Online educational resources, which have become commonplace in higher education institutions across the United States, could be undergoing changes to facilitate better learning for students rather than favoring instructors.

The Learning Management System (LMS) is used by 99 percent of colleges and universities as a software application that tracks and reports the use of electronic educational technology.

“What is clear is that the LMS has been highly successful in enabling the administration of learning but less so in enabling learning itself,” stated a report from Educause and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Tools such as the grade book and mechanisms for distributing materials such as the syllabus are invaluable for the management of a course, but these resources contribute, at best, only indirectly to learning success.”

The report argues that LMS should be rebuilt to be learner-centric and experiment with a variety of course styles. The report calls the ideal new software the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE).

According to the report, in order to be successful the NGDLE must have interoperability and integration; personalization; analytics, advising and learning assessment; collaboration; and accessibility and universal design.

The NGDLE should be able to integrate course materials to enable students to easily navigate between resources. For example, the new software could provide access to the course syllabus, e-book, and quiz material, while providing data to the instructor.

In order to personalize online resources, the NGDLE must integrate for discipline-specific apps, adapt to different teaching styles and areas of study, and create customized and self-paced learning pathways.

The NGDLE should use data and analytics to track student progress as well as inform teachers on the best way to conduct and design their course. Also, the NGDLE should include competency-based education to assess smaller units of learning.

“Key for the NGDLE is to integrate various ways to assess learning, moving away from tools that only support a single approach,” the report stated.

The NGDLE should support collaboration for students to assist each other in finding helpful online content and participate in learning communities.

“The support for collaboration must be a lead design goal, not an afterthought,” the report stated. “The current LMS is often designed on the transmission model of education—a mechanism to transmit syllabi, content, and assessments. This process is important for the management of the course, but equal time must be given to collaboration, a true learning dimension.”

The NGDLE should be accessible and useful for all learners and instructors, including people with disabilities.

“Embracing interoperability standards would enable faster, more effective integration of these tools into the larger learning environment, and including accessibility standards as part of interoperability will help produce components that support people with disabilities,” the report stated.

To accomplish all of these goals, the report recommends that universities take a “Lego approach” by building their own NGDLE to support their individual needs.

“This would result in a toolbox of applications, content, and platforms that could be assembled in custom ways,” the report stated. “Legos work because of a design specification that ensures the pieces will interlock, while enabling a wide variety of component parts.”

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.