Learning technologies for learning while working

‘Learning while working’ means that learning is part of the flow of work, not separate from it. Most often, an LMS is somewhere that an employee goes to complete the learning they are required to do. The LMS has evolved in such a way that it is used to push learning to employees, but with learning while working, employees need to be able to pull information.

When someone is working and they need to solve a problem, they don't need a course. They don’t even need a small piece of micro learning. Often all they need is information. The act of solving a problem and doing a task is when learning happens. This is the 70:20:10 learning model in action, and is why 70:20:10 approaches often focus on performance support.

In the past, many organisations (and LMS vendors) have seen the LMS as being a one-stop solution for all their digital learning problems. It’s a monolithic centralised platform. This approach doesn’t accept that people don’t always learn from courses and that a single tool is rarely a perfect fit.

Other industries take a different approach. In digital marketing, for instance, many organisations work with an ecosystem of technologies, or ‘stack’. These are a combination of platforms where each component has a specialised function but they all work together to function as a whole. In a modern workplace we need an ecosystem of learning technologies to support learning while working.

The term ‘ecosystem’ is now common in IT because more than one system is needed to get the work done and these systems have to work together. The term also refers to the mix of technologies used to deliver learning. At Sprout Labs we take the approach of first recognising the learning design problem and then building an ecosystem of technologies to address it. In another blog post we discussed learning design approaches needed for a learning ecosystem. Today’s post focuses on the learning technologies we use to support the ecosystem approach to learning.


The elements of a learning ecosystem


Learning technologies Main


Learning portal

In a learning ecosystem, a learning portal often becomes the central hub. The user experience for this is different to an LMS – it’s more like the rest of the web. A learner can freely navigate around and doesn’t need to enrol in a course to access learning experiences. The learning portal doesn’t have to be a new system. It can be a section of your existing intranet.

A learning portal approach is more learner centered than an LMS. What does it mean to be learner centered? It means focusing on what employees need, not what the organisation needs (which is most often compliance training). Most people want to get better at their job, and a learning portal approach helps them to do so.

A learning portal is built with small pieces of content, so an employee can grab what they need when they need it. It is a perfect platform for effective content curation, the central hub that brings together all the parts of the learning ecosystem, including feeds from social learning platforms.

This type of platform is sometimes called a ‘continuous learning platform’ to differentiate it from an LMS.

There are some risks with the learning portal style approach. Sometimes the tools that are used to build learning portals are more content driven – Wordpress, for instance – and these platforms are harder to make interactive experiences with. These is a risk that the learning experience becomes passive and relies too much on content. But if the learning portal is about accessing content as part of the flow of work, then the actual process of doing the job task becomes a learning experience. This is a perfect example of the 70:20:10 model in action.


Learning record store

If the learning portal is the learner hub, then your learning record store is your data hub. A learning record store is a system for storing learning statements using the Experience API
(xAPI) standard. xAPI is a flexible, powerful way to deal with the problem of having learning data coming from multiple places beyond just the LMS. xAPI becomes the glue that holds together all the components of your learning ecosystem; data from your learning portal, LMS and other platforms are combined together. Having your learning records separate from your LMS also means it’s easier to replace the LMS.


Learning management systems

LMSs are not going away, but they are evolving. Organisations still need to allocate and track training that employees do. But the LMS’s role as the central element in digital learning is disappearing. Often it’s not the functionality of the LMS that is the problem – they often include tools that allow them to be used for continuous learning – the problem is that they are being used only to push learning to employees.


Authoring tools

What is often forgotten in a learning ecosystem is the authoring tools. The tools are what defines the learning experience and in many case they are what is holding you back.

A business might talk about wanting their employees to be more self directed in their learning but then they build modules that force us to listen to a voiceover for fifty minutes with the navigation locked down. We need experiences that are more like the rest of the web, where the user can freely navigate and search for information on either a desktop or a mobile. This leads to content being more usable for learning while working.

As businesses move faster, learning experiences need to be designed and developed faster. Cloud-based elearning authoring platforms make it faster to design, develop, review and deliver elearning projects.


Social platforms

An important component of a modern learning ecosystem is social learning – learning with others and learning from other people. As work becomes more social, with platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams, working and learning is coming together. We don’t need to rely so much on a separate social learning platform.

This raises the question about when your LMS should be used, and when instead to rely on your social learning or collaboration platform. A rule of thumb is that if your social activities are closely linked to course material then you should use your LMS.


Virtual classrooms

When we think about social learning the first thing that comes to mind is text-based platforms like Facebook. But social learning is not just about text platforms. Virtual classrooms, webinar platforms and online meeting rooms are tools that are often overlooked for social learning. If they are designed to be interactive they provide a great way to share and build knowledge. Most facilitators could easily move their face-to-face programs online, using platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams to merge text, audio and video conferencing.


Your learning ecosystem beyond learning technologies

Learning doesn't just happen in systems that are controlled by the learning and development function of an organisation. When an organisation maps out all the places and system that employees use for learning they often find a complex map of interrelated elements. An overlooked element is the intranet – it is usually the first place that employees will look for guidance about doing a task.

The other key element in a learning ecosystem is mobile applications. We’re now seeing employees given mobile learning platforms that provide just-in-time information and guidance, or offer a place for micro learning and daily practice of tasks.

One of the powerful things about xAPI is that data from these types of platforms – that are not normally thought of as being learning platforms – can be fed into your learning record store.

If you’re interested in new learning technologies you might like to take a look at Totara Learn or Glasshouse. Totara Learn is an open, flexible, innovative learning management system that integrates self-paced and social learning. Glasshouse is a cloud-based elearning authoring system that can be used for building learning portals.