What Is a Learning Ecosystem?

Learning Ecosystem Image

Have you heard the phrase learning ecosystem and wondered what it means? Or did you learn about it just now and is it leaving you scratching your head?

Not to worry. We’ll provide a simple and quick introduction to the concept of a learning ecosystem in this article. It’s an important idea, and even if you didn’t know the term before today, you may well find you’ve already set up a learning ecosystem at work, or at least parts of one.

Read on to learn more about learning ecosystems.

A Learning Ecosystem–What Is It?

There are three things to know about learning ecosystems.

  • A learning ecosystem is designed to improve and/or support both learning and performance
  • The learning ecosystem includes formal training, informal training/learning, as well as other forms of performance support that occur outside the training umbrella
  • A learning ecosystem has many different parts

Learning Ecosystems–Why Should You Care?

Most or all employees do better when they have the ability to learn at work. And organizations also do better when they can benefit from the employee learning. This has always been true.

It’s even more true in today’s age when workers and organizations face so many existential challenges. Consider workers, for example–what can they do to future-proof their careers so they won’t be replaced by robots, artificial intelligence, or computer systems? And think of organizations–what can they do to avoid being squeezed out of the market by more efficient, productive, and innovative competitors or simply being disrupted in the way that Netflix disrupted Blockbuster and organizations like Lyft and Air B’n’B are disrupting the taxi and hotel industries?

Learning ecosystems are also important because a simple focus on formal training at work simply isn’t big enough. We have to consider, discover, and support the ways that our employees learn informally on the job, and we have to provide them additional learning and performance support.


What Are Some of the Different Parts of a Learning Ecosystem?

A learning ecosystem has many different components. To have a robust learning ecosystem, you’ll want to pay attention to the following:

Organizational Culture

Culture is a slippery word that can be hard to define, but we can go with the commonly repeated definition of “how we do things around here” for our purposes today. To have a fully optimized learning ecosystem, you must have an organizational culture that supports your learning ecosystem.

Learning Culture

a sub-set of the organization culture, with a specific focus on learning. Your learning culture should support employee and organizational learning fully. Can you have a robust learning culture if it’s not a key part of your organizational culture? I’m not sure–and would guess not–but it’s an interesting thought for another day.

People

When discussing “big” issues like learning ecosystems, it’s easy enough to forget that it’s all about people. But people are at the heart of learning ecosystems, learning cultures, and organizational learning. And this includes the CEO, top management, supervisors, rank-and-file employees, members of the learning and development department, others involved in designing/creating/delivering training, and perhaps even your extended enterprise (suppliers/vendors, contractors, and even customers). Everyone has a role to play in a learning ecosystem and everyone can benefit from a learning ecosystem.

Training Content

A learning ecosystem puts people together with great learning content. We want to focus on improving the quality, relevance, and accessibility of that learning content whenever we can to create a more robust learning ecosystem. Remember this doesn’t simply mean formal training, so this also includes content curation issues, social learning issues, user-generated content, and more.

Technology

A robust learning ecosystem utilizes technology. This can be as modest as pens, pencils, paper, whiteboards, and chalkboards. Or it might include things like eLearning courses, learning management systems, performance support systems, desktop computers, mobile devices, and more.

Learning Strategy

You’ll need a learning strategy to help you tie together all of the learning & development goals of your learning ecosystem. This begins with an understanding of your organizations’ business goals and the alignment of your learning and performance support with those goals and continues in a cycle of never-ending continuous improvement.

Read more about learning strategies here.


How to Support Employees with Your Learning Ecosystem

If we just listed some key components of a learning ecosystem, you can also think of learning ecosystems as supporting the learning and performance needs of employees in different ways, including:

Facilitating Social Learning and Knowledge Share

This can include setting up a social learning site or bulletin board, scheduling lunch and learns, and more.

Performance Support

Helping employees access information just-in-time and at the moment-of-need while on the job or otherwise making it easy for employees to get answers to questions that will help them work.

For more on this, see Moving from Learning to Performance Support.

Repeated Reinforcement of Training & Learning

Through spaced-practice learning techniques, management reinforcement of goals, or similar efforts.

Making Self-Guided Training Accessible

Allowing employees to access training in addition to training that’s assigned to them. This can include content curation efforts, user-generated training content, and other forms of social learning.

Formal Training

The formal training you create (or purchase) and assign yourself.

See our article on the 70/20/10 learning model for some related thoughts.


Conclusion: Develop a Learning Ecosystem at Your Workplace

We hope you found this introduction to learning ecosystems helpful. Let us know if you have questions, and please share your own tips and experiences.

One part of that learning IS formal training, and a learning management system (LMS) can really help with that. So why not download our free LMS Buyer’s Guide before you go?

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Learning Management System (LMS) Buyer’s Guide

Learn what you need to know BEFORE you begin your search and get a free checklist to guide you, too.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 20 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center, and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training.

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