A NGDLE case study: Our success and lessons in building and sustaining innovation in course environments

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE), identified in 2015, has been an enigma; many definitions, many white-papers, few production examples. In this session, instructional designers, technologists behind the first open source NGDLE will demonstrate and discuss learner experience across a distributed platform through examples of live courses by showcasing the Next Generation of EdTech.


Melissa is the Director of the Office of Digital Learning for the Eberly College of Science, supporting the online course portfolio for the World Campus, engaging faculty to transform their teaching, and helping students learn. Melissa has an M.Ed in Learning, Design, and Technology, and has been working in the field for over 13 years. When she is not blazing a trail on social media, she manages a local adult baseball team, spoils her basset, attempts to quilt, and is a fervent supporter of the #Whole30. She also is constantly devouring books in her pursuit of happiness, creativity, and lifelong learning.
Katrina is an Instructional Designer at Penn State University and recently began her journey to obtain her doctorate in learning, design and technology. She has instructional design experience in industry, K-12 and higher education. One of her core beliefs is that technology can transform education for both learners and instructors through the careful selection and application of educational technology solutions with respect to specific course outcomes and objectives.

Additional Authors

Bryan is a programmer at Penn State and the project lead for ELMS: Learning Network, an open-source Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE) platform. He has been building educational technology solutions since 2007 and is a tireless advocate for the transformative nature of open source communities. Bryan is a leading voice in the Drupal in Education community and has helped Penn State adopt and grow a vibrant Drupal community.

Extended Abstract

We modified the NGDLE acronym to better suit our vision of how learning is evolving within the EdTech landscape. Instead, we think of it as Next Generation Distributed Learning Ecosystem – emphasizing an array of networked learning experiences and tools rather than an insular and centralized environment. In a decentralized ecosystem of learning tools, we are able to adapt the affordances of specialized and discreet tools, but within a common user interface. This network model maps to an open source online course system called ELMS Learning Network (ELMS:LN), a system which has been currently supporting online and residential courses at Penn State University's College of Business, Science, and Arts and Architecture.

Some of the tools we will show include H5P, Analytics, Learning Locker LRS, Studio, media streaming and management, 3D VR/AR tools, and more. We will also link this way of thinking about student course interaction (SCI) with advanced content authoring and management workflows. Because this is a modular suite of tools approach, new tools are plugged into the network as they become available – a paradigm that reinforces the sustainability of the project over the long-term.

ELMS Learning Network has been collaboratively built by instructional designers, instructional technologists, students, faculty, and others. The inclusive nature of the project has given the development team insight into a large variety of pain points associated with online learning, helping to craft better solutions to common problems.

Examples of open source technology supporting the development of the ELMS Learning Network project includes Polymer, Drupal, GravCMS and more. Open source contributions associated with this project have been downloaded over 1 million times, demonstrating the positive impact and by-products of working in an open source community.

Now that ELMS:LN is several years into its journey at Penn State, our community has grown in scope and capability, incorporating industry standard software development techniques and integrating novel approaches for online learning as well as in-residence and hybrid courses.

Things you'll learn or see by visiting us at this session:

  • Broader vision of NGDLE
  • Existing NGDLE solutions
  • Examples of NGDLE courses
  • Different roles and workflows associated with NGDLE at a large institutions
  • How you can join the vibrant and inclusive ELMS Learning Network community!