Using Technology to Build a Learning Ecosystem

October 28, 2020 in
By Kathleen Bellis

Never has there been a more exciting time in the field of talent development. New inroads in neuroscience, combined with rapidly advancing technology, have made it possible to develop the modern workforce more quickly and effectively. Organizations are able to tailor learning and development to individual needs, mimic real work more closely, and show leaders how employee development efforts impact organizational goals. The path of talent development in the future is being forged through new tools and technologies and by creating an environment where learning drives culture and enables employees to solve tomorrow’s problems.

The Future of Employee Development

Trends facing the workforce are inspiring new ways of thinking about employee development. In the next decade, we will continue to experience:

  • A radical shift to virtual work and a need for virtual learning. 
  • A workforce increasingly made up of millennials and younger generations who desire to receive more development opportunities in non-traditional formats. 
  • More collaborative work, stressing the importance of team-focused employee development experiences.  
  • The need for on-the-job and just-in-time learning in response to the nature of today’s fast-paced and rapidly changing workplace.  
  • An increased emphasis on results. Organizations want to ensure learning is transferred back to the job and want analytics that show the successes of development efforts. 
  • A focus on fostering a culture of continuous learning and knowledge sharing. 

The opportunity exists for learning leaders to respond to these opportunities through the use of well-researched employee development models, state-of-the art learning methods and technology, and an emphasis on “ecosystems” thinking; meaning that people, process, content, experience, measures, and analytics are aligned with business strategy and supported by technology. 

Workforce Development Technologies and Tools

Organizations could benefit greatly from using available tools and technologies to increase efficiency. eLearning Industry reports that the number of learn-tech solutions and tools has doubled since 2012, and almost 71% of global organizations are using such technologies. When implemented successfully, these tools are a great way to organize workforce learning, keep learners engaged, and allow learners to set their own pace. Below are examples of the types of technology that are currently being leveraged by the field. 

Delivery Platforms

  • Learning Management Systems (LMS). The purpose of an LMS is to deploy and track online training initiatives. The functionality of an LMS varies based on the product itself, namely by how it’s hosted (cloud vs. desktop), the type of license (open source vs. paid), specification support types (SCORM vs. LTI), user base, and other development features.  
  • Learning Experience Platforms (LXP). With a market increase growing at 50% per year, the LXP is disrupting the learn-tech industry, and organizations are beginning to choose this product over the LMS. Rather than a system for managing content, analytics, and business process, the LXP is more focused on providing a platform for content discovery, social engagement, and user experience. The system takes massive amounts of learning content and can recommend its distribution by relevant skills, popularity, and content analysis. Essentially, the LXP uses data from assessments, AI, and the open market to provide the right material to the learner who needs it the most. Compared to the LMS, the LXP offers a “Netflix-like” user interface, with the ability to build a profile, custom learning paths, and a social learning network.  
  • Adaptive Learning Platforms (ALP). While adaptive learning platforms do not necessarily streamline the competency development process,  they can significantly streamline the application and maintenance competencies once they are developed. Specifically, FMP uses adaptive learning platforms to conduct competency assessments and report on results in order to identify and monitor workforce needs. Adaptive learning platforms like the McGraw Hill Connect or Area9 Rhapsode are ideal for supporting automated and streamlined competency assessments where workforce gaps can be assessed efficiently and regularly. This technology can assign competencies and expected proficiency levels to employees, send those assessments to that employee’s supervisor, and then compute differences between target proficiency and assessed proficiency and present this data via visual dashboards.  
  • Learning Record Store (LRS). An LRS Learning Record Store is the system responsible for receiving, storing, and providing access to Learning Records. The purpose of the LRS is to collect data from a range of experiences. An LRS enables modern tracking of a wide variety of learning experiences, which might include capturing real world activities, actions completed in mobile apps or even job performance. Data from these experiences is stored in the LRS and can be shared with other systems that offer advanced reporting or support adaptive learning experiences.

A suite of enterprise technology systems will support workforce development initiatives and key features, including both career development and ongoing learning and development. The technology can work in a layered approach, with some of the underlying pieces (e.g., LMS, LRS, adaptive learning platform) being overlaid with a top-level LXP interface. The following tools and standards are the building blocks of such a technology suite.

Tools and Standards

  • Content and Video Development Tools. The learn tech market now offers a variety of tools for developing engaging courses, with interfaces and features that are easy to use and quick to create. eLearning authoring tools, such as Articulate and Captivate, are software applications that allow users to create multimedia content in a variety of file formats. Typically, the end product will be an interactive module, that can include animation, quizzes, videos, narration, and more. Video-based learning is becoming increasingly popular as bandwidth, technology, and cost have allowed for such growth. The development of this content is focused on engaging animation, immersive content, and even live features. These development tools are created with the user in mind, considering they can be learned without much expertise.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI). In the context of workforce development, AI can be considered machine learning, and it will primarily be used in systems like the LXP. AI will allow LXPs to aggregate data and curate personalized and skill-relevant content for the user. This technology can also allow for things like virtual mentoring, offering feedback and guidance to improve the learning experience, and can provide learning and development leaders advanced analytics to uncover the successes and failures of learning programs. Another applicable use of AI technology is the creation of chatbot-based learning. Chatbots allow users to interact with the system as if they were talking to a real person.  This eliminates the need to navigate LMS interfaces and courses to find information; rather, this type of training can be embedded in the workflow.  
  • Experience API (xAPI) is a new eLearning specification that allows the tracking of more detailed data from a variety of learning experiences. The data is stored in a learning record store (LRS), of which there are many open source options. Unlike with SCORM, where tracking is limited to pre-defined fields, each xAPI learning activity can specify and track whatever information it desires, as long as it follows the xAPI activity statement format. The xAPI format makes it possible to share learning and data between multiple systems.

As the future rushes towards organizations, an agile and multifaceted approach to employee development is essential. The platforms and technologies described here, combined with excellent employee development processes and talented people, create a learning ecosystem that will support the continuous learning needed to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

What learning and development technology platforms does your organization use? Share your experiences with us on LinkedIn!

Kathleen Bellis, M.A., an Engagement Manager in FMP’s Learning and Development Center of Excellence, joined FMP in September 2018.  She is passionate about helping her clients create learning organizations and loves to find new ways to contribute her expertise in learning technology and knowledge management.  Kathleen is from Fairfax, Virginia and enjoys time spent with her teenage children, reading and cooking.