The Business of Learning

When I heard Learning and Performance Ecosystems would be the topic for May’s Fredrickson Roundtable for Learning Leaders, my curiosity was piqued. I’ve been reading about this concept since I first came across it a few years ago, and just recently I have seen much more discussion about it. I’m looking forward to the opportunity hear from other learning leaders about what they have been observing, strategizing, and implementing within their organizations as they cope with the changing landscape of learning and performance management.

To create a foundation for discussing the concept of Learning Ecosystems, I wanted to first understand its definition. The first reference to the idea that I could find came from the eLearning Guild. In a blog written by David Kelly from November, 2013, he defined the concept as “…the combination of technologies and support resources available to help individuals learn within an environment.”

In another post, from January of 2016, he further refined the definition: “A Learning and Performance Ecosystem is a community of people in conjunction with the processes, information, and technology of their environment, interacting as a system supporting development.”

There are many more definitions out there and we’ve even tried our Fredrickson hand at a definition:

A Learning Ecosystem is a network of people, resources, and technology from both inside and outside the organization, all of which have an impact on learning.

It’s great to have definitions, but what does that mean to the reality of what we cope with daily as learning professionals? I’ve had several thoughts based on recent readings and conversations.

First, as one of the main components of the ecosystem, technology continues to create challenges to traditional methods of training delivery supported by established L&D structures. In a recent newsletter clip, Eliott Masie explores the idea of technology “layers” as ways in which corporations are responding to the learning ecosystem. The main point of this article is that to address the additional needs and demands that L&D is experiencing, organizations are adding to, rather than replacing, traditional LMS/LCMS systems. In a sense then, organizations are making decisions to adapt to—rather than replace technology—in order to feed the organic growth of the learning and performance ecosystem.

Second, when looking at both micro and macro issues within the learning and performance ecosystem, the challenge of mobile is certainly a phenomenon that creates a lot of uncertainty. It definitely pushes at the technology root, however, it also tests the boundaries of the greater organizational ecosystem. In conversations with others, I’ve heard that mobile solutions to learning and performance management often grow out of other areas of the organization, such as sales and marketing. The technology requirements require IT to be involved too.

Mobile can no longer be just a training delivery modality, it must become part of the learning and performance ecosystem. Developing a cross-functional mobile strategy by cultivating organizational partners and taking small steps to build it into the learning and performance ecosystem seems to be one path forward.

Finally, contemplating the wide variety of ways in which workers learn to do their jobs and realizing the organic nature of that growth and development expands thinking to encompass the greater macrocosm of the ecosystem. How can a learning organization adapt? How can we create organic learning structures that allow us to, for example, blend informal and formal learning with performance support? Is there an organization that is adapting well and what can we learn from them?

These are just some ways that I’ve been thinking about learning ecosystems. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic too!

One thought on “Defining Learning Ecosystems

  1. Mark Rees

    Thanks for this informative post Robin. It’s very encouraging to see the interest in learning ecosystems moving into mainstream L&D.

    We have been enabling organisations to achieve their own learning ecosystems for several years and from our experiences I absolutely agree that the shortfalls of traditional LMS are being overcome through integration to a next-generation learning environment. Best of breed tools, wider modes of learning, interoperability and single source of activity data are the traits of modernised learning. A learning ecosystem has to harness these.

    Yes, mobile access is expected by modern learners, but I would suggest that it is not a given that IT depts HAVE to be involved in this. Our learning ecosystem platform is purely browser based, responds to work on devices of different sizes, and has an app for offline learning. In most implementations for our clients the do not need to involve IT, as the sole pre-requisite for learners is to have Internet access and this is usually the norm.

    Finally, I agree again with you, that a learning ecosystem must combine the delivery of formal, prescribed learning with the facility for learners to explore and discover learning informally, at-the-point-of-need. The lines between training and performance support are getting more blurred as technology allows for more agile design and deployment. For example, we provide a simple content tagging tool which our clients to use to make content accessible via both formal paths and informal, personalised views.

    Forward-looking learning organisations are exploiting the full blend of learning modes, managed centrally in one place to simplify the UX for learners while reducing their admin overhead. We are seeing our clients use their modern learning ecosystems to transform learning from traditional approaches to one that encompasses continuous learning, microlearning, agile blended learning and social learning….which we would collectively label as Next-Gen Learning.

    So to define a learning ecosystem I would suggest “A single place for access to all forms of modern learning”.

    I look forward to your next thoughts.
    Many thanks
    Mark

    Reply

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