Building a Learning Ecosystem? – Define Readiness First

To some, the words “learning ecosystem” may smack of jargon, or at a minimum, offer a veiled attempt to spin an old tale by attaching a new title. Not so. Google “learning ecosystems” and prepare to wade through over 12 million returns. Funny thing – I Googled that phrase a few years ago and found only a fraction of what is there today. It would not surprise me if there were as many definitions as hits, each with a degree of correctness. I say that because a learning ecosystem tends to be unique to the organization it represents. The “learning ecosystem” concept is a new reality, and in this new reality, we must consider the shrinking role Training plays. Talk about paradigm shifts…oh my…

I can imagine that I just uncorked the training-versus-learning debate with that last comment, but hear me out. Here and now, I will stipulate the importance of training…and…suggest [strongly] that if sustaining capability plays into any aspect of our business goals, then training, in and of itself, is insufficient to meet those goals. Learning retention alone is reason enough to suggest that training results [transfer of knowledge @ Level 2] do not translate to sustained performance in the downstream, post-training work context [levels 3, 4 & …koff…5]. The downstream work context is ground zero for the generation of tangible business value…or not…and ties directly to workforce readiness.

Where does that leave our training efforts? Training is somewhere upstream, pre-work context, where business risk and the urgency to perform flawlessly do not exist…despite our attempts to simulate chaos in a safe environment. With the velocity of business increasing, and demands for flawless performance falling on fewer workers than before the recession, and new business applications [technology] popping up in the business like mushrooms, the need for learning is converging with work.

These changes in the learning environment signal a shift in demand to “learn @ the point of work”. Learning opportunities must be as agile as our workforce to meet their expected performance outcomes. This need is manifesting outside of the scope and charter of the Training organization. As such, Training needs to undergo a re-invention – an evolution – that can continue to meet the structured upstream demands as well as the unstructured chaos of the downstream, post-training work context.

Does that equate to an increase in training budgets? I think it safe to say, “Fat chance of that happening!” So then, how do we do more with the same money, or less in some cases? The easier-said-than-done answer is…Change the training paradigm to a learning paradigm! That means treat the learning environment as a holistic, dynamic learning ecosystem. The only way to evolve the paradigm is to go downstream. I make this point because no revenue comes from training – no sales reps close business while captive in the classroom, no customer service reps resolve an issue and retain a customer while enduring best-in-class, on-line courses – no one makes split-second workflow decisions that prevent creation of material waste during the best blended training intervention. Business risk, liability, and less than flawless performance happen downstream in the work context. Training typically does not play in that environment – and we must evolve to have a dynamic, agile presence where work happens.

Recent blog posts I have made about using a Learning Continuum concept to facilitate moving downstream quote percentages [Bersin & Associates] of around 5% of our learning is formal [a.k.a. Training]. My math says that the other 95% is something else – informal and likely happening in the work context by any number of means – social, tribal, intentional, incidental, and/or even accidental…and at a price – the price being less than flawless performance. And the point is…the composite of 100% is the basis for looking at Learning as more than Training…inclusive of Training…not a replacement…but something more. “More” being defined by “What is it – When is it consumed – Where is it consumed – Who consumes it – How do they consume it – Who else is involved in the consumption – all point to a holistic environment that is unique to the organization – the learning ecosystem.

The ecosystem mindset influences thinking that directly aligns with the business mission, and not just the mission itself, but who are the stakeholders that will make the mission a reality. When we examine “who” makes that list, we wind up defining the “edges” of the ecosystem. This goes back to the Who, What, Where, When, & How of learning consumption. Learning must be sustainable across a stakeholder population that may include not only company staff, but vendors, suppliers, customers, and clients.

So…what are the implications for the greater organization? Wait a second…the greater organization? Why not the greater Training department? Honestly, the back of Training does not have exclusive rights to this monkey. Creating, implementing and sustaining a Learning Ecosystem imply a strategic organizational initiative. I believe Training owns the lion’s share of responsibility, but the nature of alignment across the business units in the ecosystem is a collaborative affair. Call it a governance thing…

Certainly, the implications evolve the scope for Training – expands the Training charter – stresses Training competencies – and oh yes, portends Organizational Change. And since I just tossed the dreaded “C” word into the mix, we need to consider the impacts of Change from “edge-to-edge” in the newly defined ecosystem. Call that a governance thing too…

To go down this path with intent, the organization must be in a state of Learning Readiness. There needs to be a Learning Readiness Roadmap developed to navigate through the maze of key drivers that should be in place that ensure not only a successful deployment, but a sustained implementation. My recommendation Consider completing a Learning Readiness Assessment.

