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ATD Blog

What Open Versus Closed Ecosystems Mean for Your L&D Tech

Friday, April 29, 2022

Tech people talk a lot about whether an open or closed ecosystem is better for business. But why should learning professionals care—as long as they can get the tools they need right now?

How your systems are designed determines how well the combined elements of your learning tech stack work together (or don’t), how prepared your business is for challenges and change, and how your organization works day to day.

What’s the Difference?

An open ecosystem is a platform that freely supports and encourages integrations with other technologies, services, and platforms. A closed system is a platform that only interacts with tools that are inside or compatible with that platform. Essentially, it’s a single vendor solution from end to end.

Consider a manager with an open-door policy. This kind of manager is always ready for a new conversation and tends to use a mindshare philosophy, collaborating with co-workers to build an ideal workplace and achieve goals. These relationships take time to cultivate and maintain, but they create more diverse business ideas and opportunities. That’s an open ecosystem.

Now consider a manager who focuses best behind a closed door. This kind of manager is productive, efficient, and excels at meeting deadlines. But this person misses opportunities outside—people with new and useful skills, creative ideas from peers, and more. That’s a closed system.

Which Ecosystem Is Better?

It’s not so much a question of which is better. Instead, it’s about which type of ecosystem will help you reach your goals.


An open ecosystem can grow with your organization and connect tools you already use. As new challenges and opportunities arise, you can get access to new, innovative tools quickly and easily. You’re never locked in to any one vendor because there’s always an opportunity for integration.

“Today’s consumers are looking for the solutions that can help them grow, improve and meet business goals and evolving industry dynamics,” according to Jeff Gallino, Forbes council member. “Successful solution providers are willing to integrate and co-mingle their offerings with others to deliver this value.”

On the other hand, a closed system can provide a greater ability to resolve technical issues because everything is under one roof. And while there’s more general consistency in capabilities, tool access and growth can be limited and rigid as your organization changes. Closed system technologies may acquire new tools over time, but you probably won’t get much of a say in which tools are added.

It’s innovation and growth versus consistency. Only you can decide which is more important for your organization.


What Does History Say?

A few decades ago, BetaMax and VHS video were dominant forces in the video cassette market. BetaMax, created by Sony, was the superior technology — the tapes were smaller, the video resolution was higher and the recording capacity was larger. Yet you can probably guess by the familiarity of the VHS name, which became the format of choice for most consumers. But why?

Sony managed BetaMax video players and tapes in a closed system model. “Sony likes to control everything with all of its products, meaning you can only buy Sony stuff from Sony to go with other Sony stuff,” according to a historical rundown on the aperture blog.

On the contrary, VHS technology initially developed by JVC was not proprietary. It was easier for other vendors to mimic and cheaper to make. Over time, numerous companies entered the VHS market, which drove prices down further. As the VHS market evolved and grew, movie producers found it more profitable to release movies in VHS format for rentals. By the early 1980s, the VHS format reigned.

The willingness of VHS creators to be open and work seamlessly with other vendors proved to be a differentiator for consumers, even though the actual technology itself was slightly inferior.

When choosing a learning technology vendor, it’s important to think about how an open ecosystem or a closed ecosystem will impact the way in which your people learn. A learning technology vendor who operates on an open ecosystem can capture and track information about learning wherever it happens. They can integrate with other vendors (including competitors) and make relevant content and data insights more available and accessing them more convenient. And in many cases, it’s as easy as a single click.

Editor's note: This post originally published on the Degreed blog.

About the Author

Sean Kinney is VP of maketing strategy for Degreed.

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