Workforce disruptions have become the norm. They can result from technological changes or events like the 2008 recession. The changes can be temporary or enduring. Almost everything about work changed during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, for instance. Learning and development (L&D) teams are responsible for preparing employees and organizations for such disruptions, learning expert JD Dillon notes. However, not all methods of achieving that goal remain effective in today’s anarchic world of work. But, he argues, the flexible “Modern Learning Ecosystem” approach is a perfect fit.
- Change the way you think before you change your L&D approach.
- The Modern Learning Ecosystem Framework provides a new, systematic L&D approach.
- Common, public knowledge is a foundational aspect of the MLE Framework.
- “Performance support” is integral to the MLE Framework.
- There’s a difference between what you must know and what you would like to know.
- The MLE Framework requires effective managers.
- Learning technology is a significant component in the MLE Framework.
- Help stakeholders vest in workplace learning.
Change the way you think before you change your L&D approach.
Even before the 2020 pandemic lockdowns transformed most people’s relationship to work, workplace disruption was common – and exerted a significant influence on the pursuit of L&D. According to a 2019 study, over half of 10,000 companies surveyed experienced disruption. L&D helps prepare people for disruption, yet, as of 2021, fewer than 10% of companies believed they could anticipate and adapt to future disruptions.
“An organization can only transform as fast as its people can learn.”
Disruptions affect everyone in a company differently. For example, executives might feel pressure from boards and stakeholders, while workers might worry about productivity and holding onto their jobs. Some organizations adapt more smoothly to disruption than others. They might excel, for example, at adjusting to remote work and adopting relevant practices. Organizations that successfully adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic adopted a “modern learning mind-set.”
The modern learning mind-set involves observing a few basic principles. First, enmesh learning – such as quick and efficient “microlearning” moments – into the rhythm of daily work. Make use of all tools, including smartphones or tablets, that employees use in their daily work. To apply the modern learning mind-set, L&D professionals need strong, precise data to make sound decisions. L&D professionals should craft personalized experiences for their audiences. L&D learning solutions must take business impacts into account and be capable of adapting to the needs of a particular organization or issue in a timely way.
The Modern Learning Ecosystem Framework provides a new, systematic L&D approach.
L&D professionals provide job training and make relevant information available to workers. They provide employees with performance evaluations, support, and “practice and reinforcement.” They offer coaching tailored to individuals and the opportunity for employees to expand and develop their skill sets.
“The MLE Framework helps L&D expand beyond our traditional limitations…The framework acknowledges that learning is not based on an individual piece of content or a single event.”
The Modern Learning Ecosystem Framework reorganizes core L&D practices in a way that better aligns with employee preferences and workflows. Rather than beginning with formal classroom-style training, for example, the MLE Framework starts with “shared knowledge.” The practices built on the foundation of common knowledge are as follows, in order of use:
- Performance evaluation and support.
- Individual coaching.
- “Pull training” – developing new skills.
- “Push training” – formal job training.
The MLE Framework helps L&D professionals adapt traditional approaches in ways that offer more effective, scalable, in-the-flow-of-work learning opportunities for employees and organizations.
Common, public knowledge is a foundational aspect of the MLE Framework.
The MLE Framework needs “shared knowledge.” Shared knowledge spreads across an organization and prevents one aspect of the organization from disconnecting from the rest of the organization.
“With the MLE Framework as your blueprint, solidifying your shared knowledge approach is the first step to making your learning ecosystem disruption-ready.”
You can find shared knowledge on tools your organization already uses, such as management systems, the cloud, sales tools, customer relationship tools and the company website. To prioritize shared knowledge, ensure that a company’s knowledge and information is readily accessible and easy for all employees to locate.
To create a shared knowledge foundation for your MLE Framework, evaluate how your company generates and uses shared knowledge and the effectiveness of the technologies you utilize. Establish a shared knowledge “curator.” If everyone at your company is responsible for shared knowledge, no one is. The shared knowledge curator encourages contributors to share knowledge and facilitates the sharing process. He or she ensures everyone at the company has access to shared knowledge and that they know how to use it.
“Performance support” is integral to the MLE Framework.
L&D professionals provide performance support, which assists employees in completing tasks by providing help at the moment the employee most needs that support. To accomplish this goal, L&D professionals might use lists, discussion forums, question and answer sessions, “digital adoption platforms,” and expert advice.
“Performance support is the opportunity to get consistent, reliable help whenever help is needed.”
Performance support helps employees access shared knowledge to solve problems. This support helps employees solve problems and reduces the need for more formal training.
