Learning Ecosystems: How to Add Data Sources & Iterate [Guide]

To create a healthy, well-connected learning ecosystem, you must begin by listing and prioritizing all your existing and potential data sources. That way, you know exactly where to start when you’re ready to develop your ecosystem. This post digs into the weeds of getting started and looks at how to choose a good starter data source, connect it, and build from there.

So, what's a data source again?

In this instance, a data source is any system that generates or stores data about a learner’s interactions. This includes learning systems, operational systems, and performance-monitoring tools.

For example, your learning ecosystem might contain the following:

  • an LMS
  • a learning experience platform
  • external content providers
  • a performance observation checklist tool

Your ecosystem also might be integrated with the sales CRM and the organization’s data warehouse for business KPI data.

Remember: Your organization already has a learning ecosystem (or several), but it just might not be integrated or planned. Data sources are usually applications already in your organization that need to be connected.

How do I choose a good starter data source?

In the United Kingdom, there’s a pet hamster cage brand (Rotastak) that allows you to connect various modules with plastic tunnels, which lets hamsters climb and explore every aspect of their environment.

There are sleeping modules, exercise wheels, and elements for storing food, holding water, or burrowing in deep sawdust. And, because you have all these options, you can create quite elaborate setups. You can keep adding modules and tunnel sections to your hamster’s cage piece by piece.

A learning ecosystem is a bit like this example in that there can be many different yet connected elements. You can’t just start with any module, though.

For instance, a hamster won’t be happy if it only has an exercise wheel but no bed compartment or water bottle—which is why Rotastak sells starter hamster setups that include all the basics. Similarly, starting with the right components is essential when connecting your learning ecosystem.

So, what makes a good starting point when connecting up your ecosystem? In short, you’ll need the following:

  1. an access point for learners
  2. a system to track data about learner activities
  3. and a database to hold that data for analysis

This is really important: If you’re even considering implementing an integrated learning ecosystem in the next five years, make sure xAPI is a requirement for every new system you bring in. We recommend adding the following requirement to your RFP:

Sends detailed data about learner interactions via xAPI to an external Learning Record Store (LRS) that passes the ADL conformance test suite.

See our Works with Watershed data source partners, which all conform to xAPI.

How do I get connected?

Not all applications support xAPI, so other options may include importing CSV database dumps or building connectors to translate the data. In fact, it’s common to use various methods to integrate different data sources.

If you’re building a connector, working with CSVs, or partnering with a vendor that implements xAPI, you don’t need to implement tracking for everything upfront. For example, Caterpillar, a global manufacturer, features Kaltura MediaSpace™ and Inkling as part of their learning ecosystem.

Both of these products first implemented tracking for basic events but now include tracking for additional learner interactions based on feedback from stakeholders. So, if you find a vendor willing to grow its xAPI implementation with you, you’re onto a good thing.

Iterate! What’s next?

Once you’ve connected your first data source, it’s time to iterate! This step might mean adding another data source or going deeper into one you’ve already connected. Either way, try to iterate logically while adding tracking methods and data sources related to what you’ve already connected.

Some organizations will iterate mostly linearly, adding one data source after another. Other organizations start to bring in more people and teams and accelerate the growth rate as they add more systems. Both approaches are valid, depending on the unique needs of your organization.

This also might be a good time to consider gaps in your learning ecosystem. So avoid adding new products just for the sake of it—especially if people are using systems already in place.

If you have genuine gaps in your L&D offerings, however, consider how you might fill them in complementary ways. For example, maybe you need a video platform such as Kaltura that can add video streaming and webcasts to your toolkit.

Or, perhaps you need a performance observation checklist such as xapiapps to start collecting data about real-world performance. Whatever the need, remember to include xAPI in your requirements.

Up Next: How one company replaced its LMS with a learning ecosystem

In our next post, we’ll show you another real-world example of how a large organization replaced its LMS with a learning ecosystem.

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