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 it’s important to make this process a team effort, involving the most important stakeholders to help you along the way. In that vain, we’ve invited Danny Abdo, vice president of solutions engineering at our partner, Degreed, to help provide some insight into how to strategically plan for and design a new learning ecosystem.
Where do we begin?
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 of yourself and design for the customer, which is 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 it’s important to balance stakeholders' needs.
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 to account for the needs of a learner while planning a new ecosystem or reinvigorating an existing one.
Danny: One of my favorite, and I think most effective, tactics is to give 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.
There's a huge opportunity to involve your employees throughout the process. When I led the ecosystem initiative at Bank of America, we offered employees an opportunity to participate and provide feedback. We were blown away by how much interest and how appreciative employees were for the opportunity. We had representatives from every line of business, and their feedback was a critical factor in the success we had when launching our ecosystem to the enterprise. It adds a little bit of administrative overhead to manage that process well, but 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?
Two core features that should span all of the functional needs are flexibility and interoperability. 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 as your ecosystem evolves:
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.
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.”
Learning Record Store (LRS)
Learning Record Stores serve as the backbone of the ecosystem by collecting data from all sources to provide actionable insights and visualize both the effectiveness/efficiency of learning and its business impact.
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 important to keep in mind 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. 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 that have been 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.’ I find technologies that take a flexible framework approach strike the right balance between being able to accommodate while also 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 strategy, 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'd like 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, where he 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 how to identify a good starting point when building an ecosystem and explain how build on top of smaller successes. Don’t want to miss the rest of this series?
About the author
As Watershed’s director of learning analytics strategy, Tim Dickinson is skilled in leading organizations through strategic changes, getting positive results through learning analytics, and translating complex ideas and trends into easy-to-understand explanations.
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