Incorporating performance support into a company’s “learning ecosystem” requires a few steps. For employees to access support in a timely way, evaluate your company’s workflow. Identify bottlenecks that might indicate a need for more help, where highly specialized forms of performance support may be necessary, and when and how such support improves performance. Discern in which cases a specialist’s intervention would be helpful and provide a place where employees can access this support. Develop metrics to measure whether the performance support enhances employees’ job performance.
There’s a difference between what you must know and what you would like to know.
Today, constant information bombards employees. They must juggle emails, text messages, information on websites, and discussions with customers, clients and their bosses. In the face of this overload, people often forget key details or have difficulty focusing on what’s most important – they need help. L&D provides that help.
“Structured training is often the default solution for focusing people’s attention and reducing workplace distractions…However, if people don’t immediately go out and apply what they learned on the job, that information probably won’t make it to long-term memory.”
When L&D offers learning reinforcement through strategies such as role-playing and simulations with the use of virtual reality, it enables employees to put what they learn into practice. To make reinforcement effective, L&D must discover what employees need to know and the best approach to reinforcement learning. Reinforcement ensures people remember and apply crucial information in their daily workflows. It also ensures that a “firehose” of information doesn’t overwhelm learners.
Incorporating reinforcement into a modern learning ecosystem demands a few considerations. To enable people to remember information and skills, determine their information and skills baseline – their starting place. Learn about the people you’re aiming to help, what technology is available to them and what approach would work best for them. Select the technology and other methods for delivering the reinforcement, provide the learning materials reinforcement requires and ensure that the relevant people – and the organization – grasp the importance of reinforcement. If this is a new practice in your organization, experiment to discover what works best.
The MLE Framework requires effective managers.
Managers are crucial to workplace learning and performance. They shape an employee’s work experience at every level. They set schedules, aims and priorities, and allocate resources. They rank employee performance, enabling learning and coach employees to improve their performance.
“L&D is in a great position to improve management development…L&D can also empower managers to build trust, develop people and improve business performance through a strategic approach to coaching.”
Coaching is collaborative. It involves identifying performance areas that need improvement and offering suggestions about what to do next. While teaching focuses on helping someone acquire knowledge, coaching is a personal relationship that’s about honing skills and achieving performance aims.
To include coaching in your learning ecosystem, assess the role coaching plays in your organization’s culture and set appropriate expectations. Determine how coaches can use data to achieve performance goals and figure out how to incorporate coaching into the MLE Framework. Investigate how to use technology to support coaching. Establish quantitative and qualitative metrics to determine the efficacy of your coaching.
Learning technology is a significant component of the MLE Framework.
Most companies deploy technology to enable learning and enhance performance. There are three basic criteria for learning technology:
- “Scale” – The technology should allow L&D professionals to work with large numbers of people distributed across a substantial geographical region. The system should not require a large L&D team or excessive transportation costs.
- “Speed” – The technology should allow L&D to deploy solutions in real time, rather than people having to wait for a scheduled session.
- “Consistency” – The technology should ensure that everyone at the company receives the same information, regardless of what department they work in or who manages them.
Technology’s impact increases when it brings learning into the workplace, helps people build larger “knowledge networks” that enhance their performance, personalizes the learning experience and provides equal learning opportunities for all employees.
“As we create the next future of work, L&D must rethink the way we use technology to achieve organizational goals.”
Organizations must transform how technology helps employees deal with problems, acquire new skills they will need in the future and enhance performance. A 2021 study suggested that well over half of companies surveyed were investing in “virtual synchronous classrooms” and e-learning. Yet only 31% were making even modest investments in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. L&D professionals and organizations must work with technology providers to understand how new technologies affect L&D and see how these technologies address familiar problems in new ways.
Help stakeholders vest in workplace learning.
Learning something new demands time and energy. Changing how people think – their mind-set – can be arduous. A traditional classroom disrupts the flow of a normal workday. The MLE Framework makes learning part of the workflow. Company stakeholders may retain old-fashioned ideas about workplace learning and training, and question the value of L&D innovations.
“Trust is the foundation of a modern learning mind-set. People must trust that L&D has their best interests in mind as we recommend and implement solutions, especially if these solutions don’t match past experiences.”
Bring a wide variety of stakeholders on board to support the project. To achieve executive buy-in, demonstrate how investment in the MLE Framework provides a business advantage and promises increased revenue. To gain buy-in from corporate lawyers, demonstrate the prospects of legal compliance. Buy-in from IT professionals requires meaningful technological solutions. To achieve buy-in from managers, show how the MLE Framework supports business aims. Show employees how the MLE Framework relates to their individual learning and upskilling needs.
