ATD Blog

Ask Better Questions to Build a Better Learning Ecosystem

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

It is no secret that the right learning ecosystem can support organizational success. However, many teams struggle to achieve the desired results with their chosen e-learning systems. The key problem often is not the tool that was used but its implementation.

Selecting the best learning management system (LMS) in the market won’t help your organization reach its goals if cultural and habitual problems still exist. These can’t be fixed with a single simple solution. A good LMS implementation process that is grounded in asking the right questions, however, can improve how your organization’s learning ecosystem is built, which will also result in better learning outcomes.

How Asking the Right Questions Can Help

Many organizations fail to develop the right learning ecosystems because they try to use tools and implement processes based on faulty assumptions. This might occur because those leading the project failed to communicate with users and understand the root issues within the current system. In other cases, it occurs because they asked the wrong questions at the beginning of the project.

Asking the right questions at the start can help project leaders implement a better learning ecosystem rather than add a new tool into a system with existing issues.

Here are a few questions you should ask when implementing an LMS.

1) What Do You Really Need?
Understanding the needs of the organization is the most important step for improving the learning ecosystem. The team planning the implementation must think about where current gaps are and what the organization needs to meet the desired goals. This question should be asked from the perspective of organizational change, not finding the right tool (that comes later).


2) Who Are My Stakeholders?
Every project has stakeholders with needs that must be addressed to achieve success. Create a list of relevant stakeholders including executives, managers, teams, and more. Then, rank them to better understand how much of the big picture each stakeholder needs to be involved in. Some must be considered in the fundamental planning of the project. Others only need to be considered for the details.

3) What Are the Organizational Barriers to Success?
All organizations have some problems that cause barriers to success for their e-learning systems. However, teams often are hesitant to truly name them. It is important to create an environment in which problems can be identified and discussed candidly. This can take some practice but will support your organization’s long-term success organization.

4) How Are Users Learning Right Now?
Answering this question should be a matter of analyzing the official channels and the reality of how users learn. For example, you may have resources available for your organization that people just aren’t using. Instead, they may be primarily learning from outside resources or informal channels within the organization. Analyzing and understanding which channels currently exist, which ones are most effective, and which ones are not is essential for implementing an effective learning ecosystem.

5) What Existing Systems Do We Need to Integrate With?
The learning ecosystem and e-learning tools are not independent from the rest of the organization. They may need to integrate with other existing systems. For example, your LMS may integrate with an identity management (IdM) system or a human resources information system (HRIS). It is important for the project leaders to fully understand what the integration options are and how realistic integration is (just because it works in theory does not mean it will work in practice).


6) What Resources Do You Have?
It may be possible to work with a lot of existing resources. As mentioned above, changing the tool will not be some sort of silver bullet that fixes everything. It is essential to understand what current resources (technological, personnel, financial and more) are available to the project. These can then be planned for an effective change management strategy.

Key Elements of a Learning Ecosystem

After understanding the answers to the above questions, it is time to start selecting services. Every organization’s learning ecosystem will be unique. However, there are a few key elements that exist in most.

  • Learning Management System: This central piece of software helps with managing the learning resources. It should not, however, be viewed as a comprehensive solution. Instead, it should be used as a unifier to bring other “best of breed” elements into the ecosystem.
  • Learning Record Store: This is a data store that receives, stores, and provides access to information about learning records. It works with xAPI statements to standardize how each piece of the ecosystem can talk to the others.
  • Learning Experience Platform: This is a user experience system that helps deliver the right content to the right users at the right time. It can help with unifying multiple sources of content.

You can bring these all together by understanding the questions listed above and how they relate to user stories. It is also important to do a deep dive into the features and functionality of any potential tools to see how they can be configured or expanded upon to diversify your learning efforts. By bringing together these insights along with serious buy-in from the organization, you can lead a successful learning ecosystem change/implementation project.

Ready to Build a Better Learning Ecosystem?

An LMS provider that takes a total approach to e-learning like eThink can help you design not just a better learning management system but a better learning ecosystem for your organization. To learn more, check out our webinar with ATD on building a better learning ecosystem.

About the Author

Jeremy Schweitzer has more than 12 years' experience in instructional design and professional development. At Iowa State University he was a learning technology coordinator for continuing education programs and consulted on learning management system design and implementation for a variety of state agencies and interdisciplinary projects.

Schweitzer joined eThink in 2016. In his current role, he works with new clients to fully understand their unique needs to design client-driven solutions. He has a B.S. in English and an M.S. in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State University.

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