Lessons from Apple: building a learning ecosystem

I’m a big fan of Apple products and their simplicity, some might even accuse me of being a “fan boy”. Like many people, I’ve studied the history of Apple to try to understand what makes them awesome, their failures, how they’ve fallen and risen several times and what I can learn from this.

A key lesson I’ve taken away from all my research is Apple’s ability to build an engaging yet very simple ecosystem for their audience to explore and grow within. Apple’s fans live and breathe the tools and products that are part of their ecosystem, so who better to use as a case study to see what learnings can be applied to the L&D arena.

My constant challenge (as I’m sure it is with any learning professional) is building user centric experiences for our people and explaining in a simple way, what we have available, why it’s important and how to use these resources. In order for me to do this with maximum impact, I started to look at all of the tools and resources we have as an ecosystem and I’ve recently started referring to them in this terminology too. To be clear an ecosystem isn’t just made of products and resources, it includes the key ingredient of people too.

It is a system supporting overall continuous learning and development

Here’s some insights into what I’ve learned from Apple in creating an awesome learning ecosystem for our people:

 

Everything needs to connect…seamlessly

All the products, tools and resources in your ecosystem need to interact with each other and must do this in a simple way with minimal effort for users. Nobody wants to use an array of great tools that can’t talk to each other, share your data and provide you with same experience as the rest of the Products that you put your brand name on.

Keep everything connected and simple to move across.

 

The design must be minimal, simple yet beautiful

Apple has a long history of focusing on design and making anything they create look beautiful but with a minimalist feel as to not overwhelm users visually — it’s an important part of the overall user experience.

This applies to the tools and resources we create as a learning team, we need to have a consistent look and feel that our people recognise and find easy to interact with. No one wants to use a bunch of tools or resources from the same business that all have a very different look and feel, it’s confusing, frustrating and a failing for a user centric approach.

Where possible make sure whatever you create contains the consistent design of your learning brand and something that immediately strikes people that it’s from your house of designers.

 

Each upgrade must be as simple and build upon the previous

You must never update anything just for the sake of updating it, there must be a real need from your users. Always look to what isn’t being addressed for your people in your current system and look to improve upon these before making any artificial upgrades.

Apple has generally been good at listening to its users and tailoring it’s product suite to meet these needs with each update, which has been instrumental to their continued ecosystem loyalty.

 

It must be for the many and not the few

An ecosystem shouldn’t be exclusive to a specific region or community of people, it should be open to all and designed for an array of people in mind.

Your collection of tools and resources must transcend communities, your content will of course be tailored and personalised in many cases but the experience must feel the same regardless of what region you’re in. The ease for users to pick up resources from your ecosystem no matter where they access from and for them to behave all in the same way is key.

 

Navigation must be simple and lead to what’s next

Just like connection between tools and resources, the user journey across any of these must be just as simple too. Each of your creations should have a clear navigation path with another and the connection between these simple for your user to understand and clear as to why it works that way.

 

Convert users into fans

It’s safe to say that Apple has an almost fanatical user base (I can’t confirm whether I am included) and all of these people live and breathe their creations, this is exactly what we want from our people with our learning resources.

We want our people to be fanatical consumers of content that is available to support them in the flow of work and we want everyone to feel involved in the process of creation too. Just like beta-testing for software, we design resources and tools in co-creation with our people, getting their thoughts and input along every step of the process.

We want our people to be continuous consumers of content that will support them when they most need it and enable long term development too. If we build an amazing ecosystem to facilitate this, we should have a host of advocates/fans who preach the good word to others too.

 

How can this help you?

The purpose of this piece wasn’t to share how to build your own learning ecosystem, but rather to give you a point of view in how designing and marketing your resources and tools in this way can be of benefit to the success of enabling learning in the flow of work.

A ecosystem adapts and grows in response to its users, ultimately trying to provide the best connected experience possible and isn’t that the same goal we have for our people with learning?

 

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