Brad Zomick

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What Is a Learning Ecosystem?

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The increasing pace of innovation and market disruption has given new importance to workplace Learning & Development. With new technologies constantly popping up, and the shelf life for skills shrinking, workplaces need to become environments for constant learning. That’s how you fend off disruption, build a self-planning workforce and become agile enough to evolve well into the future.

To create this environment, you need a healthy learning ecosystem.

The definition

A learning ecosystem encompasses all sources of learning that are available to employees within their organization.  It’s the “combination of technologies and support resources available to help individuals learn within an environment,” according to The eLearning Guild.

A learning ecosystem has three central components: the people within your organization; learning resources that are available to them, both internally and externally; and the technology that facilitates learning.

To have successful Learning & Development operations, enterprises need to stop seeing these three elements as separate. Instead, see them as a single whole. They’re constantly interacting with each other freely, giving everyone in the company access to the knowledge available from your employees who have certain skills, the pieces of content your L&D leaders have chosen, and the unlimited resources of content libraries and the web.

Unifying the ecosystem

Traditionally, these components have been walled off from each other.

Executives have made certain carefully selected content, such as compliance training, available in a Learning Management System (LMS). Employees might, on their own time, watch YouTube videos to learn new skills or sign up for courses at local universities. And there’s been no way for executives to keep track of this. So they don’t know what hidden skills their own workforce has.

This separation creates tremendous inefficiencies. If multiple employees want to learn a new skill, for example, they do their own searches to find externally available content — wasting time in duplicating each other’s efforts. Once they learn those skills, the company doesn’t know it and doesn’t present them with opportunities to put the skills to use. And if the company wants people with those skills, it hires external candidates who are already using them in jobs elsewhere — not realizing that it already has the talent on the inside.

There’s never been a process designed to encompass everything in a way that shares data and information. That’s what we’ve created at Pathgather — a learning experience platform to turbo-charge corporate L&D by unifying the learning ecosystem.

Key ingredients

To turn these disparate elements into a single, well-functioning entity, you need the key ingredients:

A Hub

The first step to unifying your learning ecosystem is to create a single hub that allows all the information from different resources and technologies to speak to each other.

It must be an open platform, in which content made available by the corporation and externally available content — YouTube videos, TED Talks, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and more — are side-by-side. Everyone in the company enters the hub through the same online portal, sees the offerings and has the ability to add content or create their own.

The hub gathers information from the LMS, Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS), Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and more. It also allows people to discover opportunities, such as interdepartmental projects, that will allow them to learn and apply new skills.

Curation

A Google search on just about any skill can turn up an overwhelming number of options. To help employees find the best offerings without wasting time, curation is key.

In the past, curation was done by L&D leaders. That’s no longer the answer. These days, employees throughout the enterprise are often first to spot emerging technologies and want to learn about them. They discover or create the best content. And they’re best equipped to curate learning paths for fellow employees.

That’s why, rather than being the curators themselves, L&D leaders must now be curation enablers, fostering a community in which employees can select and share content.

Skill taxonomy

The third key ingredient to unify a learning ecosystem is a system to classify content by skills.

The hub should make it possible for anyone to search content for skills and topics they want to learn, and see the best options pop up. This requires a way for everyone who inputs content to tag it with the skills it teaches.

When this kind of tagging is made readily available and organized in an engaging learning experience platform, learners are empowered to achieve what every L&D team and employee hopes for: professional development.

Creating an interconnected brain

When these steps are taken, your learning ecosystem acts like a high-functioning brain for your organization.

What most companies now have is more like a series of neurons that are not well connected. Imagine the transformation that occurs when those neurons are able to share information, and the brain operates as a smoothly functioning whole.

This brain is also central to your organization’s uniqueness. Any company can have its employees Google to find content and see what the general public may think is the best content. But every organization is unique, requiring its own special mix of skills. By creating a unified learning ecosystem, you’ll be guiding your workforce to learn what’s most useful within the company.

Your people

None of this means that L&D leaders take on a diminished role in a unified learning ecosystem. In fact, L&D becomes more central to daily operations.

With the right platform in place, L&D leaders have the opportunity to begin campaigns encouraging employees to learn certain skills, and highlight great content. And others throughout the organization get empowered as well. Employees with great skills now have a chance to be recognized as SMEs (Subject Matter Experts). Administrators can include compliance content. HR teams can track the changing skills of the workforce. And it all takes place within a platform that people find enjoyable.

So unlike a top-down hierarchical structure, a unified learning ecosystem maximizes the potential for everyone to benefit.

Research shows that the chance to learn is one of the most important factors attracting today’s employees, particularly millennials. With a unified learning ecosystem in place, your business will see employee retention and internal mobility rise — saving the company money and boosting profits. As Oracle found, the top 10 percent of companies fill more than 60 percent of jobs from within, while the bottom 10 percent fill only 35 percent internally.

As Cornell University’s ILR School puts it: “The employee of today is spending more time on self-directed learning than on internal or external learning offerings. To match this desire of learners within your organization, the company needs to be more responsive to learners’ desires, provide content over gimmicks, and create a whole learning ecosystem.”

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