Learning Impact Blog


Authors: Joellen Evernham Shendy, Associate Vice Provost & Registrar, University of Maryland University College, and Insiya Bream, Assistant Vice Provost, Registrar Strategic Operations, University of Maryland University College

At University of Maryland University College (UMUC), a New Learning Model project is underway that focuses on building a student’s competencies over time through project-based learningproviding closer connections between the learning and expectations of employers in the field. In the fall of 2016, five of UMUC's Graduate School programs, including the Master of Business Administration and some Cybersecurity programs, implemented the new learning model. As part of innovating and developing a new learning model, UMUC realized that the documentation and evidence given to students regarding their learning would need to change as well. Telling a student story, via a new learning model, requires retooling in order to share the story effectively. For years institutions have heard from employers and others that the universally issued student transcript does a poor job of conveying what a student knows and can do, and is insufficient in providing evidence that helps an employer and others determine skills, competencies, and potential fit for an organization. 

UMUC was one institution among 12 that received grant funding provided by the Lumina Foundation through the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) Comprehensive Student Records Project. The project focused on piloting new comprehensive record models that display a student's educational and/or experiential background. These records would be in addition to, and not a replacement for, the original official transcript. The goal of the project was to identify models that could then be adopted by more schoolsall helping to share the students' story in new and creative ways that speak to a more holistic view of who the student is and what they know. The launch of UMUC’s new learning model and the start of 1EdTech’s Extended Transcript (eT) pilot were aligned and provided a natural segment of students that could give feedback on the first iteration of the Extended Transcript (eT) achievements record standard.

How We Did It

UMUC worked closely with Learning Objects through 1EdTech’s CBE and Extended Transcript Workgroup, a part of the 1EdTech Digital Credentials and Badges portfolio, to establish the initial data model that will allow institutions to manage and exchange competency and achievement data between systems, and ultimately, publish this data in an extended transcript achievements record storefor consumption by an employer, student, or other educational institution or organization. Through multiple iterations, Learning Objects, 1EdTech members and staff, and UMUC’s IT team worked together to pull and display student competency data from the D2L learning management system (LMS). Learning Objects was able to digitally represent the competencies in a user interface (UI) that had a more modern look and feel, allowing the student to see, and interact with, evidence of their mastered learning.

Watch Learning Objects lightning talk from the 2016 Learning Impact Leadership Institute.

Pilot Details

An overarching goal of the eT pilot was to solicit student feedback on the concept of an eT achievements record and their initial impressions of the utility of an extended transcript. Through the pilot, we were hoping to discover specifics on the following:

  • What did students think of the virtual document itself?
  • Did students find the content useful?
  • How would students use the information?
  • Did they understand the purpose?
  • How could a digital document like this help carry them towards their next professional goal?

Over the past five months, UMUC’s eT pilot students were able to access an eT achievements record displaying mastered competencies through an icon link in their D2L classroom. Through a "soft rollout," the link was activated and a week later students were notified via email of the pilot. The email included information on the overall purpose and asked them for their feedback via a survey by a link on the eT itself and in an email. One of the survey questions included whether or not the student would be willing to participate in a focus group in early spring 2017 to provide more detailed feedback on the eT. A “help” icon on the eT itself explained what UMUC hoped to achieve and learn through the pilot. The internal marketing team supplemented the email and eT with a web page that included general pilot information and an FAQ for the wider campus community. Out of approximately 2,000 pilot students that had access to the eT, over 800 students accessed the document. 

What do Students Think of the eT Achievements Record?!

UMUC students responded throughout the pilot period to the survey, sharing their thoughts and recommendations. The majority of survey respondents made it clear that they liked the graphical look and feel of the eT. Working with a third-party vendor, Learning Objects, allowed UMUC to help create the design and feel of the eT by utilizing a variety of input from various University stakeholders and by modifying the document until we were satisfied with the appearance and ease of use for students. Leveraging Learning Objects' technology brought a 21st Century user experience for students to the eT achievements record. 

Survey results showed that over 70% of respondents found the eT content useful. Students noted that they could use the information on the eT for resume writing to explain or communicate their competencies and achievements in the academic program. Students felt they would share this mostly with future employers, but also with other admissions offices, their current employers, family, and friends.  We asked survey respondents if they recommend we open this up to the larger UMUC community and the answer was an overwhelming YES.

