The disruptive nature of current technological advances is forcing us to re-evaluate, and in many cases re-design, re-invent or at least adapt many aspects of our society – the learning environment is no exception. A learning environment is no longer a classroom where students quietly sit, all facing forward, while the teacher delivers content from a printed textbook (Graetz, 2006).
A digital learning environment (DLE) is an environment where learning is facilitated and supported through the affordances of digital technology. The DLE consists of all resources: hardware, software and educational content, that the learner and teacher employ to facilitate learning. Because the DLE is “digital”, connected and networked, it is not bound by time or space. Learning can happen 24/7/365 and outside of the physical restrictions and constraints of traditional learning environments, just-in-time and on-demand. Learning can not only take place when we want, but where we want, with and from whom we want and about what we want (Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011, p. 2). Learning in DLEs are not restricted to the group of students in a class but can naturally extend to include experts and communities of interest and practice, allowing for more authentic, “situated” or context-dependent learning experiences (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989, p. 39).
Digital learning environments include, but are not exclusive to, learning management systems (LMS) or virtual learning environments (VLE). These environments should be intentionally designed, allowing for personalised, empowering, learner-centred and learner-directed learning (Veletsianos, 2016, pp. 246-7). DLE should make the most of Web 2.0, media and tools, which are open, social and participatory – allowing learning through communication, collaboration, co-creating and sharing of knowledge (Conole, 2013, p. 47). The DLE is hyper-connected and allows for learning that is dynamic and fluid, a blend of formal, informal, experiential, problem-based and inquiry learning.
The existence of a DLE does not guarantee maximisation of learning. Intentional steps must be put into place to ensure that students and teachers develop the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century, as well as the behaviour and attitudes needed to learn and socialise safely, ethically and effectively in these environments.
The DLE in our school is complex, but none the less reasonably effective, focussed on supporting the teaching and the learning of our students in a collaborative and transparent environment. We use Managebac as learning management system, a good choice – from an administrative point of view, since it is tailor-made for our IB school. Managebac creates a transparent online DLE where teachers, students and parents have – at all-time – a transparent overview of curriculum, learning objectives, learning tasks and assessments. Much of the active learning activities take place in the Google Suite environment, where tools are integrated, and collaboration is easily facilitated and monitored through sharing of digital artefacts. Students have access to Managebac and the Google environment at all times, at school, home and elsewhere, and can easily share access to their work with peers, teachers and parents. Other Web 2.0 tools are often used for specific learning activities. In my grade 6 Digital X (technology and design-based course) , for example, students are experimenting with free online tools to create audio recordings (Twistedwave), video recordings (WeVideo) and photo manipulation software (Photopea). The artefacts that students create are showcased in an ePortfolio, which is a Google slide presentation. Assignments, grades and assessment comments for tasks in the ePortfolio is published on Managebac.
Our course notes describe a DLE as “the tools, skills, standards, attitudes and habits for learning while using technology and accessing digital resources” (Lindsay & O’Connell, 2018). All of those elements are important in creating a successful learning environment, but the skilful creation of authentic and challenging learning opportunities by the teacher, is needed to ensure that our students thrive and grow.
Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42. Retrieved from JSTOR database.
Conole, G. (2013). Designing for learning in an open world. New York, NY: Springer.
Graetz, K. A. (2006). The psychology of learning environments. In D. G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces. Retrieved from https://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/books/learning-spaces/chapter-6-psychology-learning-environments
Lindsay, J., & O’Connell, J. (2018). Topic 1.0: Introduction to the digital learning environment. Retrieved March 3, 2018, from ETL 523: Digital citizenship in schools website: https://interact2.csu.edu.au/webapps/blackboard/execute/displayLearningUnit?course_id=_34634_1&content_id=_2002176_1
Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connections to transform education. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Veletsianos, G. (2016). Digital learning environments. In N. Rushby & D. Surry (Eds.), Handbook of learning technologies (pp. 242-260). Retrieved from http://www.veletsianos.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/digital_learninig_environments.pdf