Make a Roadmap for Your Learning Data Ecosystem

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Learning and development teams in 2024 will be guiding their organizations in the evolution of their learning and data ecosystems. With more advanced products and services, generative artificial intelligence, and improved data and analytics capabilities, professionals will be increasingly able to meet the learning and performance priorities set by their organizations.

And yet at the same time, many organizations have a myriad of tools and services in their learning data ecosystem, each with their own licensing timeline and product road maps. Charting a course for updating the ecosystem to meet new needs can be challenging! In this post, I’ll lay out some ways in which we’ve supported our clients in creating their own learning ecosystem roadmap.

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Build the Team

Identify the key stakeholders and a project sponsor for the work ahead. You may even want to look beyond your own department and include others that create learning for the same audiences, along with IT and procurement or other internal support functions. This team will help you in your analysis as well as your change management approach.

Create an Inventory of Existing Tools

Start by creating a list or map of the tools that are currently in use. This includes everything from authoring tools to delivery platforms to analytics tools and the project management systems that keep it all moving. Be sure to collect and include services and tools that are in use by learning and development teams, human resources and organizational development teams, compliance, manufacturing, IT, and sales, effectively any organization that may create and serve up its own learning-related content.

As you do this, you may find that there is duplication, gaps, or that different teams in the organization use different tools for the same purposes. You may also find what we call “islands”: tools that exist completely disconnected from the rest of the data ecosystem. You may even find homegrown tools that were created to serve a need. Even if you stop here, this is often quite enlightening.

Some questions you may ask yourself at this stage include:

  • What function does this serve in the ecosystem: curation, content development, delivery/deployment, cataloging, analysis, etc.?
  • What did the people who use the tool feel about it?
  • What data standard or standards does this product use?
  • What manual and automated connections to other tools does it have? And which do we use?
  • What are the licensing terms and timelines?

Connect to Organizational Strategy

Take a look at the organization’s top 3-7 priorities for the coming year(s) and how L&D, and in particular the learning technology ecosystem, can support them. Sometimes it’s quite clear how the learning organization can support these organizational strategies. And sometimes it’s a little bit vague and you need to make the connection. Here are three quick approaches to this, depending on the nature of the organizational priority:

  • A priority directly speaks to growing people’s capacity. In some cases, the organizational priority actually is to develop and grow people’s capacity. It’s often quite clear how L&D and the learning technology ecosystem can support this.
  • A priority addresses operational or business excellence. When the organization’s priority focuses on decreasing cost, improving service, or improving product, the L&D organization builds the skills of the people who will take this on. Sometimes these are the direct skills in question, and sometimes these are the skills of the leaders who will make these changes happen.
  • A priority addresses market-facing excellence such as customer service or brand image. In this case, the L&D organization can take on and model some of the very same customer-facing approaches that the business takes when focusing on their own internal customers.

 

Once you have identified how L&D connects to organizational strategy, you can then begin to identify the capabilities of the learning technology ecosystem that will be called upon to meet these needs. By focusing on the capabilities of the systems, and not the systems themselves yet, you’re much better able to identify a holistic approach to delivering on capabilities across a suite of software tools. Some examples of capabilities include:

  • Personalization
  • Interoperability
  • Natural language processing
  • Data-driven & analytics tools
  • Translation
  • Gamification
  • Integration with business systems
  • Adaptive learning
  • Mobile access
  • Accessibility
  • E-commerce
  • Social learning
  • Spaced learning
  • Scalability

Prioritize Needed Capabilities

Once you identify the capabilities that your learning data ecosystem will need, you can then identify a desired future state and assess your current tools and platforms for their ability to meet your needs. You may find that you have anywhere from 5 to 12 capabilities and that that is far too many to take on all at once. In this case, prioritizing the capabilities and how fast you need to progress on them will help you guide your efforts toward implementation. We like to take a sit, crawl, walk, run approach to this.

 

Data Ecosystem graphic

Review Ecosystem Components for Opportunities

Now you are ready to review the various components of your ecosystem and identify which components to take on first. Since it’s very unlikely that you will be able to (or even want to) throw everything out and start from scratch, you’ll need to prioritize and take an orderly approach to changing things out.

  • Which platforms and tools already satisfy many of the desired capabilities and are well liked by the people who use them?
  • Which licenses are coming due?
  • What is the length of time to select and implement a replacement?
  • Where can the biggest and most appropriate advancement in capability be realized?
  • Where can duplication be resolved most easily?
  • Where does it make sense to try multiple approaches in parallel and select one or more future tools later on?
  • Which vendors have road maps that are similar enough to yours that would enable you to ride along rather than replace the system?

Present Your Findings

Now you’re ready to pull together a plan that will enable you to get buy-in and resources for the changes you are proposing. By connecting your proposal to organizational strategies, you can clearly outline how the land organization and the learning technology ecosystem will support them now and into the future. Creating a map of your learning data ecosystem from now into the future can help leaders visualize the changes that you are proposing.

This will also enable you to outline budget needs for the selection, implementation, and licensing of new technologies over a period of several years. You should generally expect that the first one to two years of your plan are fairly solid, but then the further out your road map goes, the more likely it is to be changed by organizational strategy as well as the evolution of offerings in the marketplace. Years 3-5 and even further out are less sure than years 1 and 2 of your plan.

Manage the Change

As you gain support for your ecosystem changes, you will need to engage full-scale change management approaches to ensure success. Consider bringing in the stakeholder team that you identified at the beginning as key assets in this approach. At this point, you may also want to bring in sub-teams of your learner population and others affected by the change as well. This will be an effort that will often warrant robust project management support.

Schedule a Review for Next Year

Now would be a fantastic time to schedule the time and the team to review and revise the plan for next year. If you have resource planning tools for the L&D organization you can put a few weeks or a few months of effort on the schedule for next year already to set this time aside.

Your learning data ecosystem journey is both complex and critical, reflecting the evolving needs of your organizations in 2024 and beyond. At every stage, you will be engaging with business leaders as well as L&D team members to make thoughtful decisions about how best to support learners and your organizational strategies. As you do so, you’ll create a roadmap that is not just a plan for technology integration; but rather a blueprint for building a resilient, agile, and forward-thinking learning culture that drives organizational success.

 

Author
Megan Torrance smiling
Megan Torrance

Megan Torrance is the CEO and founder of TorranceLearning, connecting learning strategy to design, development, data, and, ultimately, performance. Megan has over 25 years of experience in learning design, deployment, and consulting. Megan and the TorranceLearning team are passionate about sharing what works, so they devote considerable time to teaching and sharing about Agile project management for learning design, racial equity, and xAPI & learning analytics.

Megan is the author of Agile for Instructional Designers, Data & Analytics for Instructional Designers, and the W.I.S.E. A.T. A.I. framework. She is also a facilitator with eCornell’s Women’s Executive Leadership certificate and courses in virtual teaming, team leadership and communication, and an adjunct instructor in instructional design at Penn State University.

Connect with Megan on LinkedIn.

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