What is an eLearning ecosystem?
Online training and performance support have grown well beyond the early days when eLearning consisted almost exclusively of LMS-based SCORM courses. It is now common to talk of an “eLearning ecosystem” that comprises an LMS and LMS-based resources, including SCORM courses — and a whole lot more. Online training, learning, and support resources cover many media and modalities, span multiple training delivery platforms and formats, and provide a wealth of options for learners.
Bringing the array of digital (and analog) learning and training options into a coherent ecosystem takes strategy and planning, though. Without that, an organization may have a broad variety of courses, references, performance support (as job aids), and other tools to offer their learners — but they will lack a coherent training strategy with measurable goals, and this gaping hole will impact their training outcomes. Poorly.
Components of an eLearning ecosystem
A coherent eLearning ecosystem starts with learning and performance goals and encompasses training materials, resources and support materials, and libraries of content. The ecosystem also includes technologies for delivering and using these resources, as well as a thoughtfully defined mechanism for measuring progress and evaluating the effectiveness of training efforts.
‘eLearning content’ means many things...
The term “eLearning” has, for many years, been used broadly to refer to any and all kinds of digital training. But, as the number and variety of online training options has mushroomed, that term’s usage has narrowed. Now, many industry professionals mean SCORM courses when they talk about eLearning courses.
These courses include text content along with pictures or graphics; they might also use embedded videos and interactive activities or knowledge checks, quizzes, and perhaps a “final exam.” An eLearning module might also include one or more quizzes and a final “exam” to measure learners’ ability to correctly remember what they have just covered in the module.
Most eLearning modules are designed to be accessed using an LMS. These modules usually conform to the SCORM standard for shareable eLearning content, which enables them to work with any SCORM-compliant LMS platform.
These courses are an ideal way to deliver training when training administrators or learners’ managers need to verify completion — compliance or safety training, for example.
But online training can take any of a number of formats and delivery approaches. Depending on your organization's learning culture and training performance targets, you might choose to use some or all of the formats described in the following sections as part of your eLearning ecosystem.
Short, narrowly focused training that can teach core concepts, prepare learners for in-depth training, review material they covered in a longer course, or teach complex topics in bite-sized chunks. Microlearning is flexible enough to adapt to different delivery media and a variety of learner environments — it is often mobile-first or mobile-friendly, enabling workers to use their favorite digital devices to complete training during breaks or commutes. Adaptive training delivery pairs microlearning with targeted delivery. Each learner receives specific content based on their learning goals, past training performance, and progress.
Simulations, scenario-based training, and immersive training
Scenario-based training enables learners to practice a skill, a process, or a response to a potential scenario, over and over again, in a safe and risk-free environment. Whether the topic is delivering unwelcome news to an employee, delivering effective feedback, serving an angry customer, coping with huge crowds on a major retail holiday, or practicing the skills to clean up a spill or safely operate a forklift, scenarios and simulations can provide the practice that builds skills and confidence.
Social and collaborative learning
Social by nature, humans seek to learn with and from their peers and colleagues. In the corporate training arena, opportunities for social and collaborative learning are essential. These might arise organically and be learner-driven and informal. In some organizations, social and collaborative learning also occurs more formally, in meetings arranged by colleagues, managers, or learning and development professionals. Integrating this often informal learning into an eLearning ecosystem means tracking it and recording the results and impacts.
Gamification or gamified learning adds game elements, such as competition, rules, goals, and rewards to online training. As part of an eLearning ecosystem, adding gamification might be intended to boost learner engagement and motivation to complete training and to review training content, thereby building long-term retention while also earning points, badges, or rewards.
Virtual classroom instruction
Increasingly, instructor-led training occurs online, using a videoconferencing or virtual classroom platform. Integrating this platform into your eLearning ecosystem makes it easy to capture training progress and results, as well as ensure that learners and instructors receive announcements and course updates, are easily able to share materials and resources or participate in discussions, and more.
Creating eLearning courses & other digital training
Organizations obtain content for their online training ecosystems in a number of ways. They might purchase it from a third-party vendor, for example; there are many outstanding content libraries on common business topics and skills, ranging from using tools like Adobe Creative Suite to training managers in harassment prevention.
But many organizations also need custom content, whether to teach their employees to use software and tools in ways that are tailored to their unique business needs, to cover proprietary and industry-specific skills and knowledge, or to teach sales and support personnel about their products and services.
An organization might choose to hire an eLearning content vendor or creation expert to assist with eLearning content creation, or they could decide to create their own content.
Some LMS and microlearning platforms include integrated authoring tools, while others work easily with common and popular authoring tool software packages, such as Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate. These tools can be used to generate SCORM-compliant eLearning courses as well as other types of online training.
eLearning delivery methods & platforms
Regardless of its format, eLearning content must be delivered to learners. This requires one or more platforms that are easy for learners to use — not only to access the training content but also to find out what training is available, to enroll in training, to identify and complete any prerequisites, to complete any additional testing or certification requirements, and more.
Some organizations have the learning and development team or learners’ managers assign training and enroll learners; others allow learners to choose their own training. Most organizations, though, use some combination of required and self-directed learning, so it’s a good idea to create a robust eLearning ecosystem that supports a range of options.
Your delivery system might include a Learning Management System or LMS, to host, deliver, and manage a broad range of online training content, including eLearning courses, curated content, discussion boards, collaborative learning platforms, and knowledge bases.
The LMS might integrate easily with other delivery platforms, such as a microlearning platform or a virtual classroom platform, enabling training administrators to track learners’ participation and progress in many types of online training.
Designing your eLearning ecosystem
The specific makeup of your organization’s eLearning ecosystem is based on your unique combination of learning environment and goals and your learner population, including the number of learners and the types and amounts of training they will need.
And your training strategy and needs are probably not static: Your organization may grow, add services, products, or learners; it might need to adjust to new regulations or certification requirements which require one-time or ongoing training. Your learners might need tools that provide them with performance support or training within their workflow — in addition to in-depth training via eLearning or virtual instructor-led training, for example. You might decide to add a long-term knowledge retention strategy to your training plan, requiring an additional type of online training content and, possibly, delivery.
When creating an eLearning ecosystem, consider your present needs as well as short-term future needs that are known — and anticipated longer-term goals. A wise step is choosing a platform vendor or vendors with the ability to adjust to and accommodate your changing needs.
A one-stop shop for your eLearning ecosystem needs
Consider hiring a single provider that can meet your eLearning ecosystem needs. Look for providers with a complete product suite, from a microlearning platform to an LMS that integrates easily with the rest of your ecosystem.
Along with the technology that brings your ecosystem to life, consider your eLearning content creation processes or how your provider may offer support in times of need. Will you be creating your eLearning courses, or will you need your selected vendor to take your content drafts and turn them into engaging courses? Can your provider assist with training platform administrative tasks? What will occur when you have a question about your selected vendor's products or services? Find all this out and more before you enter a partnership with an online training provider, especially if you rely on them to assist with more than one part of your eLearning ecosystem.
If you're interested, contact our eLearning experts to discuss all these details and more, whether you're looking to build, supplement, or replace any part of your eLearning ecosystem to help you meet your training challenges.