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.

In the midst of the learning transformation happening today, we are seeing a new approach to bringing together technology, access to content and people, and dynamic user experiences that are shaped by human dynamics.  These learning ecosystems are supporting the need to be continually learning, filtering in the overwhelm of access to massive amounts of content, and bringing together connections amongst networks that enable learners to share, mentor and develop lifelong skills.

These learning ecosystems of today’s hyper-connected and networked world incorporate the best of all aspects that the latest technologies and support resources can deliver. They also strive to be simple to access, completely intuitive for the end user and personalized.  Although the concept may seem easy to explain, in reality, it certainly isn’t simple to determine the right foundation with the perfect mix of technologies and support resources needed to make it deliver on all expectations.

Building sustaining learning ecosystems requires a shift in mindsets.  It is critical to have an experimental mindset in creating a learning ecosystem in order to ensure it is future proof.  Also having a learner-driven, growth mindset in establishing the foundation based on the principles of human dynamics solidifies that it is grounded and strong enough to withstand the tumultuous changes yet to come. If it is built based on the learner needs, the human dynamics drive the design, then it becomes more than just the latest fad in a grouping of the hottest technologies but rather it becomes a foundational ecosystem that can evolve with the changing systems that operate it and drive the adoption and engagement anticipated.

As Degreed states in it’s Buyer’s Guide to the Near Future of Learning Technology, “Change is fast and increasingly unpredictable, making it a challenge for individuals and organizations to keep pace with the skills required to solve today’s problems.  It’s no longer enough to simply be competent on the job.  Everyone needs to keep on learning – indefinitely .”

What impacts the success and fortitude of learning ecosystems is the foundation it arises from.  Human dynamics, the study of how people work as a whole system – mentally, physically, and emotionally can spur that foundational story behind what fuels an ecosystem.  It becomes the energy source for the “why” and the architecture in building an ideal and sustaining learning ecosystem.  When built from an innovative, adaptable and connected foundation rooted in human dynamics, a learning ecosystem can evolve and withstand the unpredictability of the shifts that rock foundations.

Not sure what to put in your ecosystem? Stop by Degreed booth 3325 at the HR Technology conference. If you’re not at HR Tech, check out the Degreed website to create your own lifelong learning transcript.

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