Like it or not, 2 out of every 3 organizations are using SharePoint, Microsoft’s unstoppable platform for communications, collaboration and information management. SharePoint can be a great tool for learning organizations and it represents potential competition for a learning portal. The good news is that SharePoint’s array of options for integration that make it an ideal platform to marry up with an existing Learning Management System (LMS).
Without an LMS
Perhaps you’re just starting to get your programs off the ground and you don’t have an LMS in place. SharePoint has a series of options for you. You can start with the SharePoint Learning Kit (http://slk.codeplex.com ) which supports SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004. The basic features such as managing assignments, individual classes and training programs are supported. While there are certainly richer for-pay options which bolt on to SharePoint, you can get your feet wet with a SharePoint based LMS virtually for free. The SharePoint Learning Kit (SLK) is free and will even run on SharePoint Foundation so you don’t need a separate license to use it.
The for-fee SharePoint based LMS tools add more types of quizzes, surveys and better administration tools for a price. The good news is that from a price-perspective the SharePoint based LMS solutions tend to have lower costs because they do not have to make investments into basic document and list management, security or portal features – all that comes “for free” from the platform.
Integrating With Your Existing LMS
Many LMSs offer integration to SharePoint today. The scope and scale of the integration varies, however, in many cases they leverage SharePoint as a Learning Content Management System (LCMS), allowing authors to collaborate on courses and materials in SharePoint and then migrating the resulting course materials into the LMS.
In the SharePoint space there are several – progressively more sophisticated and rich integration points for an LMS that you can have developed even if your existing LMS provider doesn’t have out-of-the-box support for SharePoint:
- CMIS – The Content Management Interoperability Services standard is designed to allow content management systems to integrate. SharePoint can be both a producer and a consumer for CMIS. If your LMS supports CMIS, SharePoint can be the system of record for the artifacts. If you have documents in your LMS, they can be visualized in SharePoint with basic check-in/check-out functionality.
- Web Parts – The most basic type of integration is a web part that can be placed on a SharePoint page as a building block. This leverages the portal features of SharePoint and allows you to integrate the LMS into a single user dashboard or portal. The problem with this approach is that it’s not necessarily the richest experience – or if you build a rich experience it becomes expensive.
- BCS – Business Connectivity Services allows SharePoint to treat external data – like the data in your LMS – as if it were internal data to SharePoint. The benefit to this is that it allows you to work on the data with SharePoint and Microsoft Office client tools. By writing a model for BCS you can make your LMS data visible in SharePoint and in the Microsoft Office client tools. Imagine being able to have a manager overlay the schedule of classes for their team on their personal outlook calendar or having follow up items from the LMS showing up as tasks.
You get to choose where you want a picture of your LMS in SharePoint or whether your goal is to create a rich interactive portal where users can interact with the data in the LMS from inside SharePoint. Dashboards and reporting inside of SharePoint from your LMS are possible with relatively minimal effort.
Going Where the LMS Can’t Go
One of the challenges facing corporate training is that adult learning isn’t aligned with instructor-led training or even computer-based training. Employees and volunteers are notoriously fickle about what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. While structured training and assessments are an essential part of training, there’s also a need to provide easy access to the knowledge stored inside the training. This is where SharePoint can shine next to your LMS.
SharePoint’s built-in search capability allows for it to reach inside documents to index the information that users need. Through tuning of the search results you can target the right training for a given search query – whether or not the employee searched in your LMS. Consider an employee who’s searching for “ethics” or ”security policy” – if you have courses inside your LMS on these topics you can create “best bets” that will point the employee to the LMS for the course – rather than trying to wade through whatever documents happen to mention ethics or security policy.
Going further, by publishing the pieces of the courses in individually consumable chunks you can make it possible for users to skip the course, get the specific information they need and get back to their jobs.
Putting the Pieces Together
Whether you’ve got a LMS, a learning portal or just a dream of a single platform for learning in your organization, SharePoint can help you reach your goals. From no-cost to low-cost LMS options built on SharePoint and to the variety of LMS providers who are providing integration to SharePoint, there are ready-made options for integrating to SharePoint. If you’re more advanced, you can extend your course-based learning with reference-based resources that the learner can find through the use of SharePoint’s search capabilities.
Robert Bogue is the author of 22 books on technology, a Microsoft Certified Trainer and internationally renowned speaker. He consults with organizations to implement SharePoint, software vendors to integrate their software to SharePoint and offers SharePoint training materials to organizations. You can find out more about his materials fromhttp://www.SharePointShepherd.com or follow his blog at http://www.ThorProjects.com/blog/.