Reading Time: 3 minutes

Apparently, Learning and Development (L&D) doesn’t require air to survive. I say this because it’s frequently handled in a vacuum, away from everything it’s supposed to be connected to. It’s often brought in at the last minute as well. And yet there are still L&D departments and vendors. Pushing courses out is one thing, having an effective learning and performance ecosystem is another matter entirely.

The Difference Between L&D and a Learning and Performance Ecosystem

At its core, it depends on how integrated training, support, curation, and the like are in the actual work environment for real people.* “Having L&D” means you have people and resources specifically dedicated to creating (and hopefully curating and managing) learning assets. Courses are a common example of a learning asset. Having a learning and performance ecosystem means networks, tools, support, and other resources work with traditional learning assets and they’re all a seamless part of the organization’s actual work processes. The “performance” part of the name is especially important since performance support is often missing from L&D.

Components of a Learning and Performance Ecosystem

The eLearning Guild has identified six primary components of learning and performance ecosystems:

  • Talent Management: People want to advance their careers and find where they fit in. And having the right people in the right places is often crucial. Providing talent management also signals that the organization cares about the people in it. It wants them to grow and is committed to supporting them.
  • Performance Support: These are quick reference guides, job aids, how-to videos, and other assets that support people in their moment of need. They give them the essentials of what they need at the time and place they need it.
  • Knowledge Management: Having relevant, updated information available in an easily accessible place and format can go a long way. Think of it like having your own organizational Google search. Imagine typing, “How do I process a returned item?” and having the matching information show up. (Can you tell there’s a connection between this and performance support?)
  • Access to Experts: When someone has a question no one else seems to be able to answer or runs into a complex problem, the experts are available for consultation. This can take various forms such as “office hours” or mentoring.
  • Social Networking and Collaboration: The ability to share experiences, collect brainstorming ideas, ask for second opinions, etc. makes collaboration a powerful thing. People can accomplish more by working together than they can by working in isolation. This also helps build camaraderie among the people involved.
  • Structured Learning: This is the formal training; such as webinars, online courses, and classroom training; which comes to mind when people think of L&D.

A learning and performance ecosystem can have any combination of these components. You don’t have to have all six to have a fully functional ecosystem. In fact, you should probably limit your organization to what it realistically needs. For example, a non-profit that’s mostly short-term volunteers probably wouldn’t need Talent Management.

Birth of an Ecosystem

In some cases, an ecosystem may seem to come into existence naturally. Over time an organization has filled in its gaps and created a system that works well for them. It’s not something they planned for, it just “happened.”

In other instances, an organization may realize that what it has isn’t effective. There might be a series of meetings, studies, initiatives, etc. to figure out what needs to be done. That could then lead to the formal planning of a learning and performance ecosystem.

No matter how a learning and performance ecosystem comes about, it’s more than just L&D. It focuses on people and what they need in a comprehensive, real-world sense. Each ecosystem is as unique as the organization it belongs to and there are many possible combinations of the six components. Does your organization have an ecosystem or just L&D?

*This is an extreme summary of this concept. There are eight main characteristics, according to the eLearning Guild. This sentence condenses many of those eight ideas into one dense thought. Note that this article was inspired by, and draws heavily from, some of the wonderful resources on this subject that the eLearning Guild has produced.