The What, Why and How of a Learning Ecosystem


Corporate Learning & Development (L&D) has been transformed by the increasing speed of innovation and technology adoption. And, one of these transformations is the ‘Learning Ecosystem’ that is set to help L&D adapt to market disruptions, build a learning culture and become agile.We are presently at technological crossroads, where Industry 4.0 is clearly paving the way forward. With digital technologies and automation already changing many of our business processes, advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will most certainly transform our businesses, markets and trade. And, it is up to L&D to adapt, evolve or do whatever it takes to be ready for this transformation.Just as agriculture and cultivation drove the economic growth in the early 18th century, and the industrial revolution propelled us into the 20th century, the 21st century is all about digital technologies, and human talent and potential. Organizations are increasingly feeling the pressure of skills’ shortage, talent retention, attrition rates and workforce engagement among other pressing issues, which has brought L&D back into the spotlight. And L&D has responded time and again by leveraging innovative learning technology, which brings us to the latest buzzword in the learning industry, ‘the Learning Ecosystem’.The term ‘Learning Ecosystem’ has been around for a while now and has seen many makeovers with advancements in learning technology. Here, we take a closer look into the what, the why and the how of learning ecosystem.

WHAT is a Learning Ecosystem?

A learning ecosystem can be simply defined as ‘a system or collection of individuals, processes, and tools and technology (LMS, content, strategy, learning programs, etc.) that come together to support the formal/ informal learning across that organization.’Just like our natural ecosystem, a learning ecosystem is composed of several interacting components (people, content, etc.) and environments (learning context, tools & technology) with complex relationships. And, just like our living ecosystem, a learning ecosystem too needs to be nurtured to keep it from getting endangered.Breaking down the learning ecosystem further will reveal three key components, which are the employees of an organization, the learning resources available to those employees (both formal/ informal), and the learning technology that delivers said learning resources. These components continuously interact within an organization to give employees access to learning resources, knowledge from peers and leaders as well as the unlimited informal learning resources across the Internet. Thus, it is crucial that L&D professionals view these three components as a single environment or ecosystem.

WHY do I need a Learning Ecosystem?

Whatever the business need, be it increasing productivity, reducing attrition and developing skills and talent, etc., it poses a clear question for L&D professionals, which is ‘how can we support business needs? Are our tools and technology capable of satisfying those needs?’ The answer to this lies in a Learning Ecosystem.Workplace learning has never been more valuable for achieving business impact, especially when employees and organizations face tremendous challenges, including skills’ shortage, career advancement, attrition and competitive edge, to name a few. Moreover, the learning habits and methods of today’s workforce are changing rapidly. Traditional learning practices no longer enough what with the increased adoption of microlearning and social learning, enabled by machine learning (ML) algorithms and disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI). A newer (and better!) way to deliver and manage training is needed, one that aligns with the way in which employees learn and weave seamlessly into the cultural fabric of the company.Today, learners have gone beyond the traditional eLearning programs on to newer and more organic ways of self-learning (LinkedIn, YouTube, Podcasts, etc.). And, this is precisely where the learning ecosystem steps in.With a learning ecosystem, L&D professionals have the ability to bring together a range of learning tools and materials, thus crafting a learners’ journey. This also calls for L&D to be where the learners are, they need to assess the modern learners’ learning practices and embed them into their L&D programs to achieve a synergy of learning expectations and delivery.A learning ecosystem comes with many benefits, including integrating learning delivery processes, and standardizing systems’ processes to create a unique learning environment, facilitating knowledge collaboration and social learning, performance support and many more. But, essentially, a learning ecosystem enables the L&D function to be agile. In today’s fast paced digital world, it is becoming increasingly difficult to analyze the learning needs and the value of learning technology, which makes the ability to be flexible with the learning setup all the more important.

HOW can I build a Learning Ecosystem?

Building an efficient and sustainable learning ecosystem is not an easy task. It calls for a deeper understanding of industry best practices, modern learning tools, and more importantly today’s learners’ mindset. L&D must first explore all the organizational pain points and then plan accordingly to meet those objectives. For example, organizations need to register employees and meet compliance training mandates; questions like do I house my learning content on-site or on the Cloud? What about APIs and integrations? All such questions need to be addressed while planning a learning ecosystem.The objective is to create a single unified platform that allows a seamless flow of data and information across different technologies and resources, an open platform where learners can find the content of their choice (free content, ELearning courses, videos, etc.), where everyone from the organization can log-in and access content seamlessly. This unified platform comprising a host of tools and software, including but not limited to an LMS, an HRMS/ HRIS, CRM, ERP, allows employees to discover newer ways of learning in the flow of work.Content curation is another critical aspect of a learning ecosystem. Given that L&D professionals should help learners find the best content, they need to be where the learners are. In today’s buzzing workplaces, employees are often excited about learning emerging technologies and end up self-learning and also curate learning paths for peers. So, L&D professionals should be more of curation enablers and encourage a culture where employees choose and share content on their own.When establishing the culture and ecosystem of learning, L&D leaders need to account for the new technologies: Mobile and learning on the go; virtual and cloud – anytime & anywhere learning; gamification; social learning and collaboration; Data analytics and predictability. As you think about redefining your learning ecosystem and strategy, these will be some of the considerations that will be absolutely critical. However, the key is to remember that the tools you choose to integrate serve an essential purpose in the organization.It is highly critical for L&D professionals to know that the role of a learning ecosystem is to facilitate the learning process and enable the gathering of data from that learning, right from microlearning and blended learning to external content and formal training across all the connected systems. This essentially calls for L&D to take on a central role towards daily operations. With an effective learning ecosystem, L&D professionals can encourage the workforce to develop their skills, and provide supporting learning avenues and technology that enables and empowers the workforce. A centralized learning ecosystem potentially maximizes the productivity and, in turn, drives business impact. Besides, when organizations pay more attention to the learning ecosystem, they are bound to realize that their L&D investments not only add value to the organization but also result in business growth.