The eLearning Guild is hosting an important series of conversations this week at Ecosystem 2014. Learning solutions have been expanding way beyond traditional L&D outputs for years now, and learning professionals are working to figure out the best ways to strategize more robust recommendations that include performance support, informal learning, social learning, experiential learning, developmental programs and more. These strategies present a variety of challenges in terms of design, curation, and technology, and many of us are working on how to best bring everything together in support of performance and capability development.
Since the learning environment design model that I have been sharing addresses some of the questions of how to strategize and design across multiple modalities, I have been very interested in hearing how other professionals in the field are talking about this topic and about the learning and performance challenges they are trying to tackle. There are a number of ways the conversation is impacting how I am thinking about this concept.
Learning Ecosystem Defined
I appreciate that several of the speakers seem to converge on a definition of a learning ecosystem (or performance ecosystem) as a combination of people, content, process, and technology to enable learning. I also agree that a metaphor that suggests life and growth is important – we “grow” an ecosystem (more organic), we don’t “build” it (suggests something more technical).
In my work, I talk about “cultivating” a learning environment because I wanted a more organic metaphor as well. A ‘learning environment” is a deliberately curated collection of resources and activities for learning related to a specific need. I don’t think I’ll be changing the name of my model to “learning ecosystem design” because while the two concepts are intimately linked, I think they are different. The ecosystem seems to me to be writ large, while learning environments are for specific learning needs.
The Role of Technology in an Ecosystem
Learning environment design speaks to how to conceptualize a multifaceted learning strategy, and I’ve been noodling a bit about how to respond to questions of technology. (That’s partly why I chose to attend this conference.) What I’ve realized is that questions of technology get answered last. It’s more productive to break it down like this:
1) What do our learners need to be able to do?
2) What are their learning needs related to doing that work?
3) What learning strategies best support their learning in these areas?
4) What functionality is needed to make those strategies accessible?
5) Then, finally – What technology would make sense in terms of bringing things together for the learners?
(I see these questions as running parallel to questions about performance support resources, although a lot of people merge the two.)
It’s likely you’ll actually need a number of technologies to grow your environment/ ecosystem for learning. Often, these technologies are freely available or already in place in our organization. To bring all the learning resources and activities together in one place, you could create a web page, a social networking site, or even a Word document — or you might use a more robust tool like SharePoint or a LMS-type system.
To establish and grow an environment, you’re simply providing links to where all the resources and materials can be found, not trying to find a magic tool that perfectly integrates all those things. (Consider that by the time you invented such a magic site, the tools and resources (and needed functionality) would be changing anyway.) In the end, the materials need to be organized and easy to access and integrate into routines from the learners’ perspectives, so each project will have different requirements.
There is yet another half day of sessions on Friday, and I imagine I’ll have some additional thoughts as I process those conversations.
For more on my approach to learning environment design, see my web site or the Learning Environments by Design course I am launching in collaboration with the Guild Academy (a course which, by the way, is supported by an extended learning environment). The course begins in April, and my e-book on the subject should be available shortly after that. All comments welcome!