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 the concept of learning ecosystems since I first came across it a few years ago. Just recently, I’ve seen much more discussion about it and I’m looking forward to hearing from other learning leaders. I’d love to know 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, in 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.
Definitions are great, 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.
Defining Learning Ecosystems – Thought #1
First, as one of the main components of learning ecosystems, 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.
Defining Learning Ecosystems – Thought #2
Second, I looked 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. I’ve also 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.
Defining Learning Ecosystems – Thought #3
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!