Learning Ecosystems Overview

The widespread adoption of eLearning has spawned a number of allied concepts, such as mobile, micro, and blended learning. One of the more intriguing ideas that heavily leverages eLearning is the Learning Ecosystem (LE), also called a Performance Ecosystem or an eLearning Ecosystem. So what is an LE, and how could it help your Learning and Development (L&D) organization?

The word “ecosystem” jumps out immediately. The google machine defines ecosystem as “a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.” Perhaps the generic use of ecosystem is more helpful to us—“a complex network or interconnected system.” An LE, then, is a system that “enhances individual and organizational effectiveness by connecting people and supporting them with a broad range of content, processes, and technologies to drive performance” (from Learning Solutions Magazine).

 Learning Ecosystems: Positive Attributes

  • Connecting People – A central tenet of an LE is interconnectedness. Performers are connected to information, training, mentors/coaches, and to each other via interweb ubiquity. By interlinking people and resources, an LE sets the necessary conditions for dynamic individual and organizational learning in formal and informal contexts.
  • Broad Range of Content, Processes, and Technologies – Marc Rosenberg makes the point that training by itself rarely achieves true proficiency, so the LE attempts to strategically deploy a multitude of interventions and resources aimed squarely at learning and performance improvement. From performance support to social media supported communities of practice to electronic “sandboxes” for simulations, the siloed L&D world of “the Training Department owns Training and Only Training” is as extinct as the dodo in the brave new world of the LE.
  • Drive Performance – Dear to this author’s heart, LEs possess an inherent performance improvement The ecosystem approach explicitly posits that whatever interventions “cultivate” increased learning and performance should be included as parts of an LE. And true to the performance improvement philosophy, training deliverables are only a few arrows within a large quiver of LE components.
  • Additional information can be found here and here.

Making the Case for Learning Ecosystems

To our second question, what’s in it for your organization to create an LE? There are plenty of WIIFMs with a successful LE, but let’s focus on three: (1) Reach, (2) Return On Investment (ROI), and (3) Relevance.

  • Reach – The range of interventions and resources necessary for a functioning LE gets L&D out of the “when can I get that class” desert and into the fertile valley of performance consulting across the entire organization. This should lead to…
  • ROI – Generally speaking, performance problems are solved with a combination of training and non-training interventions. By using multiple resources and following a solid performance improvement strategy enabled through the LE, L&D has its best chance to positively affect ROI. And where there is revenue, there is…
  • Relevance – ROI demonstrates that L&D is strategically aligned and delivers value. Delivering tangible value to the organization makes L&D a partner, not a cost center.

If you want to build a Learning Ecosystem, where do you start? First, keep in mind you already have an LE in place. Your organization has performers, a number of different learning and performance improvement interventions, and at least a partial digital infrastructure that supports it all. What your LE is missing, however, is strategy—the purposeful direction of resources and infrastructure and policies to elegantly solve your organization’s performance problems and enable continuous learning.

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