Learning Stack

Slope of Enlightenment
UMN Assessment
Time Frame
2 to 5 Years
Last Updated on Sep 12, 2014

A learning stack is a learning environment designed from the ground-up to be flexible, extensible, interoperable, and dynamic. The layers of the stack typically include:

  • A foundation layer that
    • supports basic interoperability functions for the rest of the stack (e.g., identity management systems, central authentication services, etc.);
    • facilitates the storage and delivery of central data resources (e.g., student and HR information systems, course information and registration systems, digital asset and content management systems, etc.); and
    • provides analytical tools for measuring and reporting outcomes and relationships across the learning enterprise (e.g., customer relationship-management suites, academic analytic and business intelligence systems, and related applications).
  • User-facing top layers comprised of learning applications that students, instructors, and staff interact with every day, from course management and advising systems; to applications for capturing and delivering library resources, audio-video materials, and other learning content; to communication and collaboration tools such as email, chat applications, and online office suites. Some of these applications are built and managed within the University system; others are licensed as a service from outside vendors and may even be hosted offsite.
  • Finally, an integration layer—what Gartner Research refers to as the "Context Platform"—that provides the service bus facilitating interaction among user-facing learning applications (e.g., between a course-management system and a library reserve system, enabling online materials reserved for members of a particular class to be made available in that class's site in the CMS) and between user-facing applications and core systems in the foundational layer (e.g., passing details about a user's course registrations to the course-management system so she or he is presented with a list of only those classes for which s/he is registered, etc.).

This service-oriented architecture is what provides the learning stack with its flexibility and extensibility. Since each of the services must be standards-compliant to be considered for adoption within the stack, as one application becomes obsolescent (e.g., if the chat system currently in use no longer fills the institution's functional needs), a new system can be adopted in its place and integrated into the stack with a minimum of disruption. Similarly, as new functional needs are identified, the data and interoperability standards of the integration layer provide a set of minimum criteria against which the operating parameters of systems under consideration might be evaluated.

The nature of the context platform may vary from stack to stack. Some institutions build a stack around content or course-management systems (the University of Minnesota's stack is currently built around the Moodle CMS); others build their stacks around ubiquitous social media platforms (Purdue University, for example, built its Mixable stack around Facebook, Google, and other social media standards).

Technology Applications

Purdue University's Mixable Learning Stack

Purdue University's Mixable social media environment, a learning stack built around a social learning paradigm: https://www.purdue.edu/mixable/.


  • 07/25/14

    Related Research

    Marti Harris. Building Learning Stacks for an Evolving Learning Environment. Gartner Industry Research [report], 13...