The evolving power of learning platforms


The evolving power of learning platforms

Thriving in an ecosystem world

Properly designed business platforms can help create and capture new economic value and scale the potential for learning across entire ecosystems.

Wassili Bertoen & Maarten Oonk - 13 januari 2016

Creating value from a vast ecosystem of knowledge

In our previous blog we have discussed dynamic ecosystems. In today’s business climate, no organization is an island—instead, every successful business participates to some extent in dynamic, evolving networks of diverse organizations, which both collaborate and compete. These ecosystems give businesses and individuals opportunities to deepen skills, increase knowledge, expand into new markets, and scale operations. In turn, platforms act as fertile ground for new ecosystems, helping business create and capture value through shared learning and community.

A platform primer

Platforms are governance mechanisms that reduce the cost and effort of connecting a great number of participants. They give businesses and individuals as-needed access to each other, and to information and resources. Those that function most effectively have protocols that determine who can participate, what roles they play, how they interact, and how disputes are resolved. Other protocols and standards facilitate connection, coordination, and collaboration.

In one sense, platforms are nothing new. If we define them as infrastructures that impose standards on a system in which multiple entities operate for their own gains, then clearly railway systems (standardized on track gauge), phone systems (sharing cables), and shipping industries (which use standardized containers) count as a platforms.

In the digital era, though, the notion of platforms has expanded beyond physical and technological specifications, and even beyond shared data standards. Instead, platforms often become cornerstones of their respective ecosystems, virtual locations for industry, community, competition, and connection. Some companies view platforms as means to improve performance (by letting them focus on what they do best) or grow their footprints (leveraging capabilities that once would have been owned). Others use them to support extended innovation, giving them access to a wide range of talented partners, contractors, and businesses outside their employment.

Four common types of platforms

Most of today’s business platforms fall into four main types:

  • Aggregation platforms, such as eBay, Etsy, and Airbnb, bring together an array of resources, connecting participants with the best fit.
  • Social platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, aggregate and connect people.
  • Mobilization platforms, from open-source software platforms to the Arab Spring movement, take common interests beyond connection, moving people to act together toward common professional, social, or political goals.
  • Learning platforms bring participants together to share insights—and, more importantly, to work together to come up with entirely new insights and practices. They foster deep, trusting long-term relationships that help realize potential through working and learning together.

Learning from the learning platform

Right now, the learning platform is the one we at the Deloitte Center for the Edge see as having the most momentum—and the greatest potential impact on business. Dynamic, demanding environments reward organizations that learn best and fastest, reinventing themselves as needed. And business leaders who understand this will tend to gravitate toward platforms that increase knowledge, accelerate performance improvement, and hone their capabilities.

Learning platforms help move organizations from the old scalable efficiency model—in which businesses brought as many capabilities as possible under one roof—to one that helps participants connect and evolve more rapidly, with access to any and all needed resources. They make it easier for businesses to mobilize expert third-party or contingent resources, using them to accelerate learning, speed performance improvement, and generate innovation. And they offer the opportunity to work with the best people, and to approach business problems with the greatest possible agility.

Despite these advantages, few large-scale learning platforms have yet to develop in the business world. They are thriving, however, in arenas as diverse as online games (World of Warcraft) and platforms to help musicians develop and refine their remixing skills (ccMixter). Learning platforms have also emerged in extreme sports communities, arising around big-wave surfing, mountaineering, and extreme skiing.

As with social and mobilization platforms, the health and value of learning platforms depend on their ability to transcend short-term transactions or tasks, fostering deep, long-term relationships. Unlike the other platforms, though, learning platforms don’t view participants as simple resources. Instead, they are founded on the idea that the platform can help participants draw out more and more of their potential by working together in the right environment.

Evolving platforms

The good news is that all of the other platform types—aggregation, social, and mobilization—have the potential to evolve into learning platforms. And those companies that can design and deploy true learning platforms will be in an excellent position to create and capture economic value in a rapidly evolving business environment.

Find out more about the power of platforms in our research report.

This blog is written by John Hagel and was first published on LinkedIn.

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