“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”
—Doug Conant
CEO, Campbell’s Soup

Many of us are looking for a way to get our hands around the broadening of our field and our evolving responsibilities, from just the classroom to the workplace, and from just training to a wider array of solutions. A learning and performance ecosystem, introduced last month, helps us get there. Its purpose is to enhance individual and organizational effectiveness by connecting people, and supporting them with a broad range of content, processes, and technologies to drive performance.

The six components

The ecosystem framework, also introduced last month, showcased six primary components that are used to craft an infinite number of dynamic learning and performance solutions (Figure 1).

Figure 1:
The six primary components of a learning and performance ecosystem

  1. Talent management. Here, people seek to move their careers forward and find the best place for themselves in the organization. The organization, in turn, seeks to allocate its workforce in the most efficient and productive manner. From the workers’ perspective, the goal is to advance. From the organization’s perspective, the goal is to manage and develop the workforce.

  2. Performance support. Here, people seek assistance at the moment of need by employing performance-support tools in the context of their work tasks. From the workers’ perspective, the goal is to get a job or task done. From the organization’s perspective, the goal is to improve productivity and reduce errors.

  3. Knowledge management. Here, people access content in support of their work. From the workers’ perspective, the goal is to successfully research a topic and get answers quickly. From the organization’s perspective, the goal is to provide easy and reliable access to information.

  4. Access to experts. Here, people look for help from more experienced people, sometimes in the form of coaching and mentoring, but also more informally, including getting assistance from a colleague, calling a help center, or even asking the boss. From the workers’ perspective, the goal is to consult with experts to resolve a problem or issue, or grow their capabilities over time. From the organization’s perspective, the goal is to most effectively leverage expertise.

  5. Social networking and collaboration. Here, people share information and insights with one another so that the collective knowledge and experience of a group helps everyone solve a problem, improve performance, etc. From the workers’ perspective, the goal is to share. From the organization’s perspective, the goal is to encourage exchange of knowledge and ideas.

  6. Structured learning. Here people avail themselves of precisely designed learning programs (classroom and online) that help build skills and knowledge. From their perspective, the goal is to learn. From the organization’s perspective, the goal is to train, certify, and meet compliance requirements.

Nine characteristics of a learning and performance ecosystem

Beyond its definition, there are nine main characteristics of a learning and performance ecosystem:

  1. It is performer-, or user-centric. The primary focus is on users and performers, not on content, process, or technology. The best measure of the effectiveness of a learning and performance ecosystem is, first and foremost, the value it brings to users. In so doing, it also brings value to the organization as a whole.

  2. It is part individual and part social. Components can be used by individuals working alone, or by varying sizes of communities working together toward a common goal.

  3. It interacts with and is influenced by the culture of the organization. How it works, and how successful it is, depends on the culture of the organization. User acceptance, management sponsorship, openness to experimentation and change, technological savvy, and prevailing attitudes toward learning and performance are key factors.

  4. It is an expanded toolbox of resources for the designer or developer. They can leverage the components in hundreds of combinations to address nearly any learning and performance problem or opportunity. Relying on a single solution—even a good one—no longer works. The adage “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” rings true for too many of us, and that attitude must change.

  5. It is part managed and part self-directed. It may combine purposefully designed content and locked-in programs with user-generated content and social mechanisms.

  6. It is adaptable. Each user, or user group, can customize it in different ways to meet unique requirements. There is no lockstep or single way to do things. Changes in the environment (e.g., new use-models, new audiences, time or financial constraints, or advances in technology) may result in different applications of ecosystem components. For example, a sales team facing a customer deadline may use selected ecosystem components differently than an IT organization implementing new software.

  7. It is organic and evolves over time. It will change over time. Elements that were once critical to the ecosystem become outdated and die off, replaced by new elements that did not exist even a few years earlier. You must allow a learning and performance ecosystem to evolve with the changing nature of work.

  8. It is expansive and holistic. A learning and performance ecosystem takes the most comprehensive view of potential approaches and solutions to the need at hand. There is no artificial determinant as to what content, processes, and technologies can be incorporated, beyond simply what works.

  9. It is enabled by technology. The desire to associate a learning and performance ecosystem with software applications is strong, but technology alone, like an LMS for example, is not an ecosystem. You can acquire and assemble technologies into an infrastructure that helps enable the ecosystem, but technology alone is not enough. The right people, processes, and content, coming together with technology is what’s needed.

It is all about connections

The aim of a learning and performance ecosystem is to increase productivity. The ecosystem does this by introducing a lattice of enhanced connectivity to the work environment. Through the ecosystem, workers become better connected with the people, processes, content, and technology that help them learn, perform, and succeed.

A learning and performance ecosystem is not just technology or merely a set of features and functionality. Ultimately, it must be active, alive, and thriving. It lives through its use by people. Without people using, interacting, connecting, and deriving value from it, the ecosystem becomes useless and dies.

There will be no learning and performance ecosystem if there is no real change in our views about learning and performance, and about how we practice our craft. The new direction is clear: from an exclusive focus on instruction, to a much broader, more strategic suite of solutions that go beyond the classroom, and even beyond delivering training to the workplace, to increasing emphasis on embedding learning into the workflow. It’s time to move forward, being mindful of an ancient proverb: “If we don’t change our direction, we’ll end up exactly where we are headed.”

Learn much more

Want to learn a lot more about learning and performance ecosystems? Learning and Performance Ecosystems: Strategy, Technology, Impact, and Challenges, the new eLearning Guild white paper, explores this concept in depth. It’s free to all Guild members.

Note: Steve Foreman contributed significantly to this article.