Creating a Strong Learning Ecosystem
Do you ever just roll your eyes when L&D experts start tossing around new buzzwords? Well, here's the most recent: learning ecosystem. What the heck is a learning ecosystem anyway? Is this another thing you're going to have to "drilldown" on with your "tribe" in order to "move the needle" on your training? Well....yeah, it kind of is. We're going to explore exactly what your learning ecosystem is and why you should focus in on it in order to get your training program to where it needs to be (and don't worry, I'll cool it with the cheesy jargon!).
Okay, so the thing is, your organization already has a learning ecosystem. It's always been there - you just haven't necessarily been aware of it. Just like our own ecosystem, which is a community of living things that interact with each other and their physical environment, the learning ecosystem is a collection of the people, content and processes that make up your L&D program.
Viewing your L&D through the lens of the ecosystem framework can help you better notice how these pieces interact with each other and show you where you need to adjust or tweak to make everything stronger. So, what are the pieces that you should be looking at?
Your Learning Ecosystem
The people in your learning ecosystem are, primarily, your learners, and you want to make sure they are getting everything they need to thrive. But how to achieve this? First, you need to establish what "thriving" means to your organization. We discuss this in our eBook on developing your learning strategy, but, basically, it means you need to "stop and think about what you want out of your training - 100% compliance? 85% improvement in sales rates? Something more abstract like "Improved customer satisfaction"? Think about what will make the learners in your ecosystem perform how they should." Also, make sure that when you embark on training that you are indeed providing a solution to a real performance problem.
Even though your learners are the central actors in your learning ecosystem, you also need to consider the other layers of people that will impact their ability to thrive. For one thing, managers and decision-makers will need to be considered - you will need to understand their motivations in order to bring the right strategy to the table. Are they fostering an environment that encourages continual learning, or do you need to start by creating a more hospitable habitat for L&D? Is your IT team up for the challenge of introducing new training methods to your ecosystem, or will you need to ensure you have a change management plan in place?
Consider too what Jill Walker talked about in her recent article on formal and informal learning opportunities. As she mentioned, it's easy to overlook the impact informal learning will have on your ecosystem. Whether it's the trigger that motivates someone to sign up for more formal training, or a new viewpoint that arises from discussions with someone completely outside your organization, the important thing to remember is that you should consider the impact both of the people your learners will connect with in more formal, standardized training situations (mentors, instructors, etc.) as well as more informal, situational learning opportunities.
The development, adjustment and deployment of training content is probably where you are spending most of your time and money. It's a seriously large chunk of your learning ecosystem, so it's important that you're delivering what your learners need most, at the most direct point of need. We talk a lot about the importance of performing a training needs analysis, but that's because, well, it's pretty important! Check out our Measuring Training Effectiveness eBook for the tips and tricks you need to ensure the content you are putting into your learning ecosystem is both appropriate and effective.
A last word of advice here - remember to keep your ecosystem running as a cohesive whole by involving your people as much as possible in your content decisions, not only with what should be taught, but how it should be delivered. You absolutely don't want to get into a situation where you are delivering a 2 hour in-class formal training lecture, when a downloadable job aid would do the trick. This concept leads us into the next part of the learning ecosystem, how you are going to deliver your training.
When we talk about processes with regard to your learning ecosystem, we're talking about the how. How are you going to deliver training to your learners? How do they learn most effectively? How do you get the results that you want? You can go big picture on this and make it a decision on whether or not to purchase an LMS or you can boil it down to the style of learning that will work best. Examine everything, from microlearning, to blended learning, to mobile learning, to social learning - cast a wide net as you figure out what will work best for your learners, remembering as you do so that the key to a strong learning ecosystem is balance.
Ecosystems thrive on balance - think about when Australia introduced the cane toad in the 1940s - before long they were multiplying beyond all control and taking over other valuable components in the ecosystem, to the detriment of everything.
What does this sidebar into zoology mean to you? The takeaway is that, especially as you look at the processes that will work best, you need to ensure they are working in harmony with the other individual components of your learning ecosystem. Ensure you have a cohesive whole - even if microlearning is a huge hit with your learners, you still need to balance that with in-class training sessions, formal and informal learning opportunities and more. Remember, your learning ecosystem will be specific to you.
Your learning ecosystem is where all learning, both formal and informal, happens, and it includes your people, content and processes. There's a limit to how much control you can exert over this, especially the informal aspect of the learning, but the first step to creating a strong training program is understanding the components of your particular ecosystem function individually, and how they come together.
Even though your learning ecosystem has always been there, quietly existing behind the scenes, by focusing on the interrelationship of the people, the content, and the processes that it is composed of, you will be able to create a stronger training program and better address your performance challenges.
Shauna graduated from the University of Toronto in 2002 with a Master of Arts in English before moving home to Calgary to work in the fast-paced, detail-oriented oil and gas industry. Now certified as a technical writer, Shauna is comfortable writing in a variety of styles, and for a variety of audiences.