Creating An Organizational Ecosystem Of Learning

Creating An Organizational Ecosystem Of Learning

One of the things that became exceedingly apparent during several of my conversations and visits with various companies last year is that most organizational learning and performance strategies fave fallen behind what is now expected in the evolving workplace and what is needed to give the employees a competitive edge both in their current role and for their future conveyable marketability. A few organizations have expressed to me concern about the declining value and impact of their traditional training strategies and were pursuing and developing strategies to be proactive about making it a valuable and viable tool and on-going resource for their people – which I love and admire. However, there are still too many organizations that rely on moldy, antiquated, and – frankly – gross processes [like role playing] to “train” unusable nonsense and today’s businesses demand a change to what people in the organization need in order to be highly effective in their role & responsibilities.

A truly useful and beneficial learning & development strategy/program enhances individual and organizational effectiveness by connecting people, complementing and upgrading  their current skills and competencies with a broad range of content, processes, tools, and technologies to drive performance. An ecosystem-focused strategy is built upon a fundamental understanding of the environment each individual exists in, including all of the resources that are available and the various dynamics that affect how those resources are digested and – ultimately – applied.

70:20:10 Learning Framework

For context, the 70:20:10 framework explains that improving and deliver workplace learning – generally – happens through three focused types of activity:

  • 70% is experiential learning – learning and developing through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practices;
  • 20% is social learning – learning and developing with and through others;
  • 10% is formal learning – learning and developing through structured modules, courses and programs.

70:20:10 has illuminated the serious limitations that exist in formal learning and how impotent in the overall strategy any formal/classroom style training is. I can attest to that, I typically feel my eyes start to glaze over and my doodling instinct kick in within about five to ten minutes in most training sessions & meetings. Conversely, social & experiential learning continue to be an unquestionable bonanza of productivity, placing learners at the absolute nucleus of their story…and that demands a major shift from those of us in learning & development and career path planning for the organization’s talent.

[A training/meeting doodle of mine]

What Is A Learning Ecosystem?

I have been using this phrase a lot in the past 18 months because there is a definite disconnect in most organizations about the L&D role regarding when, where, and how it involves itself with the individuals in the company. The definition of an ecosystem is: the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit. In order for learning and development to have it’s highest-level of impact, it needs to be a constant and accessible part of each person’s work day when they want or need it regardless of their current task or assignment. We no longer can pull most people away from their role to provide formal training [and that’s not what they want…].

More than an anchored environment, the word ‘ecosystem’ implies complex and vivid personal and digital interaction with the purpose | commitment to deliver growth through information and learning which can be accessed and utilized at any given moment. Such as:

  • an assortment of people [leaders, colleagues, mentors]
  • social & productivity networks [Slack, ScribblePost, Vimeo]
  • formal learning elements [vital focused training sessions, webinars, white-papers]
  • technology platforms [LMS, intranets, hubs]
  • processes that complement the above

Such ecosystem components create and establish a rich and fluid environment that continues to develop and evolve based on individual requirements and the priorities of the organization. The objective being to help people develop in ways they need to, when they need to, and through the methods that are most effective for them. Utilizing both digital and blended learning methods to keep content fresh, fun, functional, and sticky for every employee.

Why It’s More Important Than Ever To Provide Learning & Development

According to Bersin by Deloitte,  talent development is the second biggest challenge facing Human Resource executives inside organizations today. Bersin estimates companies spend more than $130 billion per year on employee development, with leadership development taking up the single largest area of spending. Part of the corporate challenge that exists in today’s business world is that most of today’s “HR” people are creatures of compliance and aren’t able to develop powerful, functional, and personalized resources to an organization like someone whose primary focus is e-learning, design, and content creation. This is a function of Talent and People but does not belong under the Human Resource umbrella – this is one of the most difficult facts for most executives to “get”. Most HR folks haven’t taken the time to learn the business. To understand the people’s roles inside of it or how they contribute to the culture. These are not the people that can support growth and sustainability, generally.

According to the September 2016 issue of Inc. Magazine, 61% of the 2016 Inc 500 CEOs and founders prefer to develop employees by providing outside training. However, only 28% have a leadership development strategy. Staggering! Here are some additional interesting statistics:

  • 71% of Millennials who are likely to leave an organization in two years are dissatisfied with how their leadership skills are being developed;
  • 69% aspire to be leaders in the next five years;
  • 60% want training to develop their leadership skills;
  • 89% of executives rate the need to strengthen, re-engineer, and improve organizational leadership as an important priority.

