How to Develop a Learning Ecosystem Strategy

Designing and building new learning ecosystems can seem intimidating at first blush. Where do I start? Which key components should I consider? What’s my strategy? Answering everything on your own makes a challenging but gratifying task much harder.

That’s why making this process a team effort is essential, involving the most critical stakeholders to help you along the way. In that vain, we’ve invited Danny Abdo, vice president of solutions engineering at our data partner Degreed, to help provide some insight into how to plan for and design a new learning ecosystem strategically.

What's the best starting point for a new learning ecosystem?

Much like our suggestions on getting started with learning evaluation and learning analytics, Danny suggests that, before you break out your favorite wireframing tool or leap to a whiteboard, the best starting point for a new learning ecosystem is to focus on supporting business strategy:

Danny: A clear strategy with guiding principles and measurable end goals is critical. In the very early stages, design workshops can be a great way to get out of the starting gate and on the right track. User personas also are effective for understanding learners’ needs and goals.

L&D has traditionally established needs and requirements from their perspective, which has led to great administrative functionality but not very high employee engagement. Personas are a great way to help step outside yourself and design for the customer, the learner in this case. Last, I recommend using data and user feedback to inform design and tech decisions along the way.

Balance stakeholder needs.

As part of ensuring a new ecosystem aligns with business strategy, you’re likely to encounter various teams and departments along the way, and balancing stakeholders' needs is crucial.

For instance, you may want to focus on various business and IT leaders as consumers of the insights derived from the data you collect. But Danny makes a great point about the importance of accounting for the needs of a learner while planning a new ecosystem or reinvigorating an existing one.

Danny: One of my favorite and most effective tactics is giving the learner a seat at the table. For too long, we've scored RFPs, selected technologies, and designed solutions on behalf of learners without ever incorporating their voices into the process—and there's a huge opportunity to involve your employees throughout that process.

For example, when I led the ecosystem initiative at Bank of America, we offered employees a chance to participate and provide feedback. We were blown away by employees’ interest and appreciation of the opportunity. We had representatives from every line of business, and their feedback was a critical factor in our success when launching our ecosystem to the enterprise. Of course, it adds some administrative overhead to manage that process well, but it is well worth the effort.

Build a flexible tech stack.

We’ve created a foundation for the learning ecosystem based on what the end users and stakeholders need and how to align it with core business priorities. After that, what are the core functional components required to meet the business strategy and learner needs?

Flexibility and interoperability are two core features that should span all of the functional needs. Remember, this an ecosystem—things will change with time, and both you and your technology should be prepared. Here are a few components that will probably require the ability to adapt as your ecosystem evolves:

1) Learning Management System (LMS)

Did you think we were going to say the LMS is dead? Surprise, because learning management systems still provide core functionality in terms of admin functions for course hosting and delivery, instructor-led training (ILT) management, and other training delivery capabilities.

Depending on the blend of web-based courses and ILT, you also may want to investigate a training resource management system.

2) Learning Experience Platform (LXP)

We’ve all grown to expect consumer-grade experiences in all digital platforms, and learning is no different.

In Danny’s words, “Learning experience platforms provide a consistent, unified, and personalized consumer-grade experience to your employees across all items in your ecosystem.”

3) Learning Record Store (LRS)

Learning record stores serve as the backbone of the learning ecosystem by collecting data from all sources to provide actionable insights and visualize both the effectiveness/efficiency of learning and its business impact.

4) Training Content

Are you sick of hearing “Content is King” yet? The big decision related to content is how much you can curate from third-party providers versus how much you need to create internally based on your company’s area of expertise.

When there’s a decent amount of the latter, it’s essential to consider how that content will be created (e.g., via authoring tools or other content creation platforms) and by whom (i.e., do you have the internal resources and time to develop it?).

Start small and grow from there.

With the rapid pace of technological change, it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by new information, concepts, and technology. However, a common solution to overcoming this challenge is starting small and iterating.

This process helps maintain a clear, narrow focus on your original goals and keeps expectations reasonable. In addition to keeping your initial scope manageable, it’s vital to remember the importance of adaptability:

Danny: I believe there are decisions and tactics you can take to help future-proof the ecosystem. For example, choosing platforms designed and built to be open and connected with robust and available APIs is critical.

While you should be careful to choose a vendor that is not too rigid in their platform configurability, you'll also want to avoid platforms that enable customization to the "point of no return."

Instead, I find technologies that take a flexible framework approach strike the right balance between being able to accommodate while enabling the platform to evolve with the pace of change.

Now that we’ve shared our advice for creating a modern learning ecosystem strategy, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve successfully implemented a plan, what advice would you give others just getting started? Or, if you’re in the process of creating a learning ecosystem strategy, what questions do you have? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

About Our Guest Contributor

We want to give a special thanks to Danny Abdo, vice president of solutions engineering at Degreed, who specializes in strategic learning and HR solutions and technologies. Before joining Degreed, he served as senior vice president in Bank of America’s global learning organization. He's led multiple teams, functions, and strategies—including learner experience and technology, product management, and technology vendor management.

Up Next: Getting started with data sources

And coming up next in our Learning & Data Ecosystem blog series, Andrew Downes will provide a walkthrough of identifying a good starting point when building an ecosystem and explaining how to build on top of smaller successes.

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