For years learning professionals have been looking at organisational learning and development from a competency perspective. Competency has traditionally been measured via course and assessment. You are either ‘competent’ or ‘not yet competent’. As if competency is the final goal. Tick, next, forget.

As our understanding of motivation has grown over recent years, we have started to realise that developing our people and providing a landscape for autonomous development and mastery is far more motivating than a pay cheque. However the structure and architecture of learning within organisations is still firmly chained to competency frameworks and far away from supporting people in their transition to mastery.


We are well aware of the 70:20:10 learning model. Like “reaching out”, “touching base” and “synergy”, 70:20:10 has almost become a buzz word. However organisations still invest up to 80% of their training budget on formal learning events. Spending 80% on learning events which can only return a maximum of 10% sounds a little strange right? Furthermore, is that 10% effective or aligned to organisational goals? (I’ll leave that for another post).

The past 5 years has seen an emergence of technology and theories attempting to provide learning which supports the 70% within the 70:20:10 learning model. There is now a greater emphasis to learn on demand and provide support throughout the workflow.

In 2011 Bob Mosher & Conrad Gottfredson defined the “Five Moments of Need” model, which captures both formal and informal learning. The moments of need are:

  1. Learning for the first time
  2. Learning More
  3. Applying what you’ve learned
  4. When things go wrong
  5. When things change

The first two moments relate to formal or structured learning events (the 10% in the 70:20:10 model). We are pretty good at designing learning for the first two moments, in fact, this is pretty much all we focus on. Sure we give people reference guides and handbooks (or even personalised apps) in an attempt to overcome moments 3, 4 and 5, but most of the time these participant guides and handbooks are left in the boot of the car next to the jumper leads and old Cruskits shoved through the seat by an ungrateful 3 year old.

The problem is moments 3, 4 and 5 are when learners transition from “classroom competent” to mastery. They learn from making mistakes, socialising those mistakes, asking for help, researching how to perform a task or implementing a theory. Moments 3, 4 and 5 are where you get your true return on learning investment.

At DevLearn 2014, Marc J. Rosenberg and Steve Foreman introduced the idea of a Learning and Performance Ecosystem as a “move away from individual, siloed, one-off solutions to an ecosystem comprised of multi-faceted learning and performance options that enhance the environments in which we work and learn”. The goal is to “enhance individual and organisational effectiveness by connecting people, and supporting them with a broad range of content, processes, and technologies to drive performance.”

A Learning and Performance Ecosystem brings together six major components that help people learn and perform better: talent management, performance support, knowledge management, access to experts, social networking and structured learning.

Learning Ecosystem
Learning Ecosystem

(Source: Learning and Performance Ecosystems: Strategy, Technology, Impact and Challenges Whitepaper – M.J. Rosenberg & S. Freeman, 2014)

By sequencing and layering elements of the learning ecosystem within an organisations learning architecture, we can move beyond focusing on competencies, to supporting people through their journey to mastery.

Structured formal learning events are still utilised to help people learn for the first time or learn more. However, layering or sequencing performance support, coaching, knowledge management, social learning or talent management within a learning pathway helps support participants when applying learning, when things go wrong or change.

The model also enables enterprise learning solutions to be structured for different levels of proficiency. While a ‘novice’ may require extensive structured learning to meet the first moment of need, more proficient employees faced with other moments can have a different learning pathway which may sequence access to experts, social collaboration or knowledge management.

The beauty of this model is its simplicity.

Most mature organisations have the technologies, processes and content in place to establish a learning ecosystem without high levels of effort or investment. Less mature companies have the benefit of a range of learning management and performance support systems which are geared towards an ecosystem. Most of these systems are now integrated and cloud based of the shelf solutions.

So while there are amazing advances in simulation and development tools, the future of learning and development is not a grand breakthrough or change in technology, but something glaringly simple – Take existing learning theories, technologies, content and processes, and combine them as part of a learning ecosystem which can support all five phases of learning need.