What is the UW System DLE?

Our DLE is not a learning management system (LMS).  Rather, our DLE is a federated, online environment that includes services and tools purposefully brought together to support the needs of teaching and learning in all modes (i.e., face-to-face, blended/hybrid, and fully-online).  Our DLE challenges the traditional role of a Learning Management System (LMS) as “the” platform for managing course documents, quizzes, videos, and the like.  By shifting our perspective from an LMS-based content platform, to a “digital environment” that creates information we can act upon, UW System can then realize the many benefits of an interoperable suite of services and tools that allow us to maximize student access and success.

Based on the work of Brown, Dehoney and Millichap, in their 2015 EDUCAUSE whitepaper on the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE),1 the five key characteristics of the UW System DLE (UWS DLE) are:

  • Accessibility and the principles of universal design are fundamental, so that all students, regardless of ability and learning preference, can succeed in all instructional modes.
  • Provides a platform to support learning and administrative analytics, readiness and learning assessment, progress mapping, advising, and “early alerts” to trigger interventions to ensure student success.
  • Collaboration is expected, encouraged, and supported among those within and outside the institution.
  • Components are interoperable; meaning they are standards-based and work together seamlessly, not stapled together to sit side-by-side.
  • The environment is student-centered, and allows for a personalized experience for the student with regard to both content and pathways.

These five characteristics emerged as drivers to the design of the UWS DLE.  The results of the needs analysis and requirements gathering projects conducted in 2015-2016 by UW System aligned well with the concept of a NGLDE.  UW System research work uncovered that students sought a standardized way to access the tools and services they need for completing their coursework, as well as being able to move from course to course easily – regardless of which institution offered the course.  Instructors reported that tools were becoming too complicated and cumbersome, and that they require easier ways to interact with students online, and provide feedback in various forms.  Administrators were frustrated by the lack of usable data to help inform their work.

The UW System DLE (UWS DLE) is designed upon a fixed/flexible framework that provides fixed, consistent processes, student experience, and data management.  The UWS DLE allows flexibility to enable pedagogy (rather than technology) to drive the adoption of technology to support institutional needs for teaching and learning.  The fixed/flexible framework applies to all tools and services within the UWS DLE, and provides a means for reducing technology and access barriers among institutions and supports the ability to enrich and further develop cross-institution concepts.

DLE fosters the following improvements for our three stakeholder groups:

  1. Instructors – increased collaboration and sharing of expertise and resources among instructors, thereby reducing redundancy and spurring innovation
  2. Students – a “one-stop” resource environment alleviates the disparate nature of accessing teaching and learning tools and services, thereby increasing retention rates and improving student learning outcomes
  3. Administration – reduces and standardizes infrastructure, improves support, and provides cross-institution opportunities for common practices, thereby freeing up resources for innovations in teaching and learning

The UWS DLE enables us to provide our stakeholders – students, instructors, and administration – the environment needed to thrive in any future that may evolve. WE, not providers of “siloed” products and services or exclusive groups, are the “architects” proactively designing and building the UWS DLE and planning its future.  Read “Designing a Digital Learning Environment for the University of Wisconsin System” to learn more.


1 Brown, Malcolm, et al. “The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment: A Report on Research.” Next Generation Digital Learning Environment Initiative, EDUCAUSE, Apr. 2015, https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2015/4/eli3035-pdf.