UMUC also conducted a focus group to drill down into some of the survey questions to get additional information to help inform the next iteration of the eT. In general, the focus group students were positive about the eT and 84% recommended UMUC implement an eT-type achievement record for all students. They shared additional details about the appearance and content of the eT. Students felt that the eT would give them more confidence when pursuing job opportunitieshelping them to articulate with clarity and confidence their competencies. Several students remarked that their own understanding of their achievements was influenced by the content they viewed in the eT record.  

The team of academic and technology colleagues working through 1EdTech have been integral to the success of this effort.

"We extend hearty congratulations to UMUC for this critical first step connecting their students to employers through digital credentials. The Extended Transcript Achievements Record forms the foundation of an institution’s digital credentials strategy. UMUC and their peer leaders Capella University and the University of Wisconsin-Extension are paving the way to tomorrow’s marketplace of verified credentials."

—Mark Leuba, vice president,product management, 1EdTech Consortium

What areas of improvement did the students identify for the next version of the eT? Although most students did not feel the digital document was too lengthy, some felt the length would cause employers to gloss over the information. One idea shared was to allow students to curate and create their own “view” of the achievements record that was specific to a particular employer, organization, or industry. This would allow them to share a portion of, but not the entire, eT and highlight accomplishments most relevant to the students’ goal(s). Focus group participants noted that it would be interesting to see the competencies organized from an industry or sector perspective and to break down the “level” of competence based on position requirements such as entry level, middle, or C-Suite management.  There was also a student desire for the opportunity to contribute to the document by way of adding their own supporting content, providing them an option to make adjustments for their unique situation. 

Overall, the feedback collected through the survey showed that students understood the eT achievements record and would use it in multiple ways to reach their goals. While the respondents felt understanding their own accomplishments and articulating them were a huge benefit, they did feel most strongly that the connection with employers was critical. One particular comment from the survey highlights why we need to continue to build these bridges, via new ways to evidence learning, between institutions and the workplace:

“The document is a great reminder of what a graduate is capable of doing. Instead of saying I walked away from college with an x.xx GPA, I can say explicitly, this is what I am capable of doing; these efforts gained me these competencies.”

Future State of the Extended Transcript

UMUC successfully closed the pilot at the conclusion of the winter 2017 term. Our next steps are to leverage the work we are doing as an initial contributor to Credential Engine with adding our program competencies to the nationwide registry. This will provide additional linking and connection opportunities. UMUC is also working towards finding better ways to “match” a student's competencies with employer needs by continuing to work with innovative and dedicated colleagues through 1EdTech in their digital credentials and badges program. As far as a next version of the extended transcript achievements record, we look forward to incorporating our students feedback and reaching out to the employer and recruiting community to build closer ties and feedback loops, ensuring our students will be armed with 21st Century digital evidence of their learning which presents a more holistic picture of their fit to organizational needs.


For more details on the next phase of the Extended Transcript, see Achievements Records Standard and SkillsCenter Search™


“I can see for miles and miles and miles.” – The Who

We’re all impatient and getting more impatient all the time. We’re all looking for time well spent. But, we also want to be prepared for the future. How do you achieve both?

I love the work of the 1EdTech Consortium because our members are on exactly that quest—saving time and money now while laying the foundation for the future. If that is what you are looking to do as an institutional leader or as a product leader, you will not be disappointed in the upcoming Learning Impact Leadership Institute (#LILI17).

Every year several executive level or aspiring executive level leaders tell us that the Learning Impact Leadership Institute is the best event they’ve attended, which is a strong statement because there are a lot of great events in the educational technology space.

What’s different about the Learning Impact Leadership Institute is that at the heart is the 1EdTech collaboration, a set of education industry leaders that are inspired and motivated to move the industry forward in a set of very important core areas: digital content, learning apps/tools, e-assessment, student data, academic data, digital micro-credentials, competency-based education, educational badges, learning analytics and digital accessibility. 

By far the best thing about 1EdTech is the leadership community that gathers around and collaborates on the major barriers to implementing these key technologies at scale. At 1EdTech we recognized early on that the “standards” needed to remove the barriers cannot be addressed independently from being a catalyst for innovation. We needed to do both and are doing both. Every day.

