What is a Learning Ecosystem?

Learning has evolved. Years ago our notions about learning had their foundations in our experience of teachers or experts sharing their knowledge.

But things have changed.

Today we understand that learning takes place outside as well as inside of classrooms. We’ve torn down the walls of the classroom and now realize that learning happens all the time, in just about all areas of an organization, and in formal and informal ways.

Advances in technology drive much of this evolution. People today don’t always need to wait for the next workshop in order to learn. Technology enables us to learn on demand. We have systems that make it possible for people to summon resources at any time to support learning—not only during the workday, but 24 hours a day. We also have systems that can monitor the work of an individual, recognize when they are struggling, and automatically supply performance support resources to provide assistance.

We can virtually connect to, collaborate with, and learn from other individuals in real-time, regardless of how far apart we may be geographically. We have access to huge repositories of data that grow exponentially each year, and we have the ability to filter that data to show exactly the information we need, at the time that we need it, or to analyze the data in ways that we previously could not.

Technology has completely redefined our expectations of the learning experience. It has also made it ever more challenging for training and learning leaders to build an effective strategy.

When learning operated primarily out of a classroom, building a strategy was easy. Everything we defined as learning looked pretty much the same, so supporting that system and building a strategy was more administrative—setting up a curriculum and scheduling resources, instructors, and classrooms.

Under the expanded definition of learning, things are much more complex. Learning can take place formally or informally, live or asynchronously, within or detached from the work, from a live instructor or on–demand and accessible from a device you hold in your pocket.

The strategic challenge in this is that, unlike learning in a classroom, today there is a wide array of resources available to individuals: Most of those resources rest on new technologies. It’s not about managing a single learning resource any more; it’s about understanding the benefits of multiple learning resources, choosing the best ones for individual needs, and balancing the entire system of multiple resources in a way that provides greater support overall.

In nature, science defines an ecosystem as a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. It’s only when there is an appropriate balance between the various pieces of a biological ecosystem that the organisms living within it can thrive.

In today’s digital world, a web of learning resources surrounds every individual. It’s an environment wherein each resource connects to others, creating an overall structure in which all learning takes place. The learning ecosystem is the combination of technologies and support resources available to help individuals learn within an environment.

Supporting the New Learning Ecosystem 

Many of the technologies that redefine the learning ecosystem have only appeared in the last decade. This has increased the challenges for our industry. In many cases organizations adopt these new technologies before we fully understand them, their capabilities, and how they fit in with the existing system. This results in a disconnected system with redundancies and lack of clarity. Instead of being an ecosystem wherein the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, these different technologies combine in a way that makes each of them less effective.

It’s difficult to build a strategy that supports a learning ecosystem without understanding the various components and how they connect and support one another. Learning leaders are left with questions such as:

  • What sort of questions should I ask when considering an LMS?
  • How do my systems connect with our HRIS system?
  • How can we use technology to better support informal and social learning in our existing systems?
  • How can I ensure we’re maximizing our EXISTING capital investments?
  • What sort of advanced functionality does an LMS have, and what kinds of functionality is it missing?
  • How can my organization leverage the power of Big Data? 

Answers … for a Change. 

At The eLearning Guild we’ve heard these questions often, and they are becoming more frequent. We’ve noticed that there really wasn’t a place for senior training and learning leaders to gather and explore these challenges and to share knowledge and solutions.

ECO14_500Enter Ecosystem 2014, the Learning Infrastructure and Strategies Conference.

Ecosystem 2014 is the first and only industry conference dedicated to the learning ecosystem and the technologies that support it. At this event we’ll be exploring answers … for a change, a phrase that applies in two ways.

At Ecosystem 2014 we’ll be exploring questions that are not often answered, including questions such as those mentioned earlier and many, many more. Lots of events explore the questions related to a learning strategy; at Ecosystem 2014 we’ll be exploring the answers.

We’ll also be exploring the current state of the technologies and resources available to help you build a learning ecosystem. Do these technologies provide the right tools that organizations and individuals need? What might be missing?

At Ecosystem 2014 we’ll have sessions that explore the capabilities and possibilities of the learning technologies supporting the learning ecosystem. It’s a unique opportunity to participate in discussions with the vendor community that can help influence change, making the tools more effective.

Ecosystem 2014—March 19 – 21, 2014 

We’re very excited to have you join in these discussions. Join us for Ecosystem 2014, co-located with the Learning Solutions Conference and Expo this March in Orlando, Florida.

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