Discovering Learning Ecosystems: How to Uncover L&D Tools and Tech

In the introduction to this series, we explained how your organization’s learning ecosystem is comprised of different L&D tools and technologies. And, because learning is a continuous process that happens in many ways and places, learning ecosystems are everywhere.

In this post, we’ll explore how you can start discovering these ecosystems within your own organization.

Uncover learning programs

While many learning opportunities are obvious, others can be subtle—such as informal conversations or impromptu Google searches. As a result, mapping the learning ecosystems within your organization often can be an exercise in forensics.

To understand how learning happens in your organization, you need to start by uncovering all of those training and learning programs within your organization.

DID YOU KNOW: Each learning program is likely to have its own learning ecosystem, although you’ll likely find overlap between ecosystems (especially when it comes to commonly used systems like the LMS).The variations among your learning ecosystems are a positive thing. That’s because you shouldn’t try to teach different subjects in the same way. For example, sales training is delivered differently than leadership development, and regulatory training is delivered differently than new hire training.

Many learning programs—such as widespread, formal programs with associated budgets—should be easy to identify.

These programs may be ongoing initiatives (e.g., onboarding and compliance training programs), or they may be one-time initiatives to support a new software rollout or company reorganization.

Identifying and exploring these large learning programs is the easiest place to start looking at how learning happens across your organization.

The learning ecosystems associated with these programs largely consist of your company’s formal tools, such as an LMS, content libraries, mobile learning programs, and user-generated content.

Other learning programs are more subtle. Employees may be using hundreds of informal pathways to learn new things. These informal learning programs have their own informal learning ecosystems that can consist of mentors, peers, performance support tools, Google, YouTube, industry publications, and many other resources.

So, it’s important to understand who or where learners are turning to find information. For instance, consider:

  • How do employees learn to use job-related tools or software?
  • How do people approach their own professional development independent of formal learning efforts?

Identify learning tools and resources

Learning ecosystems can be simple, sometimes containing just one or two sources of information.

For example, a required anti-bribery compliance training course could be delivered to the entire company as an eLearning course via an LMS. In this situation, the learning ecosystem would consist of two systems, the eLearning course and the LMS.

But, often we can dig a bit deeper. Even in that simple example, there may actually be other systems at play. Is there an authoring tool used to create the eLearning course?

If so, that’s part of your learning ecosystem. Is there a compliance violation tracking system that you can use to determine whether training is effective? If so, should that be part of your learning ecosystem?

Learning can happen in many places across your organization and with tools other than just your LMS.

Be on the lookout for these types of learning and L&D tools

Here are more examples of the types of learning and related tools that might comprise your learning ecosystems:

Formal learning

You may be tempted to say, “we just use our LMS for everything.” But, that’s likely painting a very small part of the overall picture. An LMS is usually just the container that provides access to other learning systems.

Remember, no matter how good or comprehensive a learning tool is, learning is happening in many different places across your organization and with tools other than the LMS.

And, chances are, most of that learning and those tools aren’t being properly documented or tracked. Try breaking down things a bit further:

  • What LMS modules are you using (e.g., classroom, e-learning, social, or mobile)?
  • Where or how is that training material and content created (e.g., authoring tools, content libraries, third-party instructors, etc.)?
  • Are there tools that plug into your LMS (e.g., assessment, evaluation, HRIS, etc)?

Informal learning

Generally, an LMS is used to deliver formal learning, but we know a large portion of learning happens informally. These assets are often aggregated by a learning experience platform (LXP).

Look for all the ways people search for and find information. For instance, informal learning assets may include videos, social media, podcasts, blogs, articles, knowledge-sharing forums, intranets, and webinars, just to name a few.

Outside the firewall

Learning (especially informal learning) often happens outside the firewall. Google is a top learning tool for many organizations, and websites such as YouTube and LinkedIn offer a wealth of information and connection to industry professionals. 

There are topic-specific websites such as Stack Overflow for developers or HubSpot for marketers. And don't forget about Coursera, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Pluralsight—the list of online educational opportunities is endless. 

In other words, where do your learners go to find information online, and how can you help them find the right learning opportunities from the right places?

On-the-job & experiential learning

We know most of our learning happens on the job or experientially, so be sure to include these instances in your learning ecosystem. Coaching and mentoring programs are a big part of helping develop employees. Performance support tools are routinely used to help us fully master new skills.

And don’t forget actual job performance—the way we go about our jobs and how we use the systems in front of us—provides a great source of everyday, hands-on opportunities to learn.

Employee behavior & performance

The last part of the ecosystem is often the most overlooked, even though it’s essential. The systems that track employee behavior and performance are key for helping understand whether training programs are effective and changing behaviors and improving performance.

They also can be leading indicators of when training and learning programs can improve business outcomes.

Each learning program will likely have a different performance system associated with it, but some common examples include CRM, ERP, and HRIS systems.

Bring everything together in your learning ecosystem

Having so many great learning opportunities these days is a blessing and a curse. Our cup runneth over with useful content, but how do we manage it? How do we get visibility into what our learners are doing? How do we help our learners get the right material at the right time to optimize their learning?

A modern learning ecosystem often contains a few anchor components that bring it all together:

  • Learning management system. The LMS is useful for managing formal learning (e.g., assigning compliance courses, managing classrooms, etc.). The LMS is useful for “pushing” training to learners”
  • Learning experience platform. The LXP provides a unified front end to a wide variety of learning assets, no matter where they come from. The LXP helps learners “pull” learning from the organization.
  • Learning record store. The LRS sits behind all of these systems collecting data about learning throughout the organization. The LRS provides a reporting and analytics layer that allows L&D departments to understand how their organization is learning and whether it is actually effective at changing behaviors or improving performance.

Up Next: How do learning and data ecosystems impact one another?

Join us for our next post as we discuss how one small change can have far-reaching impacts across your learning and data ecosystems.

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