You are really missing out on something special if you don’t attend #LILI17. 1EdTech holds quite a few meetings around the world and presents at nearly 60 conferences each year but LILI is the only time and place where you can within a pretty short timeframe—a few days—see for miles and miles and miles ahead—all while you are most likely walking away with something that will save you time and money in the near-term, too.

To see what happens at the Learning Impact Leadership Institute watch this 3-minute video of the 2016 NGDLE plenary talks.


Rob Abel, Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation, and  Connie Yowell, CEO of Collective Shift
discuss the future of Open Badges during the 2017 Summit on Digital Credentials & Badges.


“Cause I’m not like everybody else.” —The Kinks

Standards are the foundation for diversity at scale. Just look around you . . . and then realize that all this diversity came from a common standard that we call DNA. Lack of a foundation in replicable standards means lack of scalability. Think the plethora of grant projects ending up in one-off successes.

Every teacher and every student are not like everybody else. The future of education isn’t massification; it’s personalization. Personalization at scale.

During 1EdTech’s recent quarterly meeting in Orlando, we had the pleasure of hosting a Summit on digital micro-credentials, including Open Badges (a standard and community that 1EdTech is now facilitating after a recent handoff from the Mozilla Foundation).

Micro-credentials and Open Badges are key foundations for scaling personalized education. They are a way to enable and recognize personalized learning and life pathways. In essence, they are a way to create and recognize each person’s unique story.

Educational systems and educators that embrace and perfect micro-credentials will be the ones leading us to the personalized and scalable future.

The Summit by itself would have made anyone’s week. But there was much more at the quarterly meeting.

Agreement was reached on a breakthrough competency and learning standards framework (Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange) that enables digital resources to be mapped to achievement frameworks and thus enables finding and selecting resources based on those frameworks.

A set of leading educational content providers established a breakthrough open source collaboration to enable ubiquitous availability of OneRoster®.

The emerging field of learning analytics continued its advance thanks to an incredible cadre of leaders in 1EdTech who are making learning analytics practical via Caliper Analytics® and 1EdTech’s vibrant partnership with ADL/xAPI.  

Among the most exciting sessions of the week were the Learning Tools Interoperability® (LTI®) Showcase and Hackathon. Suppliers and institutions are doing amazing things with LTI apps that can work across platforms. And, yes, there were some very tangible signs that the market is beginning to catch up with the more advanced features of LTI and LTI v2.

If you weren’t there and you’re not like everybody else come join us next time! You’ll see and lead the personalized scalable future of education and learning.

On Monday, August 15, at the 1EdTech quarterly meeting at Utah Valley University, the leaders of the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative, responsible for the Experience API (xAPI), came together with the leaders of the Caliper Learning Analytics Framework (Caliper) from 1EdTech.  ADL has joined as a Contributing Member of 1EdTech and the parties are committed to exploring a unified path for xAPI and Caliper.  This may mean alignment at some level or potentially even convergence. 

There were roughly 50 experts in the room for an entire day on August 15, and I believe it is fair to say that both ADL and 1EdTech were very pleased with the eagerness of participants to cooperate and depth of discussion. Presentations from the meeting are posted here and there should be a synopsis of the comparison posted soon. 

At the next 1EdTech quarterly meeting November 7-10, 2016 at Arizona State University, there will be a follow-up session on Wednesday November 9 open to the public (registration required).  I expect it to be another great session that should lead to some tangible prioritization and next steps. On November 8 there will also be a day-long Summit on Creating an Educational Analytics Ecosystem.

1EdTech and ADL are committed to collecting and achieving public input as the process moves forward.  We are likely to create a public forum to encourage the public community to comment and also help crosswalk the information models. Stay tuned to ADL and 1EdTech announcements and twitter feeds (1EdTech twitter feed is @LearningImpact).  Currently there is a survey for those that have views on the potential convergence of the specifications here if you would like to participate.

I attended the entire August 15th session and would like to provide my sense of the big picture.  I’m not the technical expert, but I have a long history in the applications of standards, including those that evolved into SCORM, and of course the dramatic growth of 1EdTech standards adoption the last 10 years in the education sector. 

