A Flexible, Interoperable Digital Learning Platform: Are We There Yet?

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A Flexible, Interoperable Digital Learning Platform: Are We There Yet?

e-Literate, Michael Feldstein, May 28, 2017

Imagine a learning platform not as a single application like the LMS, but instead analogous to an operating system that learning applications can be installed and run on, like Android or iOS. The metaphor is a useful concept when envisioning what a Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE) is.

As Feldstein notes, this conceptual idea of learning technologies is not new, but has been given new life since the 2015 publication of the NGDLE white paper from EDUCAUSE. However, he points out that two things have changed in recent years that may make this concept more viable today than earlier visions.

Two things have changed since then. First, we now have many more discipline- and pedagogy-specific digital tools that can be incorporated into the learning environments.

The second thing that has changed—and this is the more radical of the two—is our shared notion of digital environments in general.

Today, many of us have dozens of different applications that we carry around with us all the time in our mobile phones. We are not disturbed or disoriented by the fact that Yelp looks and works completely differently from Google Maps, which looks and works  differently from Pokémon GO. We do not worry about getting lost in our software. Software design and user sensibilities have co-evolved to a point where we don’t have to worry as much about squeezing everything the user needs onto one page (never mind onto one screen, because some users didn’t know to scroll down).

For me, this is where projects like Sandstorm and Domain of Ones Own (which put cPanel & Installatron in the hands of each student/faculty) dovetail nicely with the concept of NGDLE. Each of those projects makes it possible to pick and choose applications that best suit a particular need. And while both Sandstorm and the cPanel/Installatron stack are built with a mainstream audience in mind (that is, they don’t contain many specific education built applications), they do a good job of illustrating pieces of the NGDLE concept. The connecting bits of technology that make all the applications truly interoperable in a way that is relevant to EdTech systems (think LTI, xAPI/Caliper and other API-ish things) are the pieces that are missing from Sandstorm/cPanel/Installatron that would make these more like an education specific NGDLE.

How close are we to realizing a vision of standards compliant interoperable learning technologies that operate like a platform instead of an application? Feldstein thinks we are closer than we have been for many years, but notes that, like most innovations, it is not the technology that is holding us back.

The biggest barriers to creating a learning platform were not technical 12 years ago and they certainly aren’t technical today. I believe incentives in the industry have changed enough that we could have a win-win scenario for all implementing parties. But pushing through the last barrier will require at least two of the major LMS vendors to agree on a common vision of the future and make a major commitment to address some of these use cases via the standards.

Original published in the EdTechFactotum newsletter June 5, 2017

Image: So what will a NGDLE look like? by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND

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