Controlling the digital learning environment

How do you formulate a vision of the learning environment, what is a modular learning environment, and what integration issues are involved? Find practical checklists, manuals, tools, practical examples, and key concepts developed by colleagues at educational institutions together with SURF.

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Key concepts of the digital learning environment

Key concepts around the digital learning environment help institutions to speak the same language.

Adaptive learning technology

Data-driven, personalised educational application in which the instruction and difficulty level of assignments are determined on the basis of the student's interactions, level, and approach. In such an application, an automated system provides suggestions that are tailored to the individual needs of the student.

Components of the digital learning environment

The digital learning environment of the future appears to consist of a modular system made up of components. Components contain functions that enable a particular educational task to be performed well. Examples of components are communication, collaboration, and testing. Components can be replaced and expanded, so that the learning environment can always be adapted to new developments.

Digital learning and working environment (DLWE)

The digital learning and working environment (DLWE) is the totality of systems that makes it possible for students, researchers, and staff within an educational institution to carry out their activities. The DLWE is therefore a combination of digital services.

Digital learning environment (DLO)

The DLO is the digital learning environment: the totality of systems or applications that support teaching and learning. Students and instructors use the DLO for a wide range of educational activities, for example communication, organising teaching, and exchanging content. The DLO is a subset of the DLWE.

Alternative name: modular digital learning environment

Electronic learning environment (ELE)

Electronic learning environment (ELE) can refer to both specific digital learning applications (for example Blackboard or Moodle) and all digital applications for education. If it concerns a single application, the term learning management system (LMS) is also used. When it comes to the applications as a whole, we prefer the term digital learning environment (DLO).

Group management

Group management is the management of groups of users within a learning environment or collaboration environment. Within a learning environment, group management provides an overview of the group(s) to which a user belongs and determines which content and applications a user has access to.

Learning management system (LMS)

A learning management system (LMS) supports students in their learning and in communicating with fellow students and instructors about the education.


A system that provides users with a personal web environment, which is the starting point to websites and applications. A portal provides personalisation and visual integration of applications within the digital learning environment.

Authentication and authorisation infrastructure

The infrastructure that controls access to digital systems, for example access to the digital learning environment. This access is organised through identification (who are you), authentication (are you who you say you are) and authorisation (what information can you see).

Higher Education Reference Architecture (HORA)

The Higher Education Reference Architecture (HORA; in Dutch) is a collection of instruments for designing the organisation and information management of universities of applied sciences. The HORA consists of three parts: architecture vision, reference models and implementation tools.

Identity management

Identity management (also known as user management) comprises the processes that focus on the administration and management of users of a system, including access control and access rights. Based on identity, group or role, (groups of) persons are granted access and rights in certain parts of the learning or collaboration environment.

IMS Caliper

The IMS Caliper is a standard and provides an ecosystem for recording and presenting learning activities. It includes a common language for labelling learning data and provides a standard method for measuring learning activities.

Alternative names: IMS Caliper Analytics, Caliper Framework

Integration infrastructure

An integration infrastructure is the information facility (data, processes, tools and services) that makes it possible to exchange data between applications. An integration infrastructure can allow a collection of separate systems to function as a single system. We distinguish between visual integration (does the digital learning environment look like a single entity in terms of design), data integration and system integration.


Interoperability means that different applications and ICT systems connect and work together. This is very important within the digital learning environment, which combines various components (e.g. tests, communication and timetabling). Interoperability requires common standards, protocols, and procedures.

Open Education API

The Open Education API is a set of definitions that ensures that education data from various applications are standardised and can therefore be reused in other (mobile) applications. The Open Education API is an initiative of SURF and a number of higher education institutions.

LTI: Learning Tools Interoperability

LTI is a standard for integrating tools and exchanging data. Tools are integrated within a "tool consumer", for example an LMS. An LMS can thus unambiguously expand its functionalities with the functionalities of various tools (from other providers). Data is also exchanged between the LMS and the tool to share context, for example personal data and/or course information.

SAML: Security Assertion Markup Language

SAML is an XML-based framework for communicating user authentication, rights, and attribute information. SAML enables organisations to securely disclose the identity, attributes and rights of its users to applications that users of the organisation wish to use. The applications send users who wish to log in to the organisation to verify their identity and then receive attributes of the organisation's logged-in users, such as name and e-mail address, back. Users are thus authenticated in the same way for different applications, providing a secure and uniform login method.

VOOT: Virtual Organisation Orthogonal Technology

VOOT is a protocol for exchanging group and authorisation data. Where SAML is used for authentication, VOOT can be used for authorisation. Applications that users are logged into can use the VOOT protocol to retrieve group-related information, such as the groups a user is a member of or the members of a group. This group information is typically used to determine a user's rights or for user collaboration in the provided groups.


xAPI, also known as the Experience API, is an educational technology standard that allows for the collection of data about various types of learning activities and experiences.

Alternative names: Experience API, Tin Can

For more information about this and other education standards, see the SURF standards website (in Dutch).