News from the ELI 2017 annual meeting

The 2017 Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) Annual Meeting was held in Houston, Texas from 12 to 15 February 2017, with the theme ‘Transforming the academy: Building communities of practice’. This is a smaller meeting than the EDUCAUSE annual conference, focusing on teaching and learning in higher education. The ELI meeting was attended by 530 participants, predominantly from universities and colleges across the USA.

The most notable topics of discussion at the meeting were ‘shopping for a new learning management system (LMS)’, and ‘next generation digital learning environments (NGDLEs). The notion of a NGDLE was first proposed in an ELI research paper by Brown, Dehoney and Millichap (2015a). It is seen as a slimmed-down approach to the institutional VLE, allowing individuals and institutions to use a ‘Lego approach … to construct learning environments tailored to their requirements and goals’ (Brown et al., 2015a, p. 1). The term ‘teaching and learning ecosystems’ was frequently used at the conference. McGill University in Canada has developed a visual representation of an ‘educational technologies ecosystem’, showing core LMS tools (‘Tools Within myCourses’) at the centre, ringed by a collection of possible ‘plugin’ tools and activities. The infographic is reproduced below; for a description of it, visit the ‘Learning Technologies’ page on McGill’s website.

Educational technologies ecosystem (from McGill University, 2017). To see a larger version of this graphic, click on it.

Another major theme at the ELI meeting was the resurgence of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). VR technologies first appeared in the 1960s (or earlier!: read this history), but appear now to be emerging after a prolonged ‘winter’. Posters, presentations, workshops and vendors made the technology available in a ‘virtual reality playground’ which proved to be very popular. At one VR workshop participants were invited to download an app on their smart phone and use the ‘cardboard’ (VR goggles) to view the handout provided to them (see image at right). This produced a 3D view of various body systems, which the user could choose to view, such as the nervous system or digestive system.

It is clear that many universities are in the process of considering a change in their VLE. Caveats were expressed in terms of costs involved in switching systems and migrating content, as well as not ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ of the VLE that happens to have the biggest market share. One presenter stated that ‘… comparing open source systems with commercial ones just doesn’t work. It’s like vegetarians going shopping for sausages, or like trying out coffins for size: you just don’t do it!’

Surprisingly, there was absolutely no talk at the meeting about MOOCs; such massive online courses must have passed the peak of their hype cycle! My take-away thoughts from the meeting were that NGDLEs and the possibilities they offer are worth exploring (as are the affordances of VR and AR for education); in all such initiatives, careful management of any change process is vital.

NMC Horizon Report 2017

The 2017 version of the annual NMC Horizon Report was launched during the final session of the meeting. The winners of the 2017 Horizon Report 2-minute video competition were announced. These videos show how institutions have implemented ideas that emerged in previous versions of the Horizon Report.


AR: augmented reality
LMS: learning management system (widely used in the USA)
MOOC: massive open online course
NGDLE: next generation digital learning environment
NMC: New Media Consortium
VLE: virtual learning environment (VLE) (widely used in the UK)
VR: virtual reality


Brown, M., Dehoney, J. & Millichap, N. (2015a). The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment, EDUCAUSE: ELI research report.
Brown, M., Dehoney, J. & Millichap, N. (2015b). What’s Next for the LMS?, EDUCAUSE Review.
Feldstein, M. (2016). What’s really to blame for the failure of our learning management systems? The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Finkelstein, A. & Goudzwaard, M. (2016).  The Trouble With Learning Management, EdSurge News.
McGill University. (2017). Educational technologies ecosystem. Teaching and Learning Services.
Petersen, R. (2016). Paradigm Shift: Detach thyself from ye olde LMS, blog post.

Image credit (VR workshop): CC BY Jill Fresen

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One Response to “News from the ELI 2017 annual meeting”

  1. […] 2017 version of the annual NMC Horizon Report was launched during the final session of this years ELI conference. One of the key themes is “Collaborative Learning Approaches” (see Page 5 of NMC […]

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