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Do Learning Portals Add Value or Just Layers?

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Scanning the blogosphere

, learning industry magazines, and learning conference materials shows that many organizations are touting the merits of creating a training portal as an additional layer to their LMS.

This strategy is employed to create a more focused view of training offerings (custom curriculum) relevant to a specific group. This is often because the organization’s catalog of training becomes too large and poorly managed, and/or the LMS does not provide required functionality, such as:

  • Flexibility to efficiently deploy specific curriculum to specific target groups
  • Ability to create sub portals for department- or project- specific training
  • Social media options such as wikis, groups, discussions, RSS and twitter capabilities

As an alternative, companies select an existing tool in their organization, or a leading tool which they can convince management to purchase that layers on top of the learning management system. Enter SharePoint.



SharePoint portals are a common design.

The layering of SharePoint over an LMS attempts to leverage benefits of this popular collaboration platform to:




  • Deploy departmental- or project- specific workspaces
  • Deliver tailored curriculum for groups in these workspaces, using deep links to LMS assets
  • Create a central calendar of events for the team including training events
  • Offer social capabilities to the team such as discussions

I have developed several of these types of solutions for a client with an enterprise license for SharePoint (and no desire to explore alternative designs). Their situation fit most the criteria. They had a legacy LMS with moderate capabilities to define targeted curriculum, an enormous catalog of offerings, and no social capabilities as part of the LMS.

SharePoint is a fine project workspace tool. If the project workspace is central to a team’s function, it might seem more intuitive to put a curriculum on that site upon first consideration. However, the layering is almost always a very awkward design with one very specific login, layout, and design for SharePoint, and then another layout and design for the LMS (and sometimes a login). Once a course is completed and you close it, you are in the LMS. Want to see the next course in your curriculum? You need to get back to the SharePoint site. This doesn’t account for the potential for conflict settings with dual group management. A user might be set up as part of the SharePoint Team site, but wasn’t added as a user for some of the LMS courseware. After a little consideration, the weaknesses of the design become apparent.




Accord LMS removes the need for SharePoint portals

, simplifies the administration and provides enhanced capabilities. It has the ability to create sub portals for teams or departments and the ability to create targeted assignments for groups. It is important to note that Accord LMS has the ability to provide enhanced tracking on non-SCORM objects. Most LMSs won’t provide any data on non-SCORM objects, and SharePoint (2007) will only give you a basic hit count on the asset across the past 30 days. Additionally, objects in Accord LMS can be easily reused across curriculum with unique rules applied to each instance, or learning event.

The social capabilities of SharePoint are basic: not bad, but not brilliant either. Discussion features that you would expect from any basic platform (although I would prefer the email notification to send me the update like my LinkedIn discussion threads instead of forcing me to log into the SharePoint portal to read the update in a thread). They also offer a wiki and RSS feed capabilities.

Accord LMS enables you to select any set of social tools from SnowCovered.com and integrate them into your site- seamlessly. This is extremely powerful, because my experience with configuring SharePoint sites always led to requests I could not fulfill- the function was not available (like receiving emails with the discussion information). By reviewing the DotNetNuke add-ons at SnowCovered.com, you will find hundreds of options for your social media from twitter tools, wikis, Flickr tools, file management, group management, full featured discussions (with proper email notifications), cloud tag generators and more.

SharePoint has more overhead, more inherent risk, and lacks many of the capabilities for tracking and maintenance which are core to understanding learning activities and the social tools to keeping pace with the change of business.





It really is a simple choice

: select the features you want to seamlessly integrate with the Accord LMS and leverage the power and flexibility of the Accord’s extensive feature set to develop focused custom learning paths for specific groups with superior tracking capabilities. You can avoid the cost and maintenance of two systems, the risks of conflicting configurations, and the inflexibility of being locked into tools with limited features that may not fit your organization’s needs and have even less of a chance meeting your future needs.

For the folks that can’t be convinced or don’t have an option - if you can’t beat them - join them. Really - join them. If SharePoint is going to be a component of your solution, there are many DNN skins that you can select to theme the Accord LMS so that it presents like your SharePoint site. DNN also provides integrated Active Directory out of the box. If you have a remote or heterogeneous server, Interzoic has an excellent Single Sign-On product. While not ideal, it will create a more consistent experience for your users.




| Categories: eLearning

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