How many technologies do your employees use at work? Do these technologies enable—or get in the way of—a productive day? According to a 2018 PWC report, “90 percent of C-suite executives believe their company pays attention to people’s needs when introducing new technology, but only about half (53 percent) of staff say the same.”
At PepsiCo, we are driving hard to improve the digital employee experience. And learning technologies are an essential part of this.
Have you ever heard of a learning technology ecosystem? Your organization has one, even if you don’t know it. A learning tech ecosystem is the array of technologies with which your employees interact when learning something new.
Mapping this ecosystem—understanding which technologies you have and what they do—is the first step to managing it strategically. Without strategic management, you may create barriers to learning. This is the last thing any learning professional wants to do!
Here are four steps for getting your ecosystem under control and contributing to a happy digital experience for all. Your learners will thank you for it.
Source: RedThread Research 2019
Step 1: Pick a Model
Several ecosystem models exist. I like RedThread’s model because it categorizes technologies based on what they enable the learner to do (“demonstrate a skill”) rather than their technical functionality (“microlearning”).
Step 2: Populate the Model
If your organization has very few technologies, this will be easy. For large companies like PepsiCo, it took some detective work. We spoke one-on-one with associates across the business to find out what technologies they use. To keep the list useful, we imposed a few rules:
• Only technologies used by more than 100 people made the list (PepsiCo has approximately 267,000 employees globally).
• Only technologies we had already purchased made the list—pilots and experiments were noted but not included.
• We included technologies—like Yammer— where learning occurs incidentally, in addition to technologies that enable formal education, like our LMS.
Without strategic management, you may create barriers to learning. This is the last thing any learning professional wants to do!
Step 3: Analyze Gaps and Redundancies
The picture you produce will be enlightening. Use it to answer some key questions.
Where do you have duplicative technologies?
At PepsiCo, we found that business units use an array of platforms to connect employees to live coaches. Is this ok (perhaps because learners are in different time zones)? Or is this redundant? Without the ecosystem map, we wouldn’t have known to ask the question.
Which technologies are ready to scale?
In the switch to online learning due to COVID-19, learning professionals across PepsiCo are experimenting with content creation tools. It makes sense to get a critical mass of learning designers using similar tools, thereby saving time and money.
Where are the gaps?
This is the fun part.
At PepsiCo, we found a gap in opportunities for people to demonstrate their skills. Traditionally, we look at a demonstration in two ways. First, as on-the-job-application after a program ends, this is ideal but hard to measure and often invisible to HR. Second, as substantive projects during a program—real-life business challenges, usually sponsored by senior leaders, which stretch participants out of their comfort zone but take a lot of time and effort.
Where might we find a middle ground? A way to enable just-in-time demonstration, to validate a skill and be recognized for it in real-time? And to do it at scale? This is a very new space for learning technology, and we are excited to explore it.
Who is innovating, and how can you elevate their work?
As you uncover the technology landscape, you’ll find groups of people using innovative new technologies or using existing technologies in creative ways. Elevate their work. In doing so, you will signal that the learning function supports innovation and is humble enough to take good ideas from anywhere.
Step 4: Create a strategy to achieve two things: delight learners and deliver business outcomes
After you have analyzed your ecosystem, it’s time to develop a plan of attack. Don’t forget to link this plan to your overall learning strategy. At PepsiCo, we frame our learning strategy as a set of promises to our learners:
• We will obsess over employees the way PepsiCo obsesses over consumers.
• We will make learning available in the flow of work.
• We will help you excel in your current job and prepare for your next one.
• We will prepare you for the future of work.
Your learning technology ecosystem must deliver on your strategy while solving the problems and seizing the opportunities uncovered in your analysis.
A common mistake here is to craft this strategy with only a small team of learning professionals. Technology adoption requires change management and buy-in from many people outside of learning. A wise learning leader will bring these people together todefine the problem, source solutions, and make decisions.
Another common mistake is to neglect governance. Setting up clear decision rights and processes for making decisions—Who owns which technologies? What is our “safe to try” process for testing new technologies? When must we agree on a common solution, and when is localization ok?—will keep your ecosystem under control and ensure your learner is at the center.
Common challenges… reframed as advantages.
Wrangling your learning technology ecosystem won’t be easy. Reframing challenges as advantages can help your stamina.
First, not all learning technologies are under your control. Microsoft Teams, Slack, and many others are enterprise technologies upon which learning occurs incidentally. Think of this as a hidden advantage: you have an opportunity to serve up learning nuggets in platforms where learners find themselves “in the flow of work.”
Second, you may have a solution in every ecosystem category, but learners still have a mediocre experience. I have heard this described as failing to provide a “consumer grade” experience. You might reframe this as an opportunity to make one big bet on one great technology. We chose this route and purchased a learner experience platform, Degreed. Degreed has vastly improved the learner experience at PepsiCo by serving up bite-sized content on-demand and creating a social learning experience.
Finally, perhaps you have found that the tail wags the dog: your technology drives your strategy rather than the other way around. Reframe this as an opportunity to create a true ecosystem—an environment that works together to achieve balance and support all forms of work and learning.