How to Build a Thriving Ecosystem for Learners

The Learning Ecosystem

The word ecosystem likely takes you back to elementary school science—perhaps a memory of watching videos in class detailing the ways lakes and streams, trees and earth, bugs and spiders, and rabbits and foxes interact in a web of life. An ecosystem is at its core a community of living organisms taken together in their physical environment; it describes the way these components interact and are interdependent. All of these parts, alive and inanimate, depend on each other within the ecosystem even when they are not directly connected.

In the same way, a learning ecosystem describes an approach to building a learning environment that intentionally and holistically weaves together learning opportunities, resources, data, and people in the physical and virtual world to support and encourage continuous improvement and growth. Like natural ecosystems, these learning ecosystems can be of various sizes and complexities. In some cases, a learning ecosystem may consist of only a small group of learners while others may encompass entire organizations. Regardless of size, to be a healthy learning ecosystem that is built to survive the ravages of time, a few key components are necessary.

Participants

The ecosystem must have participants to thrive. These participants include the learners who are engaged is ecosystem components by both consuming learning (taking classes, reading white papers, watching microlearning videos, listening to podcasts, etc.) as well as by contributing to learning (completing assignments, contributing to communities of practice, providing feedback on learning experiences, etc.). However, a learning ecosystem is not supported by learners alone, other participants include managers and administrators, developers, facilitators, coaches, and both formal and informal mentors. These individuals support and drive the content and systems that allow the ecosystem to flourish.

Systems

The systems required for a thriving learning ecosystem will depend on the size and complexity of the specific ecosystem but usually include a records management system, a learning management system or learning portal to organize and deploy learning, and a method for data collection and reporting that ties these systems together. Records management is of course critical for basic reporting, but when a learning ecosystem grows to include certification or tracking of learning, it becomes even more important to accurately and efficiently track learner data. Learning management systems and learning portals ensure that participants of all levels, whether facilitators, learners, or administrators, can access learning resources and track their learning from any location. And, of course, effective reporting systems allow administrators to track costs against outcomes and better determine the return on investment of learning opportunities to govern the direction of future learning strategies more effectively.

Support

Strategy is a component of learning ecosystem support. Support also includes the governance of the learning ecosystems and buy-in at all levels for a culture of learning. All program participants guide the learning ecosystem strategy as they provide content and feedback, ask questions, provide input on experiences, and participate in learning opportunities related to the overall organization, its goals, its future, and the future of the industry.

This strategy requires a team dedicated to the governance of the learning ecosystem. Governance provides the foundation for the ecosystem and helps make decisions around components to include or remove from the larger learning ecosystem. It also provides the necessary services to engage, recruit, and develop the talent required to support the ecosystem in the form of content developers, facilitators, coaches, and other necessary staff.

Of course, these components require a culture that supports learning and continuous improvement by allowing time for learning experiences, providing opportunities for growth and mentorship, and leadership that likewise exhibits the desire and capacity for continuous learning.

Content

Finally, the learning ecosystem requires content. Content may include custom-developed learning experiences that are face-to-face, virtual, blended, asynchronous, just-in-time, multi-day, or just two minutes in length. Content may also include the curation of existing resources into a package that is more directed and easier to access and consume. The content may include entire curriculum tracks and follow-on components for specific participant groups but may also include one-off experiences that address a need at a specific moment in time.

Content includes elements created by learners including assignment outputs, community of practice discussions, and participation in and contribution to special events such as focus groups. All these content elements are supported by strategy, governance, and a culture of learning, and are organized to encourage participant engagement, exploration, and continuous learning.

At Management Concepts, we continually build our own ecosystem of learning opportunities and support our clients in developing and supporting their own learning ecosystems. We understand that no two learning ecosystems are the same and meet our customers where they are to best support the long-term health of the specific learning ecosystem.

Over the last six years, as the contract holder for the National Veterans’ Training Institute, we collaborated with the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment Training Service (DOL VETS) to develop, grow, and continuously improve upon the NVTI Learning Ecosystem. The NVTI Learning Ecosystem has grown from a few classes and webinars to a robust and interconnected web of virtual and classroom instruction, eLearning, podcasts, cohorts, micro-learning, articles, newsletters, and other associated learning opportunities supported by a website, learning portal, records management and reporting systems, a dedicated and collaborative team, and a community of practice.

Contact Tom Ladenburg at tladenburg@managementconcepts.com or 703-270-4176 to find out more about how Management Concepts can help you support a learning ecosystem in your organization.

Training:
Human Capital Advisory Services
Media Type:
Blog

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