What Do They Want And How Do We Deliver It?

Most of us are absolutely used to the omnipresent world of connectivity that we exist in today. Because of the sheer quantity of information we have available to us  – at a moments notice – we have the ability to approach challenge(s) fundamentally differently than the generations before us, that being the case we have a responsibility to deliver an evolved learning approach for all employees in every workplace.

Modern learners prefer to learn, in contrast to traditional training practices, in these six ways:

  • Autonomy: Modern learners choose what they want to learn as well as when and how they want to learn it;
  • Small and short: Modern learners tend to make use of short, bite-sized pieces of content – both instructional and informational (that perhaps take 15-20 minutes to consume) – as well as have brief interactions with others. Also known as “micro-learning”…Micro-learning provides training in small learning units and short-term learning activities delivered in a convenient and accessible manner. Content is dispensed in teeny-tiny learning bursts that are typically anywhere from 2-15 minutes in length;
  • Continuous: For modern learners, learning is a continuous process, a constant drip-feed of relevant and available information;
  • On demand: When faced with a learning or performance problem, modern learners look for quick and easy solutions by searching themselves for an answer or ask their Personal Learning Network to recommend a resource;
  • Social: Modern learners are highly social. They learn with, or alongside, others and from others in terms of resources, ideas, experiences and thinking that have been shared;
  • Anywhere, anytime, on any device: Learning is happening all the time, whether consciously or unconsciously, intentional or accidental.

4 Vital Elements Needed For An Effective Program For Today’s Learners

  • CONCISE & DELIGHTFUL: There is more “stuff” competing for the time and attention of our people then ever before. Most of what we intellectually consume is bite-sized and caters to our time and interests, thus the training moments people are likely to digest have to be brief and succinct. Today’s employees also have a very high expectation for technology to be simple, intuitive, and well-designed to be engaging and deliver the right content at the right time – for them. Training has to be fun and deliver an experience if it is to be engaging and memorable. If the training content doesn’t appear to mirror what individuals would choose to consume on a regular basis, they will be less likely to involve with it and/or retain the information. Micro-learning requires a shorter attention span so there is less cognitive pressure on learners, making the information easier to absorb, retain, recollect, and – finally – apply. To build an effective learning program it must match today’s human brain processing capabilities which benefit our fast-paced and hyper-connected workplaces.
  • ADAPTABLE & ACCESSIBLE: Today’s workforce is largely independent [compared to one or two generations ago]. We have talent bringing their own ways to work and finding new and efficient ways to execute their responsibilities and construct their day or week that no longer – fortunately –  fits into a predictable or parochial traditional working relationship. Training must be digitally organic and mobile in order to be effective for today’s learners. It has to be adapted and accessible to fit into the busy lives of all of our people both at and outside of work. Micro-learning delivers training in short and easily absorbed bursts where learners can conveniently invite the training in their day-to-day activities. How and when your talent learns is more important than what they learn because the what absolutely will not matter if they never have the time to do it or if acquiring the information is overly-complicated. If it is, they will abandon it – quickly.
  • COLLABORATIVE & COLLECTIVE: At the very least 20% of all workplace learning happens via personal interactions with colleagues, leaders, and in-house experts on various areas of the business. Creating a robust and vivid community of development is where every single person has the opportunity to interact with and learn from subject matter authorities and their colleagues AND to also have the opportunity to contribute their own experience or expertise is hugely impactful, empowering, and resonates with today’s top talent. Learning offering technology that creates a collaborative and collectively supportive environment begets stronger workplace relationships, helps to shrink silos/bubbles, enhances personal influence, and promotes sharing and loyalty between colleagues.
  • RELATABLE & PROFOUNDLY RELEVANT: The fast-paced evolution of today’s workplaces insists that everyone needs to commit to continuous learning and using the resources available. It also means that training has to be super-relevant and current to the specific daily activities of each and every individual in your workplace. If the content isn’t relevant and highly relatable for the learner, it will be a wasted resource. The nature and benefit of small & short content allows for quick creation, design, and adaptation of content and fast consumption by the learner. Creating training that addresses a relevant need and provides solutions or applications that are exciting and consumable for the learner is key for engagement.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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