What Is a Learning Ecosystem and Should I Get One?

One of the hot topics in Learning and Development today is the idea of a Learning Ecosystem. While ecosystems in general have been around for a while — enabling people, content, tech, and process to work together in a company — technology today has been developed to make that synergy easier and learning more transparent. Learning happens everywhere and a good ecosystem brings all the elements together seamlessly.

Tools like Amazon, Apple iTunes, Netflix, and others have made our consumer lives easier. We all have mobile devices that enable the easy discovery and use of content, all powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning. Employees expect those simple tools to be a part of our work lives. We want our learning to be curated and personalized to the right content at the right time. A good Learning Ecosystem can do that for us. Let’s dive into the specifics.

What is a Learning Ecosystem?

A Learning Ecosystem should do a number of tasks for us:

·       Aggregate content from a variety of sources
·       Curate that content to show the best of the best
·       Personalize delivery to each user
·       Enable easy discovery of content
·       All in a great consumer-like user experience

Today’s Learning Ecosystems bring in content from a variety of sources and show it to users in an interface like Pinterest. Typically, the content includes formal learning from a Learning Management System (LMS) or subscription content (LinkedIn Learning,Harvard, Udemy, Go1, etc.) as well as informal learning from the web. An ecosystem should also enable a mix of internal and external sources.

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The power of a good Learning Ecosystem comes from a great user experience, or Ux. For years, we have struggled to find ways to easily deliver learning and knowledge to our audience. Some companies have added portal pages to show LMS content, some have created special websites that link to diverse sources and others have used tools like SharePoint to make discovery easier. If you have a Ux that is like the consumer applications that we use on our mobile devices, learners will use it more.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Learning Ecosystem

The other advantages of a Learning Ecosystem can include enabling self-directed learning, having a communications tool that leaders can use to share knowledge or ideas, providing a venue for subject matter experts to build and share content as well as providing a front door to all knowledge and learning. A few ecosystems also include the ability to personalize learning to each learner or group using AI. Finally, some ecosystems come with the ability to gather large amounts of data for tracking and reporting.

The disadvantages of adding a new technology are the care and maintenance of the program and the cost. While the ongoing governance of the technology does take resources to run it, most feel the investment pays off with the ability to integrate content and bring in SMEs and leaders. Depending on the product, vendors can help with this task. In terms of cost, it’s typically a fraction of the cost of a large LMS and can pay for itself in a number of ways.

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As with any technology that is brought into an enterprise, remember to bring in your IT department to cover topics like security, logins, and integration. Most systems will need Single Sign-On (SSO) and IT to help with integrations to HRIS and other systems. IT can be a great partner in helping to select the right system.

What to Look for in a Learning Ecosystem

Today, there are a number of vendors who offer different types of Learning Ecosystems. Consultants like Bersin by Deloitte and Brandon Hall as well as other learning consultants can help identify who are the key vendors and who works best in which environments.  

There are many types of learning systems:

Learning Experience Platforms: These offer integration with internal, external, formal and informal content and typically are the “front door” to learning.

Microlearning Platforms: These offer a platform and sometimes content for microlearning. Some have integrations.

LRS Systems:  While some portray them selves as ecosystems, Learning Record Stores are more data repositories and a piece of the ecosystem. For example, Watershed.

Learning Content Management System: a repository for content that makes it easy to find and store content. Some have tools to create basic content.  

LMS with a Graphical UI: Many LMS's, such as Canvas, have added a graphical user interface to make them easier to use. The foundation is still the old LMS and is typically not enough to drive good user experience and to integrate all the types of content.

What you should look for is a solution that meets your employees’ needs. Do your users ask for a better experience where they can find content easily across internal and external content? Do you have subscriptions like LinkedIn Learning and Harvard that require different passwords or portals? Does your system have low engagement? Do you need more data on what is used and who is learning?  

Enterprises have many reasons for adding an ecosystem. User experience, cost, seamless integrations, and consumer front ends are the top reasons.

How to Evaluate a Solution

Once you start to look into various systems, the question becomes how to match one versus another. Many companies like to “play around” in a system to judge user experience. Some put together a team to build an RFP with specific criteria of their challenges and opportunities. One key is to identify two or three pilot groups who can really put a product through its paces. An internal pilot could contain average teams that look like the basic footprint of the company (mix of generations and needs) as well as people from HR, IT, and leadership. That core will be critical to implementing the final product across the company. They will also be able to build an effective group of digital content to not only test the system but show the value of digital learning.  

Once you move to an ecosystem, good content will be critical. Having a group of champions creating and curating in the pilot will help to build engagement.

So, should you get one? I have seen amazing results and even viral acceptance. Whatever system you select, be prepared to market your solution. Your vendor should be positioned to help with that as a part of your integration and management of change. Adding a Learning Ecosystem will make great strides in moving your organization to digital learning.    

Have fun!

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS AUTHOR:

Microlearning for Macro Results
How to Master the Art and Science of Content Curation
Machine Learning: Best Use Cases in L&D

Digital Learning: Using the Power of Subject Matter Experts

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