07 June 2023

Corporate Learning Ecosystems and the Future of L&D Initiatives

Leadership development / Talent Development
L&D initiatives

In recent years, the topic of “Corporate Learning Ecosystems” has been gaining traction in German-speaking countries.

Our Head of Product, Natalia Jaszczuk, participated in an insightful panel interview hosted by eLearning Journal focused on this growing trend and the potential impact of these ecosystems on the future of learning and development programs within organizations.

You can read the expert article in German on the eLearning Journal website or alternatively read the full interview with Natalia below:

1. How do you define the term “Corporate Learning Ecosystem”?

A corporate learning ecosystem is a business-needs driven, living learning architecture, that combines strategy, culture, stakeholders, learning delivery and impact measurement to help an organization succeed via continuous development.

2. In your opinion: What are the constituent parts or components of a Corporate Learning Ecosystem?

  1. Strategy and business alignment ,including a skills framework or clear development plan.No corporate learning can be successful in isolation from the business needs. That said, it also should not blindly answer every single request, without a clear discovery and design process. Ideally, a skills gap or Jobs To Be Done analysis will have been done to guide the strategy.
  2. Culture, mindset and ways of working encouraging and recognizing multidimensional learning. If culture eats strategy for breakfast, then it also eats learning and development plans for lunch. A culture of continuous learning and – importantly – recognition and rewarding of professional development, are critical for the ecosystem to function. Not even a perfectly designed ecosystem will work if a company’s values and behaviors do not incentivize managers to facilitate growth, and if learners are not recognized for self-directed learning beyond compliance or mandated training.
  3. Stakeholder management strategy or system The ecosystem should recognize that there are multiple stakeholders to deliver an effective, continuous corporate learning; and it should, ideally offer a clear and actional way of collecting inputs and turning them into actions or insights. This might be as simple as making sure the right people have a seat at the table – it should never be solely L&D teams. Business stakeholders, budget holders, and event domain experts should be part of the decision-making process.
  4. Learning delivery mechanism, including internally and externally designed learning experiences, as well as scope for recognition of self-directed learning (outside of work).
  5. Impact measurement, analytics and insights to evaluate learner progress and business impact. This should ideally align with a company’s HRIS (HR Information System) to feed data back and forth, and connect learning and non-learning insights, to aid business analysis, career progression, pattern analysis, etc.

3. In your opinion, is the Learning Ecosystem a new topic or is it a well-known concept that is now being taken up again with a new name?

While the name is relatively new, it simply follows the best practice of considering the whole learning process and culture, or even the ‘whole learner’ approach. It is lifelong learning in the corporate world and developing systems that can enable it, and optimize it, for business purposes. What is relatively new is a trend to look at it from a technology lens.The industry should be wary of flashy new terms, especially if they come with a software sell that claims to be an ‘ecosystem’ in and of itself. Just getting a system implemented would be simply a box-ticking exercise for the L&D or HR team, rather than, for example, ensuring continuous development is part of company culture and strategy.

4. In your opinion, why should a company deal with the topic of “Corporate Learning Ecosystem”?

Almost 90% of millennials want growth from their jobs and workplaces.That’s just as well, since many of today’s skills will be obsolete by 2025. Even the last few months brought the explosion of generative AI and showed us that soon enough most of us will be actively using AI in our work, whether by choice or necessity. That opens a whole universe of new skills and competencies previously being the purview of technologists. Many legal, data, administrative and even medical jobs will look completely different in 5 years’ time.

Additionally, Growth mindset, which arguably is at the heart of a well-functioning learning ecosystem, is correlated with improvement, resilience, openness to change, and willingness to experiment. Building that across an organization and treating it holistically with other business needs can drive critical change.

5. What do you think makes an effective learning ecosystem? How does it differ from an ineffective learning ecosystem? 

Since it’s an ecosystem, a great one will focus on relationships between constituent parts and understand that you can have the best strategy, but if culture, stakeholders or impact measurement aren’t in place, it’s just perfunctory.

The main difference is that an effective learning ecosystem will be built on the understanding that it’s not a quick-fix software solution, rather it’s a DNA upgrade, a continuous discovery.

Ineffective learning ecosystems also focus on the wrong outcomes. Measuring consumption as a sole metric of learning efficacy has long been the bane of L&D. A slightly better solution is measuring academic outcomes – without longitudinal analysis and ensuring alignment to business goals. However, the best learning ecosystem will consider individual performance and business impact. After all, as a CEO once told me – ‘I don’t care if they claim they can apply a skill. I care that they perform their job better as a result.’

The Learnlight Impact Framework covers all three levels – Engagement, Progress, and Individual and Business Performance impact.

6) What potential do you see in the topic of learning ecosystems in the future? What relevance will it have in the coming years?

I’d focus less on the name and more on the principle. Building a learning mindset will be key, not only to individuals thriving in the future workforce, but companies staying ahead or even afloat.

While there will be many solutions which will claim to enable a ‘learning ecosystem’, it’s like with any foundational change (e.g. from waterfall to agile), if you want a change, you need to walk the walk.

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