Learning and development (L&D) is changing: less training and fewer classroom courses, more experience and interaction. Instead of a single focus on structured learning programs, L&D is now concerned with a broader learning and performance ecosystem. What is that, you may wonder? What happened to the training department? What happened to courses?

This is all part of an evolution of the organizational model for learning from a narrow perspective of learner support to a broader view of the business of learning. I spoke about this with two highly respected members of The eLearning Guild and leading authorities in training, organizational learning, eLearning, knowledge management, and performance improvement—Steve Foreman and Marc Rosenberg.

The learning and performance ecosystem

BB: Let's start with the basics: what is the learning and performance ecosystem?

SF: I'll describe it from two perspectives: from the perspective of the worker, and from the perspective of L&D. For workers, who are at the center of the learning and performance ecosystem, it's an environment that supports working and learning. The environment can include any combination of structured learning programs, talent development resources, and on the job support, such as knowledge bases, performance support systems, social networking and collaboration, and access to experts. It's essentially a broader toolset. So for the L&D professionals, the learning and performance ecosystem is a bigger toolbox for creating solutions that are more direct, effective, and instantly available than courses alone.

MR: I agree with Steve. The ecosystem has evolved from some prior technologies or approaches, such as performance technology, blended learning, and 70 20 10. All of these perspectives attempted to expand the notion of what worker support should be: non-learning. All of them contributed to the ecosystem approach that we're talking about. In fact, I don't think we would be talking about an ecosystem without some of these more pioneering efforts. We have both felt, in our consulting and speaking, that the ecosystem model resonates with people because they can see a lot of the components in the work that they do. They just didn't see how they related to each other.

Beyond courses

BB: Why should we be looking to move beyond courses to this broader learning and performance ecosystem? I mean, what was wrong with courses?

MR: There's nothing wrong with good courses. Obviously, we've proven that for decades now in the field of instructional design, creating the best courses based on good learning science with technology. But, and this is the simplest way to think about the need for a change in the model, if everything that a worker needed to know and be supported was only delivered in courses, they would be in class 24 x 7 x 365 days a year. So the idea of courseware and courses, the idea of training, there is nothing wrong with that.

But what we have learned, especially in the last few years, is that to enable exemplary performance, to enable people to perform better in the workplace, and meet more stringent business goals and to be more efficient and productive, they need support that transcends the classroom and goes right into the workplace.

There's a phrase that a lot of people use: learning at the moment of need. And we all know that even though a lot of training has moved from the classroom to online, it's still not really at the moment of need. The closer we can get the support that people need to do their job to the actual workflow, to the actual way people are working, the more efficient we can be. This notion that courseware is dead, or that courses are dead, or that courses are old-fashioned, is completely off the point. The real message here is that courseware is ONE of many solutions that you should apply when trying to improve performance. In most cases, the sum of the solutions is greater than the individual solutions alone, so there is a collective benefit by using more combinations of solutions. That’s in terms of cost effectiveness, innovation, and business results.

The bottom line is that courses are great. But in order to really meet the needs of our organizations, we have to go beyond.

SF: You know, courses are one way in which people learn. There are many other ways. Learning is required for some job performance, but other job tasks can be performed without learning just by looking up the information that's needed in the moment. The reason L&D really should be moving beyond courses is that we're at a point in technology, and in the way society has developed with technology, where courses alone aren't cutting it anymore. The metrics that we use for measuring what we're doing with courses are very instructional-centric. Typically, we're using metrics to count how many people are taking a course, whether they like it, and whether they're learning things. But those are not the kinds of metrics that our customers, the people who are funding us, are looking for. That stuff is all pretty soft, and it doesn't relate back to the business.

When we get into learning performance ecosystems, into supporting learning and performance in the workflow, we start opening up opportunities to collect metrics that build a chain of evidence with indicators on how our learning and performance solution is impacting the metrics used by the business. Executives are looking for more data to help them make decisions objectively. They're being asked to fund L&D, and they're realizing the cost of funding L&D is one thing, but the cost of workers and of reduction in productivity while they're in training and not working is another cost. Then they're asking, “What are we getting for this? What's the increase in productivity from the training?” Nobody can answer that question when you're talking about courses alone. The learning and performance ecosystem approach is much more direct, effective, and instantly available. The data we collect in the flow of work solutions allows us to build that chain of evidence that connects learning solution metrics to the customers, key performance indicators, and ultimately, to business results.

Where do we go from here?

Steve and Marc will continue this discussion during their session, “Navigating the Learning and Performance Ecosystem,” in The Business of Learning Online Conference, November 6-7, 2019. If you are already looking for ways to integrate new learning and performance solutions into your work and to help your organization move beyond courses to a broader learning and performance ecosystem, they will have invaluable insights for you. Register for the Online Conference today!