I am extremely impressed with both the xAPI and Caliper work. While they are perceived by many as “solving the same problem” my own take is that this is largely because there is still quite a lot of variability in the Learning Analytics field in general.  Thus, almost any set of technical work that deals with transcribing, sending, logging and analyzing data during any form of e-learning is considered “learning analytics.” From my perspective, while xAPI and Caliper certainly have some overlap, they are largely complementary at this phase in their respective evolution. 

At the risk of over-simplifying things, my impressions of the strengths of each specification are captured in the table above (while there are four “strengths” shown for each specification they are not meant to be compared in four dimensions - the above are just lists of the primary strengths).   The strength of xAPI is as a way for a single application to log freeform natural language statements and for that data store to be retrievable by the logging entity.  The strength of Caliper is as a way to aggregate agreed upon events across a set of applications to enable processing across the aggregation of data.

It is also very clear that while neither specification “requires” the body of work from which they came (SCORM for xAPI and 1EdTech standards, like LTI and OneRoster for Caliper) that these foundations greatly influence each. For instance, in the case of Caliper the co-existence of the other standards in an implementation means that Caliper can simply complement a slew of outcomes and context data that are already flowing via LTI.  Again, because the Learning Analytics field is rather loosely defined at this point with widely varying “use cases” one can easily get confused about whether they even need Caliper or should just be using LTI to it’s fullest potential (for instance, LTI can already send data to an endpoint that is not the LMS).

I will also note that in the 1EdTech Communities of Practice relating to data and analytics in 1EdTech, we are seeing a very high priority need to simply be able to see all the data visualizations in one place.  The level of data processing may be fairly minimal – but the humans in the equation need a better way to integrate visualizations that may already be available from various products they are using.

Bottomline, in my humble opinion, is that as we move forward on alignment and/or convergence of xAPI and Caliper I think we need to consider the use cases more carefully and, in essence, better define the “categories” or “scenarios” of Learning Analytics.  While that may seem like “a step backwards” well, I think we need more clarity.  The good news is that I don’t believe we will have any problem given the wealth of actual implementations we are working with in 1EdTech and ADL.

Our goal in 1EdTech is to enable serious school districts, higher ed institutions, states and nations to implement high impact learning analytics use cases and to enable a plug and play ecosystem of products that provide the data needed to solve those use cases.  Either specification is good enough to begin doing some work.  But, in order to do what we need to do we need a very large interoperable ecosystem of products, users, and researchers that can all invest together to get to the understanding we wish to collectively achieve.  I would see elements of xAPI and elements of Caliper as both being essential in that goal.

#7 and final post of a series in preparation for May 2016 Learning Impact Leadership Institute

In the previous posts of this series I have reviewed the requirements driving next generation digital learning environments, looked at the anatomy of interoperable educational apps and considered the realities of sector trends in learning platforms and products.  Episode #6 concluded that the evolution to NGDLE will be driven by a combination of high value use cases enabled by an interoperable product ecosystem.

The Critical Importance of Sector Leadership

First a bit about the sector leadership required in getting to the NGDLE.  From where I sit, education sector leaders need to decide if NGDLE (or whatever comes next) is something that is happening to us or something that we are going to make happen? 

To explain further, tech innovation in the consumer world tends to “happen to us.” Apple iTunes is not something that consumers invented.  If consumers had invented Apple iTunes I’m sure we would have chosen to make sure all those tunes and apps would work on any mobile device we chose, not just Apple devices. Or, why is the Apple library limited to use on 5 devices?  That is not very consumer friendly.  But, individual consumers don’t have much influence in terms of the platform strategies of high tech companies.

But, the education sector is different.  While historically there has been a steady pattern of what I call the "alien invasion" theory of edtech adoption, there is huge potential for institutions that can work together to shape the ecosystem, and therefore the platform strategies of suppliers, going forward.  Indeed, we are at a period in time right now where not only institutional leaders, but leading suppliers are largely agreeing that vendor-specific ecosystems are NOT the way forward in the education sector. No single vendor can provide the diversity of digital resources, tools, apps and platforms.  And no single vendor can provide the sales channel to dominate education revenue generation.

