Digitalization in education is hot, both in terms of online learning, as well as in terms of making use of digital content, e-tools (e.g. VR/AR), and (virtual) environments. Online learning opens up growth markets (e.g. via MOOCs and SPOCs), and enables students all over the world to follow courses at any time, and any place they like.
Further, from a life-long learning perspective, professional education takes a flight with the help of digitalization. At the same time, more and more evidence shows that learning is about interaction with other pupils, students, professionals and teachers. This insight demands a combination of physical environments that are digitally enhanced, next to the broad range of online learning possibilities.
Next to the renewed competition for students in the educational landscape, competition is slowly growing in terms of digital learning content, -tools and -environments. However, in the Netherlands entrepreneurship in digital education is still relatively new, and many initiatives are stand-alone and often regionally based.
Some interesting examples of innovative start-ups in digital education are Marbelous Minds in Nijmegen and the online learning platform Knowingo in Breda. Marbelous Minds develops brain-inspired game-based learning experiences. Knowingo combines new technologies such as artificial intelligence and self-learning algorithms with gamification principles.
Another example is Kleurrijker in Amersfoort, a publisher of educational content, experimenting with innovative online learning tools and -environments. Kleurrijker provides learning materials for learning the Dutch language and for the preparation of the Dutch civil exam.
In the USA, many start-ups have been launched over the past decade, geared at innovation in digital education. In higher education, many institutes already embrace innovation and facilitate entrepreneurship. LearnLaunch in Boston, aims at educational technology specific as a market. Learnlaunch is both a start-up accelerator for EdTech start-ups (36 companies in 2 funds), a campus (40 start-ups), and an institute with 650 subscribers, 250 events, 25 MAPLE districts and 100 MassNET teachers.
Throughout the value chain, the whole educational landscape seems to be captured in this network, ranging from digital courseware and learning management systems, to assessments, ePortfolios, credentialing, and datamanagement, and –analytics.
Data management and –analytics is another (educational) growth market. In the USA, Arizona State University and Purdue University are strong examples of institutes that make optimal use of data analytics in relation to personalized learning. Internationally, a large community has been organized around ‘Learning, Analytics, and Knowledge’ (LAK), coming together every year at international conferences.
Next Generation Digital Learning Environment
“In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, EDUCAUSE explored the gaps between current learning management tools and a digital learning environment that could meet the changing needs of higher education. Consultations with more than 70 community thought leaders brought into relief the contours of a next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE). Its principal functional domains are interoperability; personalization; analytics, advising, and learning assessment; collaboration; and accessibility and universal design. Since no single application can deliver in all those domains, we recommend a “Lego” approach to realizing the NGDLE, where NGDLE-conforming components are built that allow individuals and institutions the opportunity to construct learning environments tailored to their requirements and goals.”
Concluding, digitalization in education will continue to grow the coming years. The demand for digital and personalized content, -tools and -environments will only grow. The USA proves that organization and coordination at a regional level support entrepreneurship and innovation in digital education. The Netherlands is a relatively small country with an excellent ICT infrastructure. An opportunity is waiting to bring together government, business and institutes for (higher) education at a national level in order to make a leap forwards!
 Brown, Dehoney, and Millichap (2015). Next Generation Digital Learning Environment: a report on research, EDUCAUSE learning initiative, ELI paper, April, https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli3035.pdf