrooms, “lecture videos” have the same pitfalls as regular lectures: they provide a false sense of clarity and are utterly forgettable (Barba 2015).

She goes on to describe the design approach of her own MOOC, #NumericalMOOC,

Quality learning is happening without them, because we combine learning pathways, instructional scaffolding, interactive computing with our IPython Notebooks, and independent student work.

Another perspective on MOOC development and one worth examining.

Image credits: 1) Lego Bricks, (2006), Alan Chia and 2) Geemo Building Toy, (2010)

Need-to-Know-News: Move over edX — Make Room for Unizin, University of the Future, & Tech Lessons from Teens

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.


1. Big Changes for Universities with Unizin
Launched this week, Unizin is BIG news in higher ed. Unizin is a membership-based consortium for universities that provides its members with a digital, cloud-based platform and IT services specific to higher education institutions. It moves the discussion far beyond MOOCs; and though MOOCs have sparked discussion in higher ed, they’ve not moved the direction for the traditional model of higher education very far. Yet Unizin may be the platform to bring about the positive effects of technology applied to higher education institutions that MOOCs have yet to do. The platform includes a Learning Management System (Canvas), has capabilities for learning analytics, and facilitates the sharing of resources and content between universities and faculty. For member institutions, each will have control over their own content, and have access to the tools and services to support digital learning for residential, flipped classroom, online courses/degrees, badged experiences for Alumni, or even MOOCs.

Insights: Why it’s a BIG deal. Unizin is a proactive approach to the pressures facing higher education institutions. It not only puts universities in control, but provides a vehicle for individual institutions to achieve economies of scale, by joining forces and sharing cost burdens for licenses, services for infrastructure, and leveraging input and even content and knowledge between institutions. After reading the in-depth analysis of the Unizin deal over on e-literate by Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein, I can see great amount of strategic planning, thought and expertise behind the consortium, which I won’t go into detail here, but encourage interested readers to refer to.  What I will say is that one of the founders of Unizin, Brad Wheeler, CIO for Indiana University, sees the opportunity and need for a robust digital infrastructure platform for higher education institutions of which they are in control of. He outlines a viable strategy that aims to keep institutions relevant, while preserving its values by describing four different models in the paper, Speeding Up on Curves. It’s well worth the read.

Finding Path to Scale  — take advantage of the economics to get there, (don’t go because it’s fun), strategies have focused on independence, recently dependence, but to get there, it’s interdependence that is the path to scale.  Brad Wheeler: The Path to Scale, Vimeo

2.  University of the Future? What the Students Say
Laureate International Universities, commissioned Zogby Analytics to survey students at higher education institutions within the Laureate’s network around the world, about their attitudes and visions of the university of the future. The questions focused on course design, scheduling, job preparation, placement, internships and more.  The results are surprising. The survey included 20,800 students from 37 institutions in 21 countries, making it one of the largest international survey of student attitudes.


  • Students see flexibility. More than 52% of the respondents believe that courses will be offered at all times of the day or night, and 44% believe that courses will be offered without fixed schedules to accommodate students who work or prefer learning at non-traditional times.
  • Collaborative learning. More than 54% of students predict that courses will be primarily collaborations between students with an emphasis on group projects. Additionally, 43% believe that students will be able to access personalized instruction or tutoring online.
  • Focus on Jobs. 61% of students believe that courses will be designed by industry experts, and 64% predict courses will be offered in multiple languages. More than 70% think career-oriented skills (not just subject matter) will be emphasized.

Insights: When considering the strategic goals of Unizin, and Brad Wheeler’s paper Speeding Up on Curves in conjunction with the visions of the university of the future, you can see a match. This as a positive sign for Unizin given it’s focus on building on infrastructure to support the models for educating students that bends the traditional one, and goes beyond the MOOC.

3. Ditch the Email: How to Use Tech Like a Teenager
The Wall Street Journal published a great article this week about tech and how we (adults) use it. Did you know that only 6% of teens exchange email daily, according to the Pew Research Center? And that many of the new apps out there do a far better job at managing clear and efficient communication? Apparently true. There’s Facebook messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp and Kik.

Also, teens are far more privacy savvy than we give them credit for—over 58% of teen social-media users say they cloak their messages, according to Pew.  Parents (adults), it seems, don’t know it all after all.

That’s it for now. You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI