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In this episode, co-hosts Meg Fairchild and Megan Torrance talk about the complexities of learning ecosystems. They share their differing perspectives on the topic and discuss the wide array of elements that make up a learning ecosystem, from technology and social aspects to organizational processes and policies. They also highlight the value that comes from of understanding the current state of a learning ecosystem and discuss a recent project where they uncovered insights about the breadth and depth of learning ecosystems. The episode wraps up with a quick comparison of learning ecosystems to natural ecosystems.

Key points:

Show Credits:

Hosts: Meg Fairchild and Megan Torrance

Producers: Meg Fairchild and Dean Castile

Music: Original music by Dean Castile

Learning Ecosystem Framework

The Modern Learning Ecosystem | LearnGeek

Transcript
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Hey, Meg, let's do a podcast. That's a great idea. What should

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we talk about?

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All right, I'm just going to jump right into this. Every industry has its

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buzzwords, and what I always find interesting is that

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sometimes how people in the industry define those

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buzzwords differs widely. It's like

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instructional design. That's a whole rabbit hole we're not going to go down. I want

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to talk about learning ecosystems today, in part because

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you and I, who otherwise think so similar in

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so many respects, came at this one from two

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totally different directions. Yes. Yeah. And I actually remember

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the first time that we talked about this because I had just given

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a presentation at Devlearn and it was on

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learner journey mapping. And Sam Degas and I have done

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this workshop a couple different times, and we talk not

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just about the learner's journey, but also the

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entire ecosystem of things that support that

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learner through their journey. So we're talking about the people, the

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processes, and the technology that helps them to

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be successful in what they're, they're learning,

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but also in what they're doing, going to then perform and do on the

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job. And so

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that is my way about thinking about learning ecosystems. And I remember

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you came to me and you're like, you know what? I thought you were just

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going to talk about the technology piece and

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just the systems, but it's broader than that, isn't it? And I was

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like, I think it is, Megan. I know. I was like, where are the LMS?

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Where's the data? Yeah. Yep, yep.

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And, you know, as we were preparing to have this conversation,

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I also thought, I'm gonna go out and see what the rest of

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the world thinks, too. And so I asked my good friend Google,

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and I asked my good friend Chat. GPT well, we're

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not quite good friends yet, but we're getting there. I

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said, describe for me what's a learning ecosystem.

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Give me three different ways, emphasize different aspects of it, and chat

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GPT came back with one way to

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describe it from a technology aspect, another from community

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and social aspect. And the third way was organizational and

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policy. And I was like, that's exactly it. It's the people, processes and

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technology. I also found some other stuff around

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culture that could be people, too. Content,

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strategy, data, governance. So it's a lot of

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things. It's all the things. It's kind of whatever you

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want it to be. Could it be? It could be,

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yes, I think so. Well, and so this is helpful, though.

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So it's not just me, it's not just you right.

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There's lots of different ways to define it. I showed up, I remember, to

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rob Brodnick's learning ecosystem project. I was

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so excited. And yeah, I showed up with my lmss and my

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data lakes and I was all ready to geek out. And all of a sudden

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we're talking about social identities and student life,

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economic ecosystems. And I thought, I have landed on the wrong

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place. But they all. I mean, by the end of the session, it all made

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sense. It was just a bigger place than I had landed.

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So in our work, Meg, you and I have worked now with several

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organizations in their ecosystem strategy,

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and we always start

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with describing the current state as

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a good place to get started. And what

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is some of the things that you find that, that brings to that project?

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What's the value there? Yeah. So

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starting there allows you to really get

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a lay of the land and see do you have the right elements in

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place to achieve the goals that your organization is setting out to

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achieve? As a broad organization, but

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also with learners specifically, you can

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also start to get a sense for, are there

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gaps that need to be addressed? Are there

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redundancies? Are you one of those very, very large

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organizations out there that has six lmss

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and maybe you don't quite need

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all of those, or maybe each one of those is serving a very specific

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need and somebody higher up is saying, like, ask

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the lmss. And no, really what you find by mapping that

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current state is they're all necessary for different

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reasons. Maybe you'll find some inefficiencies or things that

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you could do better. Maybe you'll find that there's

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something in the environment, in the ecosystem that

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is holding you back from being able to reach your goals. So

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I think that's why starting with the current state can really

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get you a long way. And we had a project

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recently where we ended up with a really creative way of,

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an insightful way of looking at

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their learning ecosystem. And we actually looked beyond

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just learning. We looked at a lot of depth. There were things on that learning

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ecosystem that I don't see in a lot of places.

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Walk me through that one. Sure. Knowing that this is an

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audio and we're walking through a picture, everybody. There's a lot of hand waving going

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on. It's true. Yeah.

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So this particular project, we started by

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looking at all the different layers. So

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the learner has their layer and they can see,

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they see how they access things, the devices that they're using

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and the systems that they're using for that, the systems that are used to

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deliver. So that might be the learning management system

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or a data dashboard that they would see. So

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those are the learner visible aspects. And then below

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that, there's also the things they don't see.

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There's all the tools that are used to create the content.

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There's the content management, there's the content authoring,

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analysis and visualization that's happening with your data. And also

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a data management layer, skills, taxonomies and

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how the data is being aggregated and transformed

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to be able to serve up those visualizations and provide

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insights to leaders or to even to learners

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themselves. And then below that and kind of

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spanning across as well is all the things that enable

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the learning to take place. And so that might have something to do with

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AI or it's learning ops and project management.

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There's all sorts of things that might enable that learning to take

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place, even language and translation. That needs to

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happen. And so what we did was

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we identified all these different aspects

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and also laid them out in a

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matrixed approach to look at how that

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spans across the employee's lifecycle from

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the very start of their journey with you as an organization, when they're

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being attracted to your

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organization, also when retaining them as part of

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your, and then training

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them, getting them up to speed to when they're performing on the job.

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And how will all of that,

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all of those different pieces of the ecosystem interact with them. And

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then we really focused in, because we were working with the learning organization,

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we really focused in on that middle section

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of getting them up to speed and training them. When I think what

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was really cool about that project, because yes, we focused in

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on the learning part of the ecosystem, but as we

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drew that, we found there were pieces and tools

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that bled over into the attract, grow, retain,

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kind of the more HR and OD side of things and on the performance side

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of things that were going to hint that we needed to connect with other

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people, not just the learning folks in the organization. So that was

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super cool. Yeah, absolutely. I think that speaks to getting

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all the right people at the table to talk about this and look

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at it as well. You're going to need to, in this

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process of mapping the ecosystem,

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think about who your stakeholders are and bring them in

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and having this visual, that's one of the key things

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about ecosystem mapping, is you can start

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to have a visual that everybody can come around,

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stand around or on a computer look

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at together to have that common

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shared visual and shared language for what

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you have in front of you to deal with. And that's super

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super powerful. Yeah. So, all

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right. We can't really talk about learning ecosystems

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without talking about JD Dillon's book, the Modern Learning Ecosystem.

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Totally run out and grab that. But you've recently seen him

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talk, haven't you? I did, yes. We here in

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Ann Arbor had the pleasure of welcoming him to our

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local ATD chapter. He joined us

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virtually for one night and

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he got to talk to us about how AI is going to

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be interacting with and changing the modern learning

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ecosystem. And he shared his framework with us as

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well. And so his framework is really looking at the

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different modalities that are used for,

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for learning. And he's mapped those across,

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or he sort of stacks them up depending on

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the level of structure of that particular

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learning modality, and then also looks at the

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availability of that learning. So that's

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really a little bit more focused than what

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we have been talking about with learner ecosystem

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mapping. But I think also

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holds a lot of value to think about it using that framework. Well, and

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that graphic is super powerful, and we should include

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a picture of that graphic in the show notes because

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it really captures his point of view on things. And his work is all around

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frontline wernickers, and that's really his history.

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How structured is it and how can I get to it

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really makes sense in what he's doing.

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Meg, as I think about this conversation, as I think about the

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way you and I work at this together, what's always

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interesting is how just you and I work together

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on this, right? So I am, I

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move fast, I wave my hands around, I jump up and draw on

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whiteboards. And I'm

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one of those fast thinker people who can work the room, pull together a visual,

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and then you're the one who comes in and you think through it

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so carefully and deeply, and you find all the holes in that first

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draft thinking that we had, and you put the polish on

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it, but also you connect the dots.

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So you and I are coming at this from not only

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different perspectives on the ecosystem itself, but

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just on the work of doing that visual itself. Are

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there lessons for other people here? Yeah, I think there

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are. You know, the process itself can often

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bring more questions than it answers.

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And so bringing together people who

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are, who are thinking big and can help

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you with your divergent thinking,

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that will be really important. But then you also need those people in the

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room who are going to be deep processors, who are going

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to really hone in on

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details and think about all the implications of

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one thing or another. And so

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having a bunch of people and diverse

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people in the room, especially in the way that they think

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and process information, I think is really helpful.

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So you're just saying I should be a little bit more patient with things.

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Yeah, probably.

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Okay, so, Meg, seriously, we talk about ecosystems, but does that have anything

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to do with, like, the natural ecosystems we learned about in elementary school?

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So I think it's funny to think about that, because

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if you recall, my graduate

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education is in environmental studies, and so it's funny for

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me to be coming, like, back around and being like, oh, we're talking about

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ecosystems. But I think there could be some

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analogies or metaphors that we bring through there. I think

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probably the most obvious one would be like that. It's a web, and

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everything is interconnected. And so if you're going to be

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changing one thing in your learning ecosystem, it's going

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to potentially shift or adjust

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or have an effect on another piece of your learning ecosystem.

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And without having things mapped out,

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when you're making those changes, you could very easily

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be doing things in the dark and not know kind of the full

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implications of things as you're moving them around.

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So how'd that one go, Meg? I think it was pretty good.

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I think there could be a lot more. We could probably have

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more episodes on ecosystem mapping, but I

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feel good about that. It's a good place to start. We like it. Yeah. High

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five. This is Megan Torrance with Meg Fairchild,

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and this has been a podcast by Torrance Learning. Tangents is the official

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podcast of Torrance Learning, as though we have an unofficial one.

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Tangents is hosted by Meg Fairchild and Megan Torrance. It's produced and

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edited by Dean Castile with original music also by Dean

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Castile. This episode was fact checked by Meg Fairchild.