29 August 2019

Learning Tech Ecosystem: Create it Intentionally

Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst


  • Good ecosystems are intentional – particularly learning tech ecosystems.
  • This infographic summarizes the four main areas leaders should pay attention to when implementing or modifiying their learning tech ecosystem.

As it turns out, good learning tech ecosystems don't just happen; they need to be thoughtfully created. We recently interviewed over 30 learning leaders and got the lowdown on their tech ecosystems, their philosophies, and their strategies. Out of those conversations, four major themes emerged.

As always, if you have thoughts, please share in the comments section below!

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.


  1. Roz Tsai

    This is excellent and timely work, Dani. We have a global cross-functional learning technology roadmap team at ECOLAB addressing this exact issue – to harmonize our globally distributed learning technology ecosystem, streamline user experience, and reduce total cost of ownership.

    • Dani Johnson

      Thank you Roz! Stay tuned for our report next week. Also, good to hear from you 🙂 I hope all is well!

  2. Matthew Daniel

    Hey Dani! A couple of thoughts on the above (take or leave – as you all have described it, Learning Tech is the wild wild west these days, so including it all is so very challenging and we all have opinions). On the first infographic, I think you might be missing "gaming" separate from gamification (think mLevel). Also, do you put tools like Mobile Coach in microlearning? Or is there an additional category for reinforcement (chatbot, text, etc.)?

    On "think sustainability," I'd definitely find a way to include use cases and usability testing. I know not many organizations are taking this approach, but after watching so many customers pursue systems on requirements alone without seeing how users "feel" through the experience, it's become a cornerstone of my RFI/RFP approach – give the vendors robust use cases and watch how they would solve that business problem given their own understanding of their platform. Also, while it's not the standard now, I'm trying to have all my customers have their users do usability testing in the platform before selection. No platform is perfect, but better to know your change mgmt efforts up front! Also, the best time to push our vendors for better experiences is during the procurement cycle.

    On "Pure Ecosystem," I wouldn't say that those organizations are usually high tolerance for risk. Most of the organizations with that kind of ecosystem aren't okay with lots of risk, but they are okay with decentralized communications, differentiated experiences for their varied workforce, and heavy hand-holding to get users to the right place for what's needed. They're also not necessarily "employee-driven." Their systems are often a reflection of a fractured L&D organization. I guess in summary, there's the intentional ecosystem (more like what I think you guys are covering) and the de facto ecosystem that's usually fractured but tied together.

    Thanks again for all of your work in this space!

    • Dani Johnson

      Thanks for the thoughts, Matthew!

  3. Thomas Harrell

    This article reminds me of comments I made in a written interview last year https://tinyurl.com/y3o67xbz. I've only called it a "learning ecosystem" definitely tech enabled in my vision of it for our company. My thought process was pretty straightforward "There's tons of learning happening (think self-directed learning) in my company. How do I capture that learning?"

    In other words what I've been thinking about is how can I cobble together (I have YET to see one vendor in the learning tech space make this available via a single product/service offering) a system that "records" when a team member takes time to watch a TED Talk or read a sales blog article or a white paper on the hottest tech in our industry.

    Save it to the employee's "learning portfolio or record".

    And along the way give the employee easy access to the LMS, an LXP, MOOC (or whatever). And make it "feel seamless" to the employee. By the way with the baked-in goodies like gamification, social learning, deliberate practice and it's easy to use for the employee's manager. So now the manager is empowered will she sits with her employee to have their usual chat & check-in because she can say "Hey, I've noticed you've been reading a good deal on the hottest parts from Supplier X. Would you be interested in becoming certified on their product catalog?" ….

    Or some variation of this scenario. You get the idea.

    • Brian Hewitt

      Thomas, the questions you're asking and the needs you're describing are exactly why we are partnering with Degreed. I really like that their platform gives us a way to provide a somewhat central entry point into pretty much any formal and informal company sanctioned learning assets that may be in disparate systems and both internally developed or 3rd party while also giving people the ability to go a step beyond what we curate if they want to look at every asset publicly available through the Degreed external link. The even bigger win for me, that the platform also provides our people with a mechanism of adding in any and all other self directed (and even non-work related) learning records. What I am hoping is that by empowering them to keep track of all of their learning through automation and self reporting, we will have a much more comprehensive understanding of the skills of our people, their learning preferences, and hidden talents that we may also be able to leverage.

      • Thomas Harrell

        Brian, I love the back-end idea of "knowing your teams' deeper talents & skills" to discover how those may be leveraged to further help the company grow. When I first Googled 'learning ecosystem' nearly 4 years ago few results popped up. Now the idea is more prominent and more education tech vendors are entering the space. For me, Degreed is definitely a pioneer. I have spoken with several of their reps over the years but my org still isn't quite ready to take on something like this. But, I'm remaining steadfast in our future state where a system like Degreed absolutely makes sense.


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