But, strong collaborative leadership is required to establish an open edtech ecosystem. The “system” of leadership that seems to be working are suppliers that can bring the product ideas and technical expertise while institutions bring the clarity of the high value use cases and the firm requirement for plug and play integration.   In 1EdTech we have seen the combination of these two forces achieve some amazing things.  Leadership from both institutions and edtech suppliers in creating and evolving the ecosystem the NGDLE (as envisioned in the EDUCAUSE research and this blog series) is essential.

Use Cases and Emerging Product Categories that Will Shape NGDLEs

In 1EdTech we definitely believe that necessity (aka compelling need and value proposition) is the mother of invention.  Exact timing of the cycle of adoption can highly variable based on a number of factors (see the discussion on filtering ideas based on the four major VC risk areas in the previous post of this series). In 1EdTech we like to determine if the value proposition is strong, then establish a track of work and then let the market feedback help us sort out the risk factors and timing.

High value use cases for the NGDLE are those that enable flexibility, choice and personalization that lead to improved educational outcomes.  Here are some obvious winners:

  • Seamless user experience for teachers and students: Sorry if this one seems rather uninspiring but the reality today is that the user experience in navigating among apps and platforms is still not very good.  Making the user experience seamless is key to enabling the development of NGDLEs that are seen as a step forward, rather than backwards. Indeed, an obvious first and essential step in building further confidence toward the NGDLE concept is to achieve seamless integration of some of the core instructional applications already in use at most institutions (see a list in the previous post).
  • Curated digital resource choices with associated assessments: Student outcomes improvement ala Benjamin Bloom’s famous “2 Sigma Problem” is dependent on delivering effective differentiated instruction via a classroom cohort.  This infers well thought out instructional strategies and resources, especially assessment resources, that can support and inform those strategies. Also, as the number of educational “apps” and “digital resources” scales, the need for effective curating that combines easy access/integration with effectiveness becomes paramount. 
  • Digital resource recommendations: Ability to help automate the recommendation of educational resources from among the curated choices will provide high value to instructors, students and parents. This is a very advanced topic that will take many years to develop.  However, it is completely feasible that machine learning techniques could be applied to monitoring and capturing the recommendations of instructional experts.
  • Understanding the usage of digital resources: As the use of digital materials scales there are obvious high value questions that need to be answered concerning the usage of digital resources.  Which ones are being used, when and why? Which ones are not being used?  Why not? This information is of great value to suppliers and institutions alike. However, if it is not “easy” to get the data in one place and understand it, the adoption of digital resources will be hampered.
  • Optimizing and/or personalizing student pathways to a credential or degree:  The ability to understand student pathway options and choices, improve them and recommend them has obvious value. True personalized learning, an umbrella term that can encompass many things, is achieved when the outcomes are defined for each student. The true personalization occurs then across a set of courses or competencies.  Educational success and fulfillment are achieved through a balance of personalization and optimization of the path through courses and gaining of competencies.
  • Better understanding of student progress and risks:  For an NGDLE to deliver on student success it will need to do a better job of helping students understand their level of success and risks of failure.  The NGDLE must support real-time communication and dashboards across a variety of activities to help students measure themselves. An NGDLE will help students, advisors and faculty understand when self-service needs to be supplemented with high touch intervention.

We are observing emerging product categories and how they are fitting into the edtech ecosystem all the time in 1EdTech.  I am going to refrain from mentioning specific product names here.  Rather, I will use abstracted definitions of the categories we see growing and emerging.  A very important note, that while the learning management system category is not listed, the LMS has the potential to enable or implement many of the categories below.  Whether or not it is a good business strategy to do so is another question.

