The word “ecosystem,” usually makes us think of a natural science poster showing us how different kinds of elements work together in almost perfect harmony. A learning ecosystem is similar in that several elements need to be in sync and are dependent on each other. The goal, however, is not survival but organizational growth. While in recent years, technology has been at the center of corporate learning discussions and trends, we need more than that to build a learning ecosystem.
One thing is sure: in today’s post-pandemic, globalized, hybrid corporate world, setting up a well-functioning learning ecosystem is a must, so today’s article will tackle this subject and explain how companies can build one with the help of an intelligent learning platform (ILP).
What is a learning ecosystem?
A learning ecosystem is a complex structure made of elements that depend on each other: your employees and other stakeholders, training content, learning technology, training data, organizational culture, and corporate strategy.
A company’s learning ecosystem impacts both formal and informal learning. Like its natural counterpart, it requires near-perfect balance, making it seem somewhat fragile at times.
The L&D department is responsible for nurturing a healthy learning ecosystem, but it’s important to note that they can’t do this alone. They need the support of managers and team leaders, the input of tech professionals, and the guidance of SMEs and experienced employees. Like in the natural world, a learning ecosystem can be thriving or struggling, self-sustaining, or in dire need of intervention.
Most importantly, a good learning ecosystem is the best antidote to a silo mentality, which is the tendency to create divisions within the company and keep information from other departments, harming innovation in the process.
What do you need to build a learning ecosystem?
There are many elements integral to a learning ecosystem. Here is a breakdown of the most important ones:
They are at the center of the ecosystem. You have the employees as learners, the instructional designers, the instructors, the coaches, the talent development specialists, the SMEs, external partners, and more. The organization only has control over some of these – as long as they are in a formal learning setting;
Technology is paramount to having a well-functioning learning ecosystem. As learning technology is constantly evolving, no company can do without a modern solution that can offer staples such as course creation, certificates and compliance, as well as more advanced features like personalized recommendations, real-time analytics and access to a wide range of educational content;
The company culture usually determines how employees and stakeholders think about training. Most companies state that continuous learning is one of their top priorities, and they have good reasons to do so, as 93% of employees agree that well-planned employee training programs positively affect their level of engagement and 68% say training and development is the company’s most important policy. Consequently, each company must have strong training programs and be ready to allow their employees the autonomy to learn and access quality content from various sources;
Employees need quality content that meet their needs. There has been a significant shift in the past few years towards just-in-time training and micro learning. For example, at the ATD conference, leaders and training specialists often mentioned the importance of offering bite-sized modules. People who log in and learn for a few minutes each day can show great progress and feel more engaged. Furthermore, you need to acknowledge and accommodate the various means of learning informally through conversations or social media, for example.
Training analytics and reports are crucial in determining if your learning ecosystem is thriving or struggling. A learning platform will help you see learner progress and performance as well as identify issues in real-time Most of all, this data gives you the insights you need to adjust your organization’s training strategy.
Your business strategy is ultimately what any learning ecosystem is meant to support. While it’s important for learning itself to be part of it, it’s also relevant forL&D to help in achieving company goals and understanding the bigger picture.
A learning ecosystem is a complex structure. You need all the elements to be aligned with one another in order to have a strong L&D function that sustains company growth and fosters innovation.
How to build a self-sustaining, growing learning ecosystem
There’s no magic formula to building a healthy, self-sustaining learning ecosystem that has the capacity to transform and grow. However, there are several steps you can take to ensure that you achieve this goal:
Choose an all-in-one solution
Your company’s learning platform is the connecting structure of all of your learning ecosystem elements: people, technology, data, and more. It should be a good representation of your entire organization in a virtual form. You need everyone in the same place, even if they will never be there simultaneously.
An ILP is a digital gathering place for learners, instructors, coaches, mentors, team leaders, managers, and SMEs. It is also where instructional designers can create e-learning courses and measure their effectiveness.
Build common virtual spaces
Employees mostly work in teams. As a result, learning is most relevant when it is tailored to the team or department’s needs as they benefit from the same information and share ideas. However, transversal work is also ever-present in organizations, so it’s crucial for employees to interact with each other.
