What is an innovative learning system and how is it different from LMS?

Making sense of Learning Management Systems & Next Generation Digital Learning Environments



We have so many acronyms and buzzwords coming at us all of the time. Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE) are two that get a lot of attention in education these days. Yet in many conversations we've had with teachers about such systems, we hear many questions or unsure responses. "Is (insert name) it? What do does it actually do? Is my school really using it well?"


Making sense of what an LMS or NGDLE actually is can be challenging, yet educators know that we have to really understand what something is before we can think about how to apply it or evaluate which tool is better. Let’s take a closer look…


The LMS:



An LMS is a centralized, online database that records the details of students, classes and teaching. When teachers view class rosters or schedules, find parent contact information, report absences, share a syllabus or assignment, and record grades in an online school system, they are using an LMS. They are sometimes known as Student Information Systems (SIS), though this is not entirely accurate. An SIS is definitely a part, but not all, of the LMS today.


Central purpose

The LMS is primarily an administrative tool – and a highly successful one at that. It is estimated that 99% of higher education institutions and the vast majority of K-12 schools use an LMS. As a centralized online system, teachers, parents, students and administrators can share timely information in an efficient fashion.


Key Components

 While they vary a little from product to product, learning management systems generally include features such as:

·      Class & course management: rosters, student registration, schedules, lists of sections.


·      Student information tools: contact information, medical records, individual learning plans, grades, progress tracking.


·      Communication tools: email, forums, chat space, whiteboards.


·      Teaching tools: class pages, material posting, sometimes quizzes or lesson creation.


·      Student learning tools: personal home page, bookmarks, schedules.


·      Online or blended learning: some LMS include the capacity to create and deliver lessons to students independently, inside or outside of the classroom.



One challenge for an LMS is that it is technical but has a huge impact on efficiency. They are private sharing systems, so their re-usability is practically non-existent. Therefore, content created for one class or school can't be re-used anywhere else and this can be frustrating. Technology and privacy contribute to this major design limitation, but LMS’s were also built initially for higher education and thus are very course-oriented.


Education and technology have evolved since the early 1990s. We're moving away from the "teacher knows all and transmits it to student" model and into an advanced version of "teacher as guide-on-the-side for constructed learning", this includes 24/7 access and world-as-classroom connectedness.


The LMS must evolve to meet this change. One report found that only 50% of teachers were actually satisfied with their LMS or SIS, while another found that only 41% of faculty reported using an LMS to its full capacity.


LMS Trends

The LMS is expanding their functionality to reflect the changes in technology. Cloud-based systems (which are accessible anywhere) and mobile are the two biggest areas, along with integration of social elements that either mirror or incorporate platforms like Twitter and Instagram. As mentioned, some also strive to be a one-stop-shop and incorporate an Online Learning Platform (OLP – yes, another acronym) to allow learning from anywhere and at anytime.


The other change for the LMS is our shift in viewing education as a teacher-centered, one-size fits all product to a student-centered, personalized learning process.





A search of Google or any education social channel will show many versions of "next gen" or innovative learning systems, but here we are looking to understand the specific technology frameworks that advance education. LMS is one and NGDLE is the other.


The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment was developed by the professional education IT association EDUCAUSE, with support from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to establish a formal framework that would better realize the potential of teaching and technology. They say:


"The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) is conceived as an ecosystem, a learning environment consisting of learning tools and components that adhere to common standards."


Central Purpose

 The NGDLE's primary role is pedagogical. EDUCAUSE say:


"Unlike the LMS, the NGDLE is not a one-size-fits-all application but instead pursues a component-based approach that introduces flexibility and variability to address learning needs more specifically."


The aim is to create ecosystems of connected tools and platforms where learning can be personalized, collaborative, accessible, inter-operable (all the pieces can talk to each other to share data) and intelligent (data is relevant, applicable and appropriate). Think of a smart phone. It's one 'thing', that’s different for everyone depending on the model, provider, apps, contacts, etc.


Key components

An NGDLE is:

·      Centralized and accessible: the NGDLE uses a cloud-based system, and uses one log- in for a multitude of tools, like an app store for education.


·      Flexible: different schools, classes and teachers can all pull in whatever tools and components best suit their needs.


·      Creative: robust content creation tools for teachers and students – intuitive tools and templates.


·      Portable: inter-operability and integration means that teacher content can be moved and shared. Imagine being able to pick and pull from great lessons across your district or to share your own. Student learning and their profile can also travel with them wherever they go.


·      Adaptive: you can tailor instruction, use intelligent tutor agents to support individual students, provide feedback and suggest options.



One of the challenges is technical, getting many varied components to speak to each other, but this will evolve with time. There are also many concerns with data that need to be solved, both from a security perspective and an application perspective. Another hurdle is training and adoption. Ultimately, a Next Generation Digital Learning environment will have the capacity to simplify this process, but it will take some time and some evolution in teacher education programs.



With a strong, modern technology framework like NGDLE, the availability of tools will continue to expand. With that the LMS may become more like "middleware"—the connective and administrative backbone in an NGDLE that ties together all the components, while other tools specialize in things like personalization, content creation or data analytics to support learning.


The other important trends are personalized learning and student data. In order to have personalized learning, you need to have student data and more tools are focusing on making these two work both together and separately.


Next steps

Whatever the platform and tools you are using now or that your school are considering, we all have to keep learning. This might be trying one new function on your existing system, incorporating a digital project into your teaching next year, joining a personal learning network or even organizing a "lunch and learn" discussion with fellow teachers or administrators.


We have to understand what these tools are used so that we can really begin to approach teaching and learning with a "next generation teaching" mindset.



Tell us— what aspects of an LMS or NGDLE are most interesting to you? What are you using already and what you would like to be able to use in your classroom?

About Mohamed Saeed

 Mohamed Saeed, Co-founder and Director of Marketing

Mohamed Saeed, Co-founder and Director of Marketing

Mohamed’s passion for improving students' lives is what motivates him to grow a community that’s equally passionate about making it better. Growing up in a country with a 63% literacy rate, he knows what the lack of basic tools means - even more so in a fast-paced, digital world. 

He’s proudest of having built a center for capacity development for 1000+ orphans and re-structuring its management so that the orphanage is well positioned to make its mission come to life. With Mentorina, Mohamed plans and implements marketing strategies, digging deep to understand what matters most to key stakeholders and refining the brand’s message to continually elevate Mentorina's purpose.