  • Modular digital curriculum and assessment: Instructional material or curriculum as a “black box” in which the modular construction and progression are difficult to access and understand are becoming less attractive in the digital age. There is both huge opportunity and risk here for organizations that can structure their curriculum products to help solve the high value use cases above. 
  • Integrated adaptive assessment: While related to the ability to modularize assessment (previous product category) the category of assessment tools that can be readily integrated with a variety of instructional resources and approaches will be fundamental to improving digital learning outcomes. Assessment is a specialized science and quality assessment is not simply providing some test items. This category will combine ease of use/integration with high quality assessment with real-time feedback.
  • Digital curriculum mapping and management: Differentiated instruction, individualized instruction and personalized learning all require management of the pathways and options available to teachers and students. The management of the curriculum needs to take a step up from where it is today. This product category will enable that.
  • Learning resource catalogs, app stores, repositories: Perhaps Google or Amazon will be the answer to searching for educational resources. However, the search and integration of resources required to enable the high value use cases above is a lot more complicated than the sort of searching and recommendations that suffice for enabling Internet commerce.  This product category addresses the organizational and ecosystem integration features needed to enable better learning outcomes and ease of use.
  • Learning analytics processing and messaging: Learning analytics is a hot new product category. It is also something that many LMS platforms and tools offer in some shape or form.  As with assessment, learning analytics is a highly specialized field. And, analytics needs to be performed across many apps.  Therefore, I think it is likely that new products will emerge that are separate from existing products.
  • Outcomes and achievements management: Several new product types are emerging that are helping institutions manage how they structure and assess student progress in terms of competencies and micro-credentials.  Some of these products are incorporating the “integrated” assessment category.  This category will help institutions structure the relationships among the outcomes they hope to achieve with students. It is different but potentially related to curriculum management. It is a layer above.
  • Student pathway management: Products that can help advisors and students understand the path.  These products will help students plan and optimize their path to their learning and degree objectives.
  • Edtech research data collection and processing: An NGDLE will enable better research of the effect of technology and instructional approaches on student achievement and outcomes. Therefore, I anticipate that products that enable learning analytics correlation of edtech usage to student success will emerge.  This could be considered a subcategory of the “learning analytics” category above, but am calling it out separately as a vey important and necessary contribution that may not be covered by other analytics applications.

Want to read about specific products along these lines? The best place is the 1EdTech Learning Impact Report, which we publish annually, and which we consider to be ongoing research into the product categories that are leading the way to next generation digital learning.

Finally I will leave you with a simple idea and figure (shown here) to help illustrate the road we are on in terms of a maturity model of edtech products and the evolution toward next generation digital learning environments.  At the base level, an educational institution should be able to support the use of technology to support teaching and learning. This is stuff like BYOD and Google Apps for Education or Microsoft Office 365. The next level up is the enhancing of productivity using technology. Herein lies the success of LMSs and many other tools and technologies. However, one should not think it trivial to get to this 2nd/middle level because there are loads of examples of digital tools, and lack of integration of those tools, that have made life less productive for teachers and students. The “top” tier are emerging applications that have the power to improve student achievement and learning outcomes. Some of these are new product categories and others are existing products that are used in ways that clearly support better outcomes.  But the key point is that for an NGDLE, the expectations are evolving from the perspective of the customers – the students, the faculty, the institutions and society in general. 

The motivation for collaborating on NGDLEs is to enable a more effective ecosystem of educational platforms, apps, tools and resources that have measureable impact.  I hope to see you at the Learning Impact Leadership Institute where a unique collection of sector leaders gathers to further this important collaboration.

#6 of a series in preparation for May 2016 Learning Impact Leadership Institute

In the previous posts of this series I have provided a high level overview of the potential goals of next generation learning environments.  In the last several posts I have taken the perspective of what it might mean to be an “interoperable app” in the context of next generation digital learning environments. 

Now it’s time to come back to reality and look for clues from the market in terms of how we are likely to evolve to next generation digital learning environments.

Today is the First Day of Your Journey to NGDLE

One of our conundrums in getting to the next generation is dealing with the current generation.  Educational institutions are already dealing with “sub-optimal” integrations (I’m being kind here) of systems, platforms and applications that teachers and students touch every day.

Indeed, I would be a much less grumpy person, and more importantly, faculty and students would be much more satisfied with technology, if the following products, typically found in a majority of classrooms today, were better integrated:

  • Digital textbook (interactive)
  • Library digital resources
  • Summative testing
  • Formative testing
  • LMS with Gradebook (or separate Gradebook/outcomes assessment & tracking)
  • Classroom capture
  • Classroom response
  • Classroom management
  • Interactive whiteboard
  • Other digital resources and applications

This is a pretty limited set.  But if just a subset of these applications were really nicely integrated into a seamless and easy experience for students and faculty, technology would be a lot more appreciated in the education sector. Although in K-12, the “other digital resources and apps” are typically in the hundreds – even today.

The following types of products are also in the mix already.

