Peeling Back the Layers

Inject more experimentation and agility with limited risk By Elliott Masie

Elliott Masie is the chairman and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium and CEO of The Masie Center, an international think tank focused on learning and workplace productivity. He can be reached at


magine adding layers of new learning content, context and interaction to your LMS — without a major upgrade or expensive integration.

Imagine offering your learners the machine learning expertise of IBM’s Watson or Amazon’s Alexa by adding a layer of technology that would seamlessly weave through your existing workplace technology.

Imagine your employees who graduated from business programs at institutions like Wharton, Harvard or UCLA being able to add a personalized layer of content, curation and collaboration to their technology workspaces that would enhance their learning experiences.

Imagine a business unit’s ability to offer a gamification layer that would provide enterprisewide content for a cluster of employees, adding a powerful engagement strategy for a targeted group of the workforce.

Finally, imagine being able to inject a layer of content in the native language of some of your employees. That layer could live alongside or even replace English content for specific learners who want a deeper, native-language exploration of a topic.

Sure, we have always had the ability to ask the IT department or an external vendor to design, test and implement an integration of a second program or application into a learning or talent management system. But that often becomes a deeply complicated process with unexpected expenses and “hard-coded” solutions that may require reintegration after an update to the LMS.

A layer, however, looks and feels more like an app on your phone. Layers will leverage the equivalent of an open application program interface to allow a business unit or learning department to add, inject, weave or enhance a worker’s learning space with new capabilities in a safe and secure fashion.

Let’s explore this more by imagining a layer that would provide Apple’s Siri, a voice – or text-based search-and-assistance tool, in the workplace:

  • The entire enterprise, a specific line of business or even a group of employees could choose to add the “Siri Business Layer” into their computing world.
  • Siri would have been approved as a safe and appropriate layer by a software association or “layer registry.”
  • Siri would then become active and work as an “assistant” in a box, supplementing the content from the learning system with additional search items.
  • Siri could be replaced with a different layer or even offer multiple layers of search and “TalkTech” tools.

What makes the layer model so attractive is it gives an organization the ability to take an approach centered on innovation and user experiences. As technology evolves in the marketplace, layers would enable an organization to experiment with and compare diverse tools.

What makes the layer model so attractive is an approach centered on innovation and user experiences.

Additionally, personalization by business units or specialized roles could be enhanced through a robust set of easily added layers.

Layers would also provide a new incentive to the venture development world, allowing companies to more easily provide demonstration or beta versions of innovations to a global marketplace.

What is needed to make layers a reality?

  • LMSs and training management systems that create a dynamic integration tool for layers: a new API to allow for enterprise security, safety and data sharing that protects the corporate data warehouse while adding functionality for the worker.
  • A business model for how layers will be priced and marketed; some may be free, some will be directly charged and others may have a sponsored or premium layer pricing model.
  • Marketplaces where layers could be viewed, reviewed and selected.
  • A mentality shift: excitement about our ability to be agile, experimental and dynamic.

You may have dozens of mobile apps on your phone that you’ve tried but haven’t used in months. Yet the app model has allowed you to be more agile and experimental in how you leverage your phone or tablet. Layers can give you those same benefits — the opportunity to experiment with and compare various tools and innovations — in your organization.