Gain the trust of your stakeholders by ensuring that your goals are clear and precise. Identify the stakeholders you have in mind. The stakeholders you need may not be people with authority – workers are crucial stakeholders. Match your approach to the stakeholder. Let all stakeholders know that you can upskill your people, so they manifest your business goals without disruption.
About the Author
Axonify’s chief learning architect JD Dillon is an author, keynote speaker, podcaster and online host who helps people do their best work every day.
The book is a guide for learning and development (L&D) professionals who want to create a modern learning ecosystem (MLE) that can adapt to the ever-changing workplace and meet the needs of today’s learners. The author, JD Dillon, is an L&D expert who has worked in various industries and faced many disruptions in his career. He shares his insights and experiences on how to evolve L&D practices and mindset to stay relevant and effective in the face of disruption.
The book consists of three parts. The first part introduces the concept of the MLE and explains why it is needed in the current context of work and learning. The author defines the MLE as “a purposeful blend of tools, tactics, and technologies that enable people to learn, develop, and solve problems on the job”. He argues that the traditional L&D approach of relying on formal training programs is no longer sufficient or sustainable, as it fails to address the real problems that people face at work, such as information overload, skill gaps, performance issues, and constant change. He also challenges some common myths and misconceptions about learning, such as the 70:20:10 model, learning styles, microlearning, and gamification.
The second part presents the MLE framework, which consists of six core practices that L&D professionals should focus on to create a holistic and effective learning experience for their employees. These practices are:
- Shared knowledge: creating and maintaining a central source of truth that everyone can access and contribute to
- Performance support: providing just-in-time guidance and feedback that helps people perform tasks and solve problems
- Reinforcement: using various methods to help people retain and apply what they learn
- Coaching: facilitating ongoing development and feedback through social interactions
- Pull training: offering self-directed and personalized learning opportunities that people can access when they need or want them
- Push training: delivering structured and mandatory learning interventions that align with organizational goals and priorities
The author explains each practice in detail, providing examples, tips, tools, and best practices for implementing them. He also shows how these practices are interconnected and interdependent, forming a coherent and consistent learning ecosystem.
The third part discusses how to apply the MLE framework in practice, addressing some common challenges and questions that L&D professionals may encounter. The author covers topics such as:
- How to assess the current state of your learning ecosystem and identify gaps and opportunities for improvement
- How to design and develop learning solutions that fit the MLE framework and meet the needs of your learners
- How to measure and evaluate the impact of your learning solutions on performance and business outcomes
- How to communicate and collaborate with stakeholders, partners, and learners to gain support and feedback for your learning ecosystem
- How to manage change and innovation in your learning ecosystem and foster a culture of continuous learning
The book concludes with a call to action for L&D professionals to embrace the MLE mindset and approach, which is based on four principles:
- Put the employee at the center of the learning experience
- Shift from programmatic to systematic thinking
- Use technology as an enabler, not a driver
- Focus on solving problems, not delivering content
The book is a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in creating a modern learning ecosystem that can support their employees’ learning and performance in the ever-changing workplace. The author writes in a clear, engaging, and conversational style, using stories, examples, analogies, diagrams, tables, checklists, questions, and exercises to illustrate his points. He also provides references to relevant research, models, theories, frameworks, tools, platforms, and resources that readers can explore further.
The book is not a prescriptive or comprehensive manual on how to create a perfect learning ecosystem. Rather, it is a practical and flexible guide that encourages readers to think critically about their own context, challenges, goals, learners, culture, resources, and opportunities. It also invites readers to experiment with different tactics and technologies that suit their needs and preferences. The book does not advocate for a one-size-fits-all solution or a silver bullet for all learning problems. Instead, it offers a framework that can be adapted and customized to create a unique learning ecosystem that works for each organization.
The book is also not a theoretical or academic treatise on learning science or instructional design. Rather, it is a pragmatic and hands-on book that focuses on solving real-world problems that L&D professionals face every day. It also reflects the author’s own experience and perspective as an L&D practitioner who has learned from trial-and-error, feedback, research, collaboration, observation, and reflection. The book does not claim to have all the answers or solutions for every situation or scenario. Instead, it shares insights and lessons learned from the author’s own journey of creating a modern learning ecosystem.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book and found it to be informative, inspiring, and useful. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the modern learning ecosystem and how to create one for their organization. I think this book will help L&D professionals to evolve their mindset and practices to stay relevant and effective in the ever-changing workplace.