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ATD Blog

Reimagine the Role of L&D in the Workplace

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

L&D is charged with making sure employees have the knowledge and skills they need to keep pace with the never-ending stream of new processes, regulations, products, and technologies. The Modern Learning Ecosystem outlines a practical approach for navigating nonstop workplace change. Inspired by decades of operations and talent development experience with the world’s most dynamic companies, learning and enablement expert JD Dillon challenges the traditional L&D mindset with a tried-and-true framework that makes right-fit support a meaningful part of the everyday workflow. In this interview, Dillon offers some insights about the book.

You’ve created lots of short-form content—articles, blog posts, presentations, podcasts—during your L&D career. Why did you decide to go long-form with The Modern Learning Ecosystem right now?

That’s what this book is all about—putting the pieces together. We often talk about workplace learning in small pockets. We have conversations about hot topics like virtual reality (VR), measurement, and mobile and social trends. But we rarely discuss how various practices and tactics fit together to form a consistent, scalable, impactful experience for employees.

Today, it’s more difficult than ever to make time for these strategic conversations as L&D struggles to keep pace with the changing workplace. I curated insights from more than 20 years of experience working in operations and talent development with companies like Disney and Kaplan to create the Modern Learning Ecosystem (MLE) Framework. The book explains how the framework brings together everything we can do in L&D to help people improve their performance in a realistic and achievable way—for any team, regardless of size or budget.

You bookended the book with this statement: “An organization can only transform as fast as its people can learn.” Why does this statement play such an important role in framing the future direction of L&D?

Strategy is often created in boardrooms and Zoom calls—often without input from L&D. Therefore, it’s common to find disconnects between corporate perception and frontline reality. The best strategy will fail if people are unable (or unwilling) to execute it. Change is persistent and scary. If a business hopes to remain competitive and overcome disruption, it must prioritize learning within its strategies. Otherwise, plans will fall flat when people lack the awareness, knowledge, and skills to make the plans a reality.

While learning must be prioritized alongside the traditional revenue-generating business functions, L&D should not try to sell learning to stakeholders. Instead, L&D must rebrand. We must become the team that’s ready, willing, and able to help our partners navigate disruption and build competent and capable frontline teams. Learning is just one of the ways we can do that.

The term “ecosystem” is used more and more as it relates to L&D strategy. What does it mean to apply an ecosystem mindset to workplace learning?

Learning is bigger than L&D. We don’t own learning at work, and we’re certainly not the only game in town helping people develop knowledge and skills. Therefore, L&D professionals must expand their mindsets beyond familiar tools and tactics. The learning ecosystem includes a range of tools, tactics, and technologies that help people do their jobs effectively—from shared knowledge systems and collaboration tools to coaching conversations and educational benefit programs.

Applying an ecosystem mindset means letting go of our ownership mentality. It means shifting the strategic focus of L&D from creation to connection so we can use a wider variety of tools to bring together people who know (experts, creators, and stakeholders) with people who need (new hires, novices, and promoted employees). L&D may not own the entire ecosystem, but we can strengthen it through the strategic application of right-fit tools, tactics, and technology.


How does the MLE Framework change the way L&D solves problems?

The framework makes training a last resort. Every L&D professional has experienced the nonstop parade of training requests from stakeholders across the organization. L&D only has so much time and so many resources. As a result, we must pick and choose our projects. This means only a select few employees get access to meaningful learning and support.

With the MLE Framework, every conversation starts in the same place: far away from training. Instead, L&D professionals using the framework probe the full scope of the learning ecosystem to find right-fit solutions. We start by digging into on-demand access to resources, performance support, practice activities, and coaching. The bulk of the framework is made up of support resources developed outside of (but in collaboration with) L&D. We only develop structured training, like classroom sessions or e-learning modules, when it’s the right solution to the problem.

By applying the MLE Framework to make strategic solution decisions, L&D teams have reduced formal training requests by up to 50 percent while making sure every employee has access to support resources within the flow of work.

What role should technology play in making knowledge and skill development a priority for every employee?

Consumer tech changes how we live our lives every few years. We no longer must ask for directions. We can answer any question that pops into our minds. We can keep up with a world that’s big, overwhelming, and always changing. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for workplace technology, which often lags the tools we use at home every day. You can use your smartphone to find out how old Ted Danson is, but you can’t find the latest vacation policy on your corporate intranet.

L&D technology is part of this workplace ecosystem. Therefore, L&D must help improve the digital work experience by selecting and applying tools that fit the needs of each employee persona. We must make smart, forward-thinking tech investments that make learning and support available within the workflow. L&D must move beyond technology as a storage locker for courses and take advantage of the latest innovations, including personalized, contextual, and immersive experiences. Right-fit tech is essential to providing equitable development opportunities for every worker, regardless of when, where, or how they do their jobs.

L&D is usually crunched for time and resources. How can L&D begin building a modern learning ecosystem while continuing to meet timely stakeholder needs?

Time is the biggest barrier to workplace learning. Employees have limited time to focus on development, and L&D has limited time to address each performance challenge. The MLE Framework is a time machine for L&D. It’s not a “drive 88 mph and head back to 1955” kind of time machine, but it does enable employees and L&D professionals to effectively use their limited time.

The framework is iterative by design. It doesn’t require L&D to sell a grand new vision of how they do what they do. Instead, it offers suggestions for augmenting traditional solutions to make learning more available and impactful within the everyday workflow. Rather than trying to convince stakeholders with a traditional mindset to buy in to an unfamiliar philosophy, L&D can influence people to think differently by showing how things work in practice. Classroom sessions and e-learning modules are augmented with modern tactics, such as reinforcement and performance support. Over time, L&D can prove the value of an evolved approach and fully shift their problem-solving process. That said, L&D must still dedicate resources to exploring new tactics and upskill team members, but this can happen over time through ongoing iteration.


This book has the most Batman references of any L&D publication. How can L&D pros take inspiration from the caped crusader to advance their practices?

You will have to buy the book to find out how Batman, Wile E. Coyote, and Kim Possible are helping L&D teams around the world architect future-focused, disruption-ready workplace learning functions.

About the Author

JD Dillon is chief learning architect at Axonify. He became a learning and performance expert more than two decades ago working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan, and AMC. As a respected author and speaker in the professional community, JD continues to apply his passion for helping people around the world do their best work every day.

JD is also the founder of LearnGeek, an insights and advisory practice, through which he publishes a variety of content and advises organizations on their learning, performance, and technology strategies. He graduated from the University of Central Florida with degrees in communications and marketing. He also has an MBA from Kaplan University. You can find JD riding his Peloton, refusing to stand in line for rides at theme parks in Orlando, Florida, or online at

About ATD and ATD Press

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in organizations. ATD’s members come from more than 120 countries and work in public and private organizations in every industry sector. ATD Press publications are written by industry thought leaders and offer anyone who works with adult learners the best practices, academic theory, and guidance necessary to move the profession forward. For more information, visit

The Modern Learning Ecosystem
ISBN: 9781953946386 | 260 Pages | Paperback

To order books from ATD Press, call 800.628.2783.

To schedule an interview with JD Dillon, please contact Kay Hechler, ATD Press senior marketing manager, at [email protected] or 703.683.8178.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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