habitat

My nephew is a big fan of nature. He regularly pulls out odd facts about animals I’ve never heard of. Admittedly, I’m a much better-informed auntie. Its probably because of these conversations that I’ve been paying more attention to articles about biomimicry, (taking design hints from nature to solve problems humans have). and thinking about how learning occurs in nature.

 Learning organisms and habitat

In March, I wrote about learning organisms. To summarize, in more evolved organizations, learning has pretty much taken on a life of its own. These organizations have in essence become organisms that learn, grow, and develop based on their habitat and their ability to make use of it. The more cohesive the habitat is, the more quickly learning organisms are able to react to environmental change, take calculated risks, and evolve as necessary.

More recently, as I’ve planned for a couple of Degreed Focus events, learning habitat has continued to surface as an important point. More evolved organizations react to the external environment by carefully crafting the internal habitat. Most of the things they do to create habitat fall within four major areas:

  • Consciousness. Learning organisms carefully craft messages and actions around the importance of employee development. They clearly define what it means to be developed in the organization, and they have a collective consciousness about how it will be done. Shared consciousness in an organization sets the tone for how important employee development will be taken. Leena Nair, CHRO of Unilever, makes this point with a recent tweet & LinkedIn discussion.
  • Use of work. As it turns out, no other animal in the animal kingdom, besides humans, gets classroom lessons on how to do their job. Learning most often happens in the flow of work, as recent research from Bersin and Bersin ideas from thinkers like Harold Jarche tell us. Learning organisms default first to the work for development.
  • Infrastructures. Infrastructures, including systems and processes, are the pathways by which learning organisms share information and do work. They are crucial because they can either encourage or greatly discourage progress and performance. Learning organisms are conscious of how their infrastructures, either encourage or discourage progress and performance and continuously make necessary adjustments.
  • Space. Physical and virtual space also affect how individuals learn. (I owe a conversation I had with Frank Graziano at Steelcase for sparking thinking on this topic; Read here for more.) While most L&D professionals understand the importance of the setup of a classroom, the idea of space in habitat goes beyond that. Learning organisms focus on ensuring the alignment and cohesiveness of physical and virtual spaces with work goals and employee development goals.

What habitats mean for L&D

The sole responsibility of L&D function is to ensure a skilled workforce. Hard stop. Habitat plays a large role in that. And focusing on habitat changes the job of the L&D function to a great extent. Aside from the obvious things, like a lesser focus on facilitation and content creation, establishing a deliberate learning habitat also requires several skills and capabilities that are likely unfamiliar to many L&D professionals.

Last week in Denver, around 50 L&D professionals joined together to figure out what some of those capabilities should be and how to use the idea of habitat to develop them in their L&D teams. We heard things like “ability to influence”, “marketing and communications”, “analytics and measurement,” and “virtual space design.”

We also talked about adapting more common L&D skills – facilitation, content creation, instructional design to broader tasks that help to create habitat. For example, could instructional design theory be applied to helping organizations design workflows in a way to help employees learn, and can skills that make a good facilitator be adapted to influence and build relationships with key stakeholders?

As we focus on habitats and their importance for the learning organization in the coming months, we’re going to continue to pick the brains of smart people. We want to find out not just what skills they need, but how they’re developing them.

Incidentally, this concept was presented at two Degreed Focus workshops on Learning Habitats and L&D capabilities in Denver and Dallas. You can access the materials used in this Degreed pathway.

This post, titled “Bees, Trees, Termites, Learning Habitats, and L&D Capabilities” was originally featured on the RedThread blog.

A single, integrated, all-in-one technology ecosystem may work for some organizations sometimes, but it won’t work for everyone all the time. Learning is already too fragmented, and it’s only getting more diverse and complex as new ways to learn like video, chatbots and augmented reality become mainstream.

So to future-proof their investments, innovative L&D leaders are shifting to more flexible ecosystems – dynamic networks of tools, content, platforms that work together and share data to provide workers with on-demand access to all kinds of learning, performance, and career development.

bubbles

These ecosystems are all designed differently, to fit each organization’s unique business, operations, infrastructure, and culture needs. The ones we see most often share some common features and functions:

Open: They give people access to resources from inside and outside the organization, anywhere they need, anytime they want
Diverse: They provide a diverse mix of macro-learning (like live and online courses) and micro-learning (like articles, videos, and search)
Social: They enable people to learn with, and from, their peers, managers, and mentors, as well as from external experts
Personalized: They are personalized, targeting each workers’ specific roles, career paths, and interests, as well as their skill-sets
Insights: They track and analyze learning wherever it happens — in classrooms, on computers, on tablets and smartphones, and in real life
Career-long: They give people credit for informal as well as formal learning, and they allow workers to take their data with them through their careers

The challenge is, building an always-on learning environment requires a range of tools, content, and systems. It can get complicated, and it takes work. There are literally hundreds of solutions to choose from…and a lot of them look and sound alike. Plus, they need to fit in with (or replace) your existing processes and legacy infrastructure. So where do you even start?

One place to start is by joining us at Degreed LENS! At the session, The Robots are Here: How to Navigate Next-Gen Learning Technology, Caterpillar, Mastercard and Airbnb will dive into how each organization is adapting and evolving their strategy and ecosystems to confront the digital disruption of L&D.

Tickets are selling out fast. Make sure to save your seat now.

Spending a lot of time with organizations, at conferences, and reading industry research and blogs, I see the phrases “out of sync” and “learning revolution” being thrown around a lot in reference to the current state of corporate learning. There might be some truth to those words – only 18% told Degreed they would recommend their employers’ training and development opportunities.

But a more accurate statement is that there is a massive shift happening in the way people are learning in their jobs.

learninginsights1

The fact is, most workers do spend time learning every week, and they progress every day, in all kinds of ways – not just sometimes, in courses or classrooms. This means that the L&D environment should enable self-directed development as well as formal training – and it should do that through both micro and macro-learning. Equally as important, we as L&D leaders, have to make the vast array of learning content and experiences more meaningful by curating the right resources and tools, providing context, and by engineering useful connections and interactions.

We call this a learning ecosystem. We are in an exciting time where technology, the gig economy, the vast demographics of our workforce have given us the opportunity to rethink our approach and the possibilities! So what does a culture of continuous learning that includes formal and informal, job training and career development, L&D and self-service, look like?

eco

You need a comprehensive ecosystem of systems and tools that include the following capabilities:

  • curate many different types of content
  • Allow learners to explore indefinitely
  • Aggregate data from all over the organization without manual work into one tool
  • Dashboards to monitor activity deeper than completions
  • Analysis without spreadsheets or data scientist

Perhaps most importantly, embrace APIs, and standards compliance using Tin Can/Experience to ensure that all of your tools will plug in together.

There is also no one-size-fits-all for tools, but platforms like Degreed and Bridge help facilitate L&D’s expanding requirements through their support of required, recommended and self-directed talent development, allowing organizations to meet the needs of a changing workforce.

Learning and development opportunities are a critical factor in making employee engagement (and more importantly, performance) happen. Today, people expect utility, relevance, and personalization, and you create that through a comprehensive learning ecosystem.

Want to know more about the Degreed and Bridge ecosystem? Check out the PR on their new integration.

Co-authors: Sarah Danzl – Communications & Content Marketing, Degreed & Katie Bradford – Director of Platform & Partner Marketing, Instructure

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