Moving from LMS to NGDLE at Duke University

When we talk about learning innovation technology, many of us immediately jump to the learning management system (LMS), but the conversation needs to get broader than that.

Jolie Tingen, Product Manager at Duke University, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE) and how Duke’s Kits project is an open-source attempt to provide faculty with more academic technology freedom.

Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE)

NGDLE is a concept that emerged from a research paper that looked at what’s next for the LMS. What came out of that paper was the idea that we need to look beyond the LMS.

“We have an ecosystem here,” Jolie said. “All of this has students at the center of the ecosystem of the digital learning environment, so putting students at the center, and then thinking about all those characteristics of a next generational digital learning environment is just the right approach.”

Duke’s Kits’ Project

Kits is an evolution of a product Duke has had on campus for almost a decade. For a long time, Duke has had a certain number of faculty, maybe 30% or so, who want to use tools other than the LMS. The institution has been keen early on making it easy for those faculty members to use other tools, particularly around provisioning.

“We have a product called Toolkits,” Jolie said. “It’s the predecessor to KITS, and it has been in place for a long time to allow faculty to provision certain tools that are not already connected to the LMS.”

Toolkits itself is connected to the LMS through a central group management piece. That’s the core of the product. 

“When this article came out about a next generation digital learning environment,” Jolie said, “it really resonated with us because we’re already thinking that way here.” 

Duke has already built products around this concept, and the team has been talking about evolving the tool they have, Toolkits, to be more student-centered.

“When this article came out,” Jolie told us, “it was a catalyst for us to get that project started.”

Around 2017, Duke did a discovery project, interviewing anyone using the existing product Toolkits and trying to think more broadly about what problems they want to solve with this new evolution. 

“We were able to not only bring in the tools that we were already using,” Jolie said, “and bring in a couple of more, but also completely redesign the UI so it’s more student centered and even faculty centered.”

On the new system, you can see your courses. The rosters are automatically there. And students can see all the apps used in their courses for a specific semester if faculty have provisioned them through KITS.

“We created an app store through kits that allows faculty to more easily find the right tool for their teaching needs,” Jolie told us. “In our app store, we have really great information on the apps that are available to faculty and why they might use them pedagogically.”

Expanding Academic Technology Freedom While Keeping IT Governance Manageable

It’s hard to know all the tools that faculty are using. Duke has a custom link option in KITS that allows the faculty to insert any shared BioLink application. It could be a link to a GitHub repository or a Google Doc or any number of shared BioLink applications.

“We’re going to be able to see those in the analytics for kits,” Jolie said. “That will help us understand better what people are using and where we might need to look to license new apps. Right now, it’s hard to know.”

Currently, there is a very long security and authentication process involved with getting permission to pilot a tool. The learning management team doesn’t want to skip important steps but the group is looking for a  way to streamline that process to make it easier for faculty to evaluate a tool and get it into the ecosystem faster.

Next-Steps Advice for Thinking About NGDLE

Get a sense of what people are doing on their campus. Talk to the faculty, and intentionally interview people about what they do. Asking open-ended questions to get good qualitative information about what problems you might solve could help you get started in the right direction.

“With that being said,” Jolie told us, “we are hoping that people will pilot Kits. We are going to open source the code…. We’re very happy for people to reach out to us and get that conversation started.”


This post is based on a podcast interview with Jolie Tingen from Duke University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.