What do the next generation of digital learning environments look like? Given the time and thought that they have already invested in developing digital learning spaces – would colleges and universities be better off making best use of the ones they have?
Most online learning environments were conceived during the 1990s and what was optimal back then reflected the pedagogical thinking that was current; but now, when we’re more connected through mobile technologies and excellent connectivity, there have been transformations to how we live, learn and work.
Future digital offers – what’s to come?
At Digifest last month, I chaired a debate that raised these questions with representatives from two universities with very different student cohorts, to find out their ideas on the future of their digital offers.
Elizabeth Ellis, product development manager in learning innovation for learning and teaching solutions at The Open University (OU), described the OU’s long established and well developed digital learning environment, which underpins the university’s mission to provide flexible higher education to distance learners.
The OU knows it can’t stand still, and she expects that development work will deconstruct the OU digital learning environment. Faced with the question of what it will look like in future she said:
“It won’t look like anything. Instead, it’ll be a series of spaces and application programming interfaces (APIs) so that it won’t be a thing in itself”
This, she said, will ensure that the OU’s online learning spaces can be more responsive and will continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of students and employers.
It might be supposed that the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge has very different thoughts about its digital learning environment. It has started from a very different place - with few distance learners it created its online learning spaces relatively recently.
But Ange Fitzpatrick, the business school’s information and library services manager, told us her organisation knows that this is the time to push ahead, and the business school is as committed as the OU to involving students, teachers and employers in making sure that systems and course modules can continue to be developed and delivered in ways that meets their needs.
The business school’s intention is to create an online space that is less like a content repository and that becomes a dynamic, adaptive space where students take control of their own learning.
The take-home message from our session with Ange and Elizabeth was that a radical shake-up of digital learning environments is inevitable, driven not by technological change, but by the behaviours of both staff and students.
They agree that there’s a need to engage all stakeholder groups in the change, whether that is a series of iterations toward a new digital learning environment, or something more radical. They also report that both institutions and staff could usefully become more willing simply to try things out and see what happens. The results may provide new insights, and will inevitably lead to innovations in our practice.
At Jisc, we’re working on several projects to help colleges and universities develop their digital learning environments and we’re exploring a range of exciting options including the co-design challenges around the next generation digital learning environment (and the intelligent campus).
As these projects develop we want you to tell us what you think; so, what do you want digital learning environments of the future to do? Get in touch via Twitter and let me know.