Understanding Learning Ecosystems

January 25, 2024

What is a learning ecosystem?

In biological terms, an ecosystem is a geographic area where different living organisms (animals, plants, and microorganisms) interact with each other and their non-living environment (weather, earth, sun, etc.) in harmony.

In the training and education world, a learning ecosystem is a dynamic and interconnected network of people, content, technology, leadership, and culture designed to support and enhance learning. It explains how the relationships between different components contribute to an individual’s learning journey. 

Think of it as a machine with several moving parts—each must work together to function. Similarly, the different parts of a learning ecosystem must work together to deliver effective learning.

Importance and benefits

In nature, the ecosystem thrives because of the different parts that make it up. The learning ecosystem is essential because it holistically approaches training and development, working to streamline and enhance the learning experience.

Here’s why a learning ecosystem is beneficial to organisations and employees:

  • Comprehensive learning/exposure to different content, including videos, multimedia content, and blended learning
  • Continuous learning and engagement, which is essential for fostering growth and new opportunities 
  • Personalisation, particularly with gamification and customised learning technologies (e.g. customised LMS)
  • Flexibility and accessibility, as online learning avenues empower employees to learn anywhere and anytime
  • Scalability, given that ecosystems constantly respond to the changing conditions, learning ecosystems also enable organisations to keep up-to-date with changes

Key components of a learning ecosystem

Typically, a learning ecosystem is made up of five essential components:

People

People are at the core of any learning ecosystem. 

Ultimately, the people are the ones who benefit from the ecosystem, and the whole system is built around them. They are a crucial part of the ecosystem: without them, the ecosystem would not work.

People in the ecosystem include:

  • Learners
  • Managers and team leaders
  • Assessors or formal instructors (for in-person training)
  • Subject matter experts (SMEs, who can be internal or external)

Organisations are increasingly turning to employee training and development programs to not only improve skills and knowledge and plug skills gaps but to increase engagement at work. 

Research has shown that training and education programs and employee retention have a proportional relationship: the more training available to employees, the more likely they are to remain in a workplace (employee retention can increase by up to 14% ). 

When it comes down to it, the people set the tone for the ecosystem, from the learning culture to how the system is managed.

Content

Content is everything. If people are the animals of the ecosystem, then the content is the plants. It is the thing that forms the “learning” part of the ecosystem. Without it, how would learning take place?

In digital learning ecosystems, content makes or breaks the learning experience. Learners respond better to the types of content that can help them understand and retain key learning concepts and information.  Learners are also accessing information and learning differently. Research from Deloitte found that 70% of employees turn to search engines, and 50-60% complete online courses to meet their learning needs.

This suggests that as learners grow and change, so should the content. So, it’s important to deliver engaging and relevant content to learners.

Content can involve:

  • Modules and courses
  • Videos
  • Quizzes and assessments
  • Policies and procedures
  • Graphics, tables, and PDFs

Beyond learner engagement, the content of any ecosystem must have a purpose. What is it trying to achieve? What is the outcome/takeaway that the learner will get from this content?

For example, if you were to deliver practical information—such as how to correctly lift heavy objects—the content would be best delivered in a format that demonstrates the process. So, a video or a carousel with text and images would work to help the learners effectively. 

Or, perhaps you want to train two different demographic groups with similar content, e.g. work health and safety (WHS). Leaders and employees would need to learn slightly different content: leaders would need to gain practical knowledge and soft skills to lead their team in the event of WHS risks.

How would you provide courses to ensure learners walk away with two very different skill sets? You would, of course, develop two different courses with varying content for the different demographic groups—and each one would need to complete their respective training. 

Technology

Technology is the non-living part of the learning ecosystem. Think of the learning technologies as the rocks, caves, or trees—the aspects that provide shelter to the ecosystem’s living organisms.

There are three core technologies that typically can be found in a learning ecosystem:

  • Learning management system (LMS): an LMS is a software platform that allows organisations to create, manage, and deliver educational content to their members, track progress and completion, and assess learning outcomes.
  • Authoring tools: an authoring tool is an eLearning software program that lets you create learning content. It gives you the option to create courses, lessons, and assessments using a variety of media. Usually, authoring tools export courses in SCORM files, which can then be uploaded to an LMS and shared with many people.
  • Learning experience platforms: these can include developing learning content for mobile devices, such as apps. The etrainu Assess App, for example, blends face-to-face assessments and online learning, which enhances the user experience and allows learners to apply key concepts practically.

Each type of technology in the learning ecosystem can change how the learner accesses and absorbs information. 

A traditional LMS and authoring tool can be used for more technical and compliance-based content—ensuring that the essential knowledge is imparted. In contrast, learning experience platforms can facilitate more peer-to-peer learning, offering a collaborative space for learners to experiment and grow.

Learning culture

Learning can take place anywhere—it’s not restricted to a particular time, place, or format. A learning culture is crucial to the learning ecosystem: it makes up the other non-living components of the environment (think of it as the natural elements, such as the sun, water, and wind). 

Imagine if an animal or plant does not have sunlight, food, or water. How can it survive? Likewise, an organisation's people and content cannot survive without a robust learning culture.

Growing evidence also suggests that learning-first organisations tend to benefit. Organisations with learning cultures become more innovative, as research from Deloitte shows that high-performing learning organisations are 92% more likely to innovate.

Therefore, a learning culture that fosters and promotes the quest for knowledge and a passion for new experiences is vital to the lifeblood of a learning ecosystem. 

Strategy

Ecosystems are constantly adapting to changes in the environment, such as temperature or food availability. They must adapt.

A change in the learning ecosystem could be the evolving needs of the people: as people gain experience and progress in their careers, it’s crucial for them to continue to learn and grow.

The strategy of the ecosystem ensures that there are mechanisms in place to meet these ever-evolving needs and contribute to a more sustainable and holistic approach to learning.

 

Tying in with the learning culture, leaders must also respond to these changing needs to ensure the ecosystem thrives. They must adapt.

Final thoughts

Ecosystems can be big or small. Similarly, learning ecosystems come in many different shapes and sizes. Everything feeds into each other. If the people are not learning and the content is not evolving, then the culture and strategy are failing. To become a catalyst for organisational success, the learning ecosystem must ensure all its components work in sync.

Aalia Hussein
Instructional Designer and Writer
Imaginative and inventive, Aalia is etrainu’s resident writer. She has a passion for weaving words together and storytelling. She’s in charge of etrainu’s content, creating engaging and immersive experiences across learning and marketing.
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