top of page

Education ecosystem: the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

Accelerated by an unprecedentedly high demand for remote learning during COVID-19, the education industry is now pushed to think forward, act agile, and reimagine the next-generation digital learning environment where online classroom merges offline teaching and hybrid learning becomes the new norm.

In our last article, we discussed why schools and education institutions should replace a cluttered teaching system with numberless EdTech tools for an overall online learning ecosystem that’s budget-friendly and easy to navigate.

However, the term learning ecosystem is no stranger to those working in higher education. To fully understand innovations in education driven by technology development and digitalization, it’s necessary to look past and beyond the broad adaption of the Learning Management System (LMS) and how it’s leading us to the next stage — the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE).

“Forward-thinking educational institutions are now seeing the power of technology to transform the learning environment, merging the physical with the virtual, and realizing better student outcomes.” – Cisco, The next-generation digital learning environment and a framework for change.

Education Ecosystem: The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment

A timeline of the EdTech revolution

In a white paper published by Cisco in 2018, researchers dived into the history of the education technology revolution and drew a roadmap of how all parties in the education industry have adapted to innovations over the decades. Here’s a peek into that:

The 1980s: Digital technologies were used to support access to remote databases and computer programs

  • Pros: Helped learners achieve specific learning goals

  • Cons: Limited access to only a few students, faculty members, and researchers

The 1990s and early 2000s: An exponential growth for collaborative learning networks with the rapid growth of the Internet

  • Pros: New ways to access information, academic digital resource sharing, web-based discussion, idea sharing, and collaboration

  • Cons: Limited innovation potentials with course web pages and hyperlinked resources

The early 2000s till now: “Consumerization of technology” triggered the ubiquity of personal computing for every learner and teacher

  • Pros: Growing availability of broadband infrastructure, massive adoption of mobile devices like smartphones connected to the Internet, quicker and faster access

“…this latest shift has enabled next-generation learning environments — both physical and virtual — with better connections, easier communication paths, and more robust collaboration capabilities.” – Cisco, The next-generation digital learning environment and a framework for change.

What is NGDLE

NGDLE is an idea that education institutions should transform the learning environment into an interconnected ecosystem that closes the gaps between existing learning management tools and changing teaching and learning needs. It was first introduced by Educause, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing higher education through information technology, in a 2015 study partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Later, NGDLE was broadly discussed by educators and adopted by leading higher education institutions such as Duke University and the University of Minnesota.

NGDLE “Lego” Sets: a toolbox of applications, content, and platforms that could be assembled in custom ways (Source: Educause, Illustration: University of Minnesota)

Essentially, NGDLE brings together interoperability and integration; personalization; analytics, advising and learning assessment; collaboration; and accessibility and universal design — five key domains that leverage the LMS to elevate students’ learning experience. Here are the definitions summarized by the study:

Interoperability: the ability to integrate tools and exchange content and learning data enables everything else.

Personalization: the most important user-facing functional domain of the NGDLE

Analytics, advising, and learning assessment: the analysis of all forms of learning data—resulting in actionable information—is a vital component of the NGDLE.

Collaboration: the NGDLE must support collaboration at multiple levels and make it easy to move between private and public digital spaces.

Accessibility and universal design: Efforts to realize the NGDLE should include working toward ensuring that all learners and instructors are able to participate, with access to content and the ability to create accessible learning artifacts.

“Digitally transformed learning environments — properly designed and implemented according to strong pedagogical practices — can indeed function as a set of tools and processes that augment human learning and intellectual capability.” – Cisco, The next-generation digital learning environment and a framework for change.

Why is NGDLE different from LMS

Instead of heavily investing in the LMS as an administrative tool, NGDLE suggests a model that emphasizes the potential of optimized student-teacher interaction that allows both parties to benefit from the full range of developments in higher education.

According to Educause, while many administrations have realized the importance of a technology-empowered teaching system — 99% of institutions have an LMS in place — few have taken full advantage of such tools.

Out of 85% of the faculty who use the LMS, only 56% reported using the system daily. In the meantime, the majority of the student population (56%) said they wish their instructors used it more. These data collected from teachers and students speak for the fact that there is still room to fully utilize the current LMS and provide end-users with a more humane digital learning environment. According to Educause, an ecosystem that follows the NGDLE framework may be the solution.

“The next step for EdTech is to foster and enhance those memorable moments in school, get teens excited to learn, and make students feel invested in their education anew.” – Bright Magazine, A Teenager’s View on Education Technology


It goes without saying that technology and education innovation have jointly stimulated the greatest potential of human learning. In modern days, we enjoy online education simply one click away from our screens. For most people seeking education that have access to the Internet and electronic devices, geological and physical boundaries have become insignificant.

However, the more important question to ask is: how do we use available resources to find the right method and design a coherent education ecosystem to meet the individual needs of students, educators, and education-related personnel?

856 views1 comment

1 Comment

Lexa Ker
Lexa Ker
Jul 01, 2023

I totally agree with your article! It is long overdue to move students to permanent online learning and make online classes. Various videos can be made as training material. I make videos myself using this program that allows you to film the Windows 10 screen. If any difficulties arise, I am ready to help you!

bottom of page