  • Online class conferencing
  • Assignment grading system
  • Adaptive learning tool(s)
  • E-portfolio
  • Course evaluation

And don’t forget basic shared IT infrastructure:

  • Student information systems
  • File storage and sharing
  • Video management
  • Content authoring
  • Calendaring

And then there is the potential for integrating those mobile apps that come to educational institutions courtesy of the Apple, Google, Amazon or Microsoft consumer Internet app platforms. 

Learning Platforms Are Evolving

Now let’s consider the evolution of the “learning platforms” themselves.  In 1EdTech we use this term rather broadly.  In the future I expect we will be characterizing the subcategories of learning platforms better. But for now a learning platform is essentially an integration point for learning resources that may provide as little functionality as single sign-on and 1-click launch.

News alert!  If you’ve been following 1EdTech recently you will know that there are more than 400 products that have passed conformance certification.  There are over 70 LTI learning platforms and a couple hundred LTI tools in that mix – which probably represent about 1/3 of the actual adoption of the LTI standard in the market.

Indeed in K-12 school districts we are seeing easily 20-50 LTI tools or content series being integrated in districts (1+ million learning objects via thin common cartridge) that have gotten their LTI act together.

One question to ask is, “Are the more sophisticated learning platforms in tune with the stated requirements of the NGDLE?”  Back in October of 2015 I did a featured talk at OLC (Online Learning Consortium) in which I highlighted some of the directions toward NGDLE.  In preparation for that talk I reviewed the web sites of several of the leading learning management systems looking for messaging that might be consistent with the NGDLE requirements.

The figure here shows what I was able to ascertain.  Apologies to all concerned that this is dated now – and therefore may be different today.

While this comparison is a very crude analysis, I do think it reflects several market realities in getting to the NGDLE:

  • Analytics (however it might be defined) is clearly the area of the NGDLE that is getting the most attention, interpreted as, “there is strong customer interest and money to be made there.”
  • Accessibility as a standalone category is not getting the attention that all of us would hope it would be getting, although personalization (which I have connected to accessibility in this series – see discussion on user preferences here) is getting some play (but I expected more).
  • Collaboration gets a fair amount of coverage, but it is not the hot item that the NGDLE research seemed to indicate it should be – perhaps because, as in the world of 1EdTech, collaboration of various types can be supported via a wide range of apps.
  • There were a range of other key marketing themes that did not get too much attention in the NGDLE research, including usability, reliability, mobile, content management, course building, grading and competency-based education (CBE).
  • Perhaps most interestingly, is that the marketing of the so-called “lynchpin” of the NGDLE, interoperability, was very uneven and, form the perspective of 1EdTech, pretty weak. 

While again, this is a very crude analysis, I think the market is giving us some important messages about NGDLE.  One could take a “glass half empty” of “glass half full” interpretation.  The glass half-empty view is that the product providers are not in tune with those institutional leaders participating in the NGDLE research.  The glass half-full view is that the product companies are focused more on marketing to higher value themes – like product usability, student success, competency-based education, etc.

My own view is that both interpretations are correct. In my thirty-five years of product development experience across a variety of sectors, I feel that there is no sector in which the product providers are more out of touch with their customers than the education sector.  The senior executives and marketing folks in a large number of product companies are not understanding as well as they could the desires of the end users.  On the other hand, I do believe that it will be very specific areas of improvement that will drive progress toward the NGDLE.  General ideas, like personalization, are not going to drive the suppliers and customers to work together to get to the NGDLE.  More specific ideas, like clearly better usability of technology to support teachers and students needs, will.

What Will Drive the Progression Toward NGDLEs?

Getting to next generation digital learning environments will happen because the high-value use cases require cooperation among a diverse set of digital resources, apps, tools and platforms.  Enabling specific high-value use cases is key. Where the “architecture” comes in is to be able to evolve the solutions to those use cases collaboratively across an ecosystem of suppliers and institutions – versus a much more slow and ultimately unreliable approach of big bets on one-vendor solutions.

To put it another way, the evolution to NGDLE will be driven by a combination of high value use cases enabled by an interoperable product ecosystem.

Up next in the series: In the next and final post of this series on next generation digital learning environments I will take my guess at specific use-cases and new product categories that are driving us toward NGDLEs.