What is a Learning Readiness Assessment (LRA)?

A Learning Readiness Assessment (LRA) is a holistic, current-state snapshot of “readiness to learn” across an organization’s learning ecosystem. After initial discovery, the scope of the LRA may include targeted specific aspects of learning readiness, or it may cover the entire ecosystem “edge-to-edge” – from formal learning efforts [Training] to informal learning in the downstream, post-training work context where we assess the readiness of the workforce to learn @ the point of work. The logical place to start is defining the “edges” – the stakeholders within the ecosystem.

The LRA looks at the presence [or absence] of critical components from design & delivery methodologies to the deployment mix of learning & Web 2.0 technologies. This inventory determines if the aggregate implementation is sufficient to sustain a dynamic, continuous learning ecosystem.

Why Pursue a Learning Readiness Assessment?

  • If your company relies upon classroom and/or online e-learning to sustain workforce effectiveness – chances are, you have a well-trained workforce that may fall short when learning agility is required to ensure flawless performance @ the point of work.
  • Work demands for flawless performance are continuous – Change is continuous and moving faster with no signs of slowing down. Why expect opportunities to learn be any less continuous?
  • We see business risk, legal liability, missed revenue, customer service opportunities, and potential for creating loss more directly tied to performance @ the point of work.
  • Taking workers off-task to sit through formal training classes or on-line courses effectively transfer knowledge and skills but through retention loss cannot consistently return cost-effective, sustainable, performance results in the work context.
  • Even the best training efforts suffer participant knowledge retention loss of up to 80% in less than a month without reinforcement, further decreasing workforce effectiveness @ the point of work.
  • The need to learn has converged with actual workflows – traditional training approaches cannot keep pace with the velocity of business need.

This evolution of learning @ the point of work drives Change – most critically, this evolution Changes the rules of engagement for those tasked with training duties as well as those who are on the consuming end of the learning assets.  These Changes demand an elevated state of readiness within the training effort [from design to delivery to performer support]. This means the training effort/staff must be equally prepared to drive performance results on the informal “point of work edge” as they do so well on the more familiar formal “training edge”. Likewise, the workforce needs to be an informed consumer and equipped to access learning @ the point of work…@ the moment of need.

Who Should Consider Using a Learning Readiness Assessment?

  • The LRA is designed to benefit ALL businesses, not just large organizations with dedicated training departments
  • Small-to-medium businesses where training is a shared task and based on limited budgets
  • Companies considering an increase or just now starting the use of on-line training
  • Companies considering introducing new learning or Web 2.0 technology and/or integrating Learning 2.0 methodology into current practices
  • Companies with existing technology deployments that are not fully implemented or are not delivering anticipated results
  • Companies needing to demonstrate a tangible return [business impact] on training efforts and accelerate an increase in training efficiencies
  • Companies that ask,“Is there a better way to sustain capability within my workforce?”

Learning Readiness Key Driver Analysis

The LRA consists of modular analyses that examine Key Readiness Drivers that ultimately define an Ecosystem Road Map critical to evolving support for the workforce in their respective workflows. The objective is to equip the organization to create and sustain a learning environment where

The right learners have seamless, frictionless, and ubiquitous access
– to the right learning assets
– at their moment(s) of learning need
– in a work context-friendly amount
– in a compelling & readily consumable format
– to/from the right devices

Learning Climate – Engagement & Change Leadership Analysis

  • Learning & Performance Culture –Assess the organization’s commitment to continuous learning as a strategic initiative – the ability to staff critical roles and build competencies necessary to enable a sustained learning capability.
  • Governance Structure – Assess learning governance roles, leadership & business unit representation, and engagement across the organization.
  • Leading Change – Assess Change Management practice & methods and integration of key, repeatable Change Leadership principles critical to delivering sustainable outcomes.

