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ATD Blog

The Times They Are a -Changin’

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Regardless of how long you have been in the L&D arena, you most likely have experienced extensive changes. Most L&D functions are currently going through transformations driven by a variety of forces—the pandemic pivots, the launching of disruptive technologies, and even the latest evolution of the various skills needed in the L&D space—as roles expand beyond needs assessment and instructional design, delivery, and evaluation. If you have used the assessment component of ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model™, you are aware of the plethora of skills outlined within the model. There are three domains of capabilities—personal, professional, and organizational—and under these are 23 primary knowledge and skills (KSAs) capabilities, each of which has multiple subgroups of KSAs.

As we stand back and look at our environment from the 50,000-foot view, how does this list of expansive KSAs fit together? We work daily to create an environment where employees thrive because they have the assets and support to perform their current job with success, and they have myriad opportunities to upskill to advance into other roles and to continually develop and grow their personal capabilities.

One way to understand these varied KSAs is through the lens of the learning ecosystem. In a presentation at the 2022 Forum Minilab, Siemens stated, “A learning ecosystem is a symbiotic environment where people interact with content, technologies, and data that surround them to facilitate and deliver learning experiences based on the governance guardrails set by the organization. The resilience and survival of the ecosystem depends on the variety and diversity of the people and content in it as well as the frequency, ease, and depth of the interaction by the underlying technologies.”

According to Becky Willis, author of “A Tech Guide to Learning Ecosystems,” the learning ecosystem focus is especially important during times when innovation and creativity are needed. Using a people-first approach, the benefits include a better user experience. The more robust and dynamic the employee experience, the more usage and actual engagement with the content. This leads to greater skills, better performance, and higher retention.

Willis lays out a framework for this ecosystem, which includes various cloud-based components: management, such as a learning management system for the back end; a platform for the front end, which includes a digital learning platform with the capability to provide data and analytics; content, both internal and external, including portals, libraries, and aggregators; and point solutions to address niche requirements such as learning record stores and talent marketplaces.


Looking at the technology component of the ecosystem, L&D leaders must have the ability to identify, select, and implement the right learning and have the technologies to enable it. In the current world of on-site, virtual, and hybrid work, technology is playing a much larger role than before. However, the technology is just the first step. A digital learning strategy is critical for ensuring the success of the learning ecosystem. Willis describes how to develop this strategy and provides numerous hints and tips along the way. The basics include using a multidisciplinary team, agile methods, a proof of concept and pilot, and then a company-wide rollout. A key factor that must also be remembered is the governance of the ecosystem. Without one, you will have a series of disjointed components, which will negatively impact the user experience.

Willis emphasizes the need for an accurate and relevant needs assessment to inform the selection of the content and the delivery mechanisms regardless of whether content is curated from vendors or developed internally. She is adamant about the importance of champions for every aspect of the plan as well as a governance board to ensure communications and marketing happen. Another key factor in the ecosystem is content. As L&D progresses, instructional design is becoming less about creation and more about curation.


How does a learning ecosystem come together using the many KSAs found in the Capability Model and the structure provided by technologies and strategies? An excellent example of this is a Siemens initiative called My Growth, which is described in a TD magazine article, “Enter the Learning Zone,” by Lisa Lang. The initiative is based on a goal to create an environment where employees can thrive during changing times. One strategic priority for the company is a growth mindset, based on Carol Dweck’s research and book. To operationalize the concept that no human is limited, Siemens has embraced two capabilities to help staff innovate faster to support customers: being curious and taking initiative as part of their modern learning portfolio. My Growth is both an approach to learning and a platform for development tools and content. This approach fosters the concept of the art of possibility, which allows both the design side and user side to have tools and systems that promote reskilling, upskilling, and new skilling.

To enable this transformation, the Siemens L&D team changed the way they work. They outsourced some roles and added new ones for the internal team, such as performance consulting as a business partner, aligning with what many refer to as business learning advisors.

The times are changing—and changing rapidly. In the learning and development arena, technologies are providing huge opportunities (and risks for those who don’t adapt). But it takes more than understanding how to apply the various technologies. We must continue to advance our understanding of how the business operates; the roles we play in enabling our organizations to thrive; the foundational skills associated with learning design, development, and delivery; and whether we need to burn (get rid of what you don’t need), borrow, buy, bend (adapt existing), or build our skills. We must ensure employees have a variety of ways to learn new skills at the point of need and guarantee that we are collecting data and analyzing it to determine the impact on things such as performance, retention, movement of employees, and compliance.

How are you and your organization being change-ready?

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

1 Comment
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We have a need for new skills and the ATD Talent Development Capability Model is a great summary. The challenge once you do have the right skills on a team is trying to figure out how everything works together optimally within a learning ecosystem. The combination of talent mgmt/devel., learning, the business culture and platforms. It's an exciting time as we learn how to best develop our workforce.
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