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NGDLE and Why It Won’t Replace LMS

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I’ve been hearing a lot of weird stuff lately. Whispers in the dark corners of eLearning LinkedIn groups. Speculations in Google+ groups. I’m sure there’s a dark alley somewhere where a group of course designers meet weekly to lament their fate.

They’re all saying the same thing: learning management systems are as dead as a dinosaur.


The speculation seems born from two separate places.

Some say that the LMS is a bubble on the verge of a burst. Some of that belief comes from the thought that all software as a service industries are in trouble. But, then again, the eLearning market is meant to be growing exponentially so who’s to say if that assumption is exactly accurate.

The rest of the “Learning Management Systems are dead!” declarations come from what looks to me like a lot of wishful thinking. That wishful thinking ranges from sales pitches (Typically some version of, “The LMS is dead! Look at OUR LMS which is totally different.”) to blatant industry clickbait, and these claims have been floating around for years now, with no payoff.

And while I could link to examples all of those things, but I don’t like to call people out like that. If you’re feeling vaguely uncomfortable and guilty reading this, then you know what you did.

Why roast you when you can roast yourselves?

If not LMS, then what?

But let’s humor the doomsayers for a moment. If not an LMS (and by “not an LMS,” I’m also throwing out any mention of an LMS 2.0 / 3.0 / 5.0 / Replacement LMS etc. etc.), then what? What else is there to take the place of a software that has become a staple for multiple industries?

After all, learning management systems are used by K-12 educators, higher learning institutions like colleges, universities, and trade schools, companies that need to do onboarding education, continued learning, or… well, you get the picture. A lot of people use learning management software for many different purposes.

What could possibly replace an LMS that would satisfy all of those groups?

While there’ve been various suggestions, the answer is, apparently, NGDLE.


I’ve seen this acronym for a few months now. Lots of stuff about the Gates family. Lots of stuff about how it’s going to revolutionize everything.

And I can’t shake this weird desire to mispronounce it as “needle.”

Educate ‘em with the pointy end.

I’m sure you’ve heard a bit about NGDLE, too, and you, like me, might be wondering exactly what’s up with it. So let’s just say that I wrote this post for both of us. Let’s get educated.

NGDLE stands for “next generation digital learning environment.” It’s a project that has been worked on by several groups, including IMS Global and Educause, but no one group can really claim ownership. These groups designed the NGDLE model to be a natural successor to the LMS, one that tries to create an online educational ecosystem where all aspects of elearning are inter-connected. The content, the teachers, the learners… everything is designed to grow and work together seamlessly.

The central belief is that learning management systems are helpful for the managing and not so much the learning. LMSs are often set up to favor admins and instructors, while falling flat on course design and ease of use for students. This criticism isn’t unfounded, as you know if you’ve been stuck on the learner side of an admin-first LMS design.

The Educause Learning Initiative undertook a serious study into how the theoretic NGDLE of the future might work, and they highlighted several major design points:

  1. interoperability and integration, which lets different bits of the environment link and exchange data
  2. personalization, so that each group and user gets their own unique experiences, instead of struggling with one-size-fits-all design
  3. analytics, advising, and learning assessment, to measure individual and overall success for students and groups and turn their results into accurate, measurable data
  4. collaboration, allowing different groups and users to connect easily, especially when they would not typically interact, in order to further learning for all
  5. accessibility and universal design, so that everyone can benefit from the program without struggle

What does that look like for the people using the system? So far, we’re not sure. On the build side, it will look like a series of separate programs that are designed with full interoperability and integration, allowing each system to communicate seamlessly. But the users (both instructors and learners) probably won’t realize that they’re working with multiple programs. They would access a clean, condensed portal that does all the integration heavy lifting for them.

If anything, ELI suggests it might be like accessing a smartphone and seeing all the apps laid out for you. No matter how it looked, emphasis is placed on ease of use and efficiency for the user, so they can focus more on learning than on battling with an uncooperative software system.

Sounds pretty great, right? But designing such a program, let alone keeping it clearly differentiated from just being a fancy LMS, is a serious challenge. The NGDLE vision of the future may not even be possible until we uncover new technology and more innovative ways to code a true ecosystem of learning.

Does that mean that the NGDLE is relegated to the realm of science fiction for now? Not exactly. We are already seeing tech that may help us create a digital learning environment that works seamlessly with many sources of information. xAPI is one of these new developments, an API that allows a massive improvement on how LMS software communicates.

So is the LMS dead?

Nope. Not for a while at least. Anybody who tells you otherwise—those doomsayers I mentioned who keep insisting that the LMS is gone for good and only they have the true solution—is merely looking for clicks.

Rather than worrying about the end of eLearning as we know it, keep doing what you’re doing. Welcome new changes as they come, knowing that, one of these days, someone is going to build something better, and when they do it will be less of an upset and more of a natural progression of technology.

Disagree with me? Relieved someone is speaking sense? Still confused about what the heck NDGLE is? Talk to me in the comments.

If you want more information on where eLearning is going next? Check out these articles:

Looking for Learning Management System software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Learning Management System software solutions.

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About the Author

Halden Ingwersen

Halden Ingwersen writes about HR and eLearning at Capterra. She’s a graduate of Agnes Scott College and a TEDx presenter. You can follow her on Twitter @CapterraHalden, just don’t get her started about her zombie survival plan.


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