The Rise of Learning Tech Ecosystems

October 15th, 2019

Ten years ago, the most complex questions learning leaders faced about their learning technology was which LMS they were going to use and how much it was going to cost. That isn’t true today. Now, learning leaders are faced with both higher expectations and unprecedented choice when it comes to creating a learning environment. Why?

Expectations have increased

Expectations of L&D functions have increased. Whereas they were once only responsible for creating and disseminating training, organizations and individuals now expect more.

Organizations need results.

Industries are constantly being disrupted, causing organizations to rethink both their products and their business models in order to properly compete. This has affected not only how organizations compete, but if they compete at all: nearly 9 of 10 Fortune 500 companies in 1955 are gone, merged, or contracted, demonstrating the market disruption and churning in the last 6 decades.1

Likewise, organizations face changes internally. They have flatter structures, greater connectivity, increased collaboration, and thinner organization walls (e.g., gig economy workers). More work is done in teams, roles are increasingly more flexible, and there are fewer concrete career paths. As structures and job requirements change to help the organization compete, L&D is forced to rethink development  solutions – customizing them to specific challenges and ways of doing things their organizations face.

As structures and job requirements change to help the organization compete, L&D is forced to rethink development solutions.

The good news is that the C-Suite seems to be doing what they can to enable the L&D function. As of 2019, only 27% of L&D leaders state “limited budget” as a top challenge. Additionally, 82% of L&D leaders report that their leadership actively supports learning programs.2

It’s getting easier: In 2019, only 27% of L&D leaders state “limited budget” as a top challenge, and 82% of L&D leaders report that their leadership actively supports learning programs.

Employees want better experiences.

We have talked to nary a learning leader or vendor that is not aware of the expectations employees have of their organizations for learning and growth. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report3,

  • 68% of employees prefer to learn at work
  • 58% of employees prefer to learn at their own pace
  • 49% of employees prefer to lear at the point of need

Whereas the organization and L&D function used to have more control over who was taught what when, today, employees have essentially taken the reins. They want more control over how, what, and when they learn, and technology has enabled them to do so.

Organizations have a lot of choice.

Learning leaders also have more choices than ever before. Gone are the days when L&D functions vetted and chose one LMS to serve the entire organization. They are now choosing from a wide variety of technological solutions, and the many vendors that offer those solutions.

How much choice do they have? We keep a fairly close eye on the learning technology landscape. Ten years ago, there were roughly 60 players in the market (that still exist today). Today, we have a vetted list of over 200 vendors, with another 40 on our list to talk to. That’s a lot of choice.


To make it even more complicated, it’s more difficult to put vendors in boxes. Whereas offerings used to fall neatly in the LMS or Microlearning or Coaching categories, new technologies span many categories, making it harder for learning leaders to ensure the right solution without doubling up unnecessarily.

These expectations and choice have resulted in a sort of panic when it comes to the technology that enables employees to learn. Many leaders go after the new and shiny; many shy away from choices for fear of making the wrong ones; and many have failed to acknowledge the changes at all, instead opting for the traditional one-platform system with little deviation or addition.

For this research, we interviewed over 30 very thoughtful learning leaders about their learning tech ecosystems. They were incredibly generous with their time and candor, helping us to understand not only the challenges they face in choosing and implementing technologies, but their best ideas for doing it better.

What did we do with that information? We wrote a report. In it, we outline the findings of those 30+ interview and provide examples of real-life learning tech ecosystems and get their thoughts on how they should think about ecosystems, including their  philosophy, structure, sustainability, and evolution.

To access the report, click here.

Heather Gilmartin Adams


  1. Fortune 500 firms, 1955 v. 2016: Only 12% remain, thanks to the creative destruction that fuels economic prosperity. Mark J Perry, Carpe Diem.
  2. 2019 Workplace Learning Report,” LinkedIn Learning, 2019
  3. 2018 Workplace Learning Report,” LinkedIn Learning, 2018