      Holistic Learning Discovery & Work Context Integration Analysis

  • Performance Discovery Evaluation – Assess current discovery methodologies and key competencies specific to identify, assess, isolate, and treat root causes versus symptoms of performance gaps.
  • Environment Discovery Evaluation – Assess essential discovery skills to integrate work context attributes of learning space, media & systems into design, development & delivery decisions.
  • Learning Stakeholder “Edge” Integration – Assess business alignment &stakeholder engagement across the ecosystem and the Learning Continuum.

Learning Continuum Compatibility Analysis

  • Design Methodology – Assess instructional design methodologies currently practiced & overlay compatibility to the PDR Learning Continuum.
  • Learning Asset & Media Mix – Assess authoring practices and defines mix of media, modes, and venues.
  • Development Granularity & Objectization – Assess modularity specific to re-use and re-purposing requirements to support learning @ the point of work without duplication of effort.
  • Learning Asset Management – Assess content management practices to determine accessibility of learning assets with respect to integrating downstream, post-training points of access. This is critical in the event the company serves an untethered [mobile] workforce.
  • Learning Delivery Methods – Assess learning delivery practices across the Learning Continuum, including formal training programs, informal learning opportunities, and social learning venues.

Effectiveness Evaluation Analysis

  • Evaluation Discovery – Assess evaluation-planning practices critical to measuring & extracting tangible business outcomes and impactresults.
  • Acquisition Methodology – Assess acquisition methodologies for capturing performance outcome data for purposes of formatting and reporting results.
  • Analytics – Assess the extent that captured data serve support of ongoing reporting of performance analytics/outcomes.
  • Reporting – Assess scope of reporting capability, existing practice, accessibility, and identification of actionable data gaps.

Collaboration & Social Learning Footprint Analysis

  • Collaborative Culture – Assess cultural readiness to sponsor social venues, articulate policy, and integrate collaboration as viable learning support.
  • Collaboration Inventory – Assess presence of social learning across the ecosystem.
  • Web & Learning 2.0 Integration – Assess sponsored versus covert utilization of 2.0 resources within the organization.

Technology Transparency & Utilization Analysis

  • Learning Management & Delivery – Assess existing learning technology systems deployment, degree of implementation, & scalability necessary to serve learning @ the point of work.
  • Content Creation & Management – Assess existing authoring & content management practices that accommodate a “Create once – Use many times” methodology.
  • Performance Management – Assess methods & systems used to support performance management practices as they pertain to learning and talent systems integration.
  • Mobility & Connectivity –Assess learner mobility & network access/connectivity requirements to service the workforce from edge-to-edge in the ecosystem.
  • Web 2.0 Integration Analysis – Assess Social Media integration against relevant user populations.


This Learning Readiness Assessment approach is something new despite Google rendering 9.4 million hits. Upon checking through the first several pages of Google results, I find that most LRA efforts address only on-line learning and mostly tie into colleges or universities and/or individual learner readiness – not that those are bad things. My issue is this – Everything still ties to traditional training paradigms! I find nothing that is addressing the “edge-to-edge” requirements of an organization, much less treating it holistically or as an ecosystem. Herein I see a unique opportunity…and am more convinced than ever that assessing “readiness” will imply change to entrenched methodologies.

Large organizations likely have in-house resources than can take the collection of Key Driver Analyses I shared and complete their own LRA. To them, I say, “Go for it!” I would love to know what you would add or delete or change about the collection of Driver Analyses. For organizations not blessed with plentiful training resources, we should chat.

Given the LRA covers new ground, I cannot point to a list of companies that have participated in a LRA, nor can I show you the diversity of results I anticipate accumulating over time. I may once again be ahead of the curve, but then I tend to do that kind of thing. I’ve actually been on the receiving end of “coaching” that putting new ideas on the table are distracting to the mission. But when the mission is rearranging deck furniture on the Titanic it may be time for being a crew member on a more progressive boat.

Do you know where your “edges” are? We can work together to define them and build a road map to embrace your ecosystem, but please let’s define readiness first and leave the deck furniture alone.

Gary Wise
Learning & Performance Solutions Strategist
LinkedIn Profile
Twitter: Gdogwise