How to get the most out of your learning tech stack
“Which learning platform is the best one?”
L&D folks are often tasked with an impossible treasure hunt, looking for the perfect learning technology to solve their frontline organization’s struggles in an endless sea of providers and options.
If you’re trying to help a team of employees learn and perform but find yourself wading through multiple options to figure out which one is the right fit, Rachel Horwitz, CEO of Learning Culture Partners, has some helpful tips.
She recently shared a few key things to look out for when creating and optimizing an organization-wide learning tech stack on an episode of ITK. In conversation with host JD Dillon, Axonify’s Chief Learning Architect, she also provided some background into the evolution of the learning technology landscape so L&D professionals know exactly which value points they’ll need to demonstrate to get buy-in from important stakeholders.
“Ultimately, the best learning tech depends on what you’re trying to accomplish”
In a crowded and confusing technology marketplace, making the smartest decision means tailoring your learning tech ecosystem to the specific needs of your business and the people you support.
That means focusing on what you’re trying to accomplish and keeping the behaviors you’re driving front and center during the entire decision-making process. If you’re trying to foster a habitual culture of learning in your workplace, some technologies will be better than others at making learning accessible within the workflow. Some are designed with specific audiences, like the frontline, in mind.
Horwitz thinks it’s about reframing the way we’re approaching the topic.
“[Asking which learning platform is] the best is a silly question. That’s like asking, ‘What’s the best exercise?’ Ultimately, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish,” she says.
To get the results you’re looking for, don’t just follow the crowd or assume that because a certain technology worked for one organization, it’ll work for yours—especially if you’re trying to solve different problems and have people who do different kinds of work.
Unsure if your learning tech stack… stacks up?
The learning technology landscape 10 years ago vs. today
The evolution of learning technology has been rapid, from learning management systems to entire technology stacks and dynamic integrated ecosystems. Dillon says that L&D professionals who are feeling left behind should look at the patterns of change that tech has gone through for reassurance.
“It’s not entirely in a silo. There’s a cyclical nature of how the industry evolves, and if you’re around long enough, you start to notice that we feel like we’re repeating ourselves,” he acknowledges.
“There’s this period of time where people go looking for the One Ring, the big platform that has a lot of different features and capabilities to solve all of their problems, but then either the problems change, or technology evolves where now that platform doesn’t do all of the things that exist out there. It’s this kind of on-and-off-again evolution—that’s just how technology works.”
Today, organizations’ L&D functions are also thinking more holistically about the employee development journey. When coupled with promises of access to more powerful data and analytics, learning leaders have more options for tech to support their initiatives than ever before.
“There’s no one definition to be able to say, ‘This is a learning technology.’ Now it’s really anything that enables your employees to be able to do their jobs better, meet the needs of the business and get things done when they need to,” says Horwitz.
“Over the past 10 years, it’s become a much more fragmented industry. In the past, your technology did this or your technology that did that. As we’ve continued to evolve, there’s a lot of consolidation. A lot of our LMSs and LXPs do a million and one things and have every whiz-bang button that we can imagine. Now you buy a big one and hope it’ll do everything, but as [JD] said, technology continues to evolve. Whether rightly or wrongly, I don’t think we’ll be able to escape this fragmented piece of the industry. It continues to evolve along with every other piece of technology that we think about to do our jobs, learning or otherwise, within the business.
We can never just really catch up, but we often find ourselves in this Frankenstein situation where this system plugs into this one and this into this one, and then they don’t talk to each other. But it certainly then continues to evolve as we go.”
The moral of the story? The technology decisions you made a decade ago likely won’t be the right match for the problems you’re up against or the integrations you need today. Learning technologies, and technology in general, should be approached as if they’re always in a state of flux—because they are. So make time to reevaluate if your strategy is up to par.
Demonstrating value and getting buy-in from stakeholders
Once you find a solution that aligns with your business goals and objectives, the next step is to paint a picture for your stakeholders of what you’ll be able to accomplish with the new tech.
Come to the table prepared to answer their questions, especially if they’re thinking about consolidating or saving on budget, so you can clearly demonstrate the value of that investment for the business.
Here are a few talking points to get you started:
- What problems are you trying to solve, and why will this investment offer a better approach than the technologies you currently have in place?
- How will this technology meet your target learning audience where they are to fulfill their needs?
- How will the solution impact an employee’s ability to support the business’ success, and how will it fit as part of the overall strategy within the organization?
For everyone to buy in, key stakeholders need to develop an in-depth understanding of the “why” behind procurement and how the learning technology will drive the behavior change everyone wants to see.
Horwitz also offers some advice about being bold during the RFP process: “Don’t be afraid to push boundaries and peek under the hood.” Want to learn more about how a specific learning technology will perform in practice? Talk to and learn from their customers. Ask for and test demos so you can see the tech in action and consider questions from the user’s perspective because they’re the ones who will be interacting with the tech every shift to solve problems.
In a constantly changing, noisy and complicated tech marketplace, digging around to find the right learning technologies can seem like an impossible task for L&D professionals. But when it comes to making an investment, the conversation should always come back to solving meaningful problems for the people in your organization that you’re trying to help.
The full ITK episode with Rachel Horwitz is available on-demand now.