For example, you can enroll people from various departments in the same productivity or time management courses and allow them to discuss how those techniques can help them and, even more importantly, how they can help each other be more productive or manage their time better. You can also build forums where people can ask questions and brainstorm ideas when they have a situation they are not familiar with or know how to handle.
Furthermore, with 59% of L&D professionals identifying upskilling and reskilling as a top priority for training programs in 2021, employees need to connect with peers in other roles and learn from them.
Build a strong learning community
Conversations are the starters of learning, so you’ll need to build and promote several communication tools and channels. Q&A forums are particularly relevant as they are great places where people can get helpful answers when they need them. An ILP allows users to see when their peers are online and engaged in learning, which is an excellent motivator.
People can add their peers to their network as friends, join groups that share a common goal (such as acquiring a set of skills or mastering a competency set) and choose to see newsfeeds on the subjects that interest them. Even in remote environments, people can feel like there are learning together. Having a mentorship program also helps both with engagement and expertise sharing.
Promote training transparency
With the help of an ILP, organizations can offer a wide range of training and development opportunities to their employees. Having an open course catalog that all employees can browse at will ensure they can choose what is right for them, whether it’s taking a micro course or reading an e-book.
It also gives them the chance to see what career development opportunities are available and talk to their managers about pursuing those. For example, leadership development is at the heart of many corporate training programs since this is a major challenge at the moment. Giving employees access to the entire course library and the various corporate training programs and paths fosters a sense of fairness and equality. In turn, this leads to lower turnover rates and increased loyalty toward the company.
Enable integrations with external apps
Imagine you went to an auto repair service, and they were able to fix your engine but told you that they can’t do an oil change, you have to go somewhere else for that. That would be exhausting and annoying, and you would probably give up somewhere along the way.
Similarly, most learning platforms also integrate with apps that your employees need: MS Teams, Zoom, Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, Go1, LinkedIn Learning, and Salesforce are a few good examples. It’s important to cater to the different needs of each department. You don’t have a complete ecosystem if they don’t find the tools they need and switch platforms.
Encourage learner autonomy
When employees choose what they want to learn or what level of mastery they wish to achieve on a certain skill, they take ownership of their learning and are exponentially more engaged.
Instead of making specific courses or learning paths mandatory, let the learners pick what path to follow. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have curated recommendations for the various competencies and skills associated with a certain role. You can offer guidance when learners ask for it while also giving them the freedom to select what’s relevant for them.
The ILP automatically recommends learning resources based on learner behavior in the platform. This keeps the learning process going and saves the learner from spending a lot of time searching for keywords and figuring out if a particular online course is suited to their needs.
Having personalized recommendations and quality materials helps employees get better at their job and gives them the confidence to be proactive in their training. The social learning opportunities provided by the ILP — the groups, the forums, the curated newsfeeds — also support continuous development.
Analytics and reports (both built-in and custom) help learning specialists, instructors and managers see what is working and what isn’t and figure out the ROI of training. An ILP allows you to see in real-time how learners interact with the courses, track their progress and quantify their achievements.
Furthermore, the ILP offers useful mastery analytics so you can see the level of various competencies in your organization and identify potential gaps. The group feature enhances communication and collaboration among people with the same goals while the analytics related to this shows you what employees are in that cohort and some of the tasks they are focusing on.
Keep learners engaged
Participation is integral to learner engagement, which in its turn is essential for information retention. An ILP is specifically designed to keep learners invested in their training through
- Personalized recommendations that are consistent with the learner’s goals. When employees see that training has immediate application in their jobs they are more engaged with the content;
- Interactivity is the key to keeping learners’ attention. They can see when their colleagues are online and their activity in courses, such as “John finished a new module” so they never feel like they’re learning alone;
- Gamified learning elements such as leaderboards, points and badges are all appealing to the learners and help keep them going forward and enjoying the experience.
Building a learning ecosystem with the help of an intelligent learning platform
Your organization needs a healthy learning ecosystem to succeed. Building one is easy with the help of an ILP, and if you do it right, it can self-sustain and grow. An ILP is an all-in-one solution that facilitates all the essential, interconnected elements: a strong online learning community, virtual learning spaces, integration with all the useful apps, training and development transparency, relevant analytics and reporting, learner autonomy, and more.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.