SharePoint as an LMS: Who Knew?

Written By

Amber Rasmussen

January 05, 2015
Topics

At Microsoft’s 2014 conference, general manager Jared Spataro revealed that SharePoint has achieved “double digit growth for each of the last 18 quarters,” reaching $1 billion faster than any other Microsoft product. SharePoint has taken the software world by storm and shows no signs of slowing down.

As a result, many organizations already have significant investments in SharePoint and utilize it for its superior content management capabilities. In fact, it’s estimated that over 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies currently employ SharePoint. However, one area where it is being extremely underutilized by a majority of organizations is as a learning management system (LMS).

Imagine for a minute that you just joined your neighborhood’s most prestigious fitness club. It has everything you could ever dream of—pool, group fitness, personal training, spa, child care, basketball courts, and more. It wouldn’t make sense to only use it to walk on the treadmill a couple of days a week, right? Why wouldn’t you take advantage of all the wonderful tools available to you as a member? This is very much true with the current use of SharePoint.

Change management

Unknown to many, SharePoint’s capabilities extend far beyond content management. Its latest version offers a host of new features prime for training. This article will address how using SharePoint as an LMS will give you the most bang for your buck, all while increasing productivity and decreasing training costs. 

Time is money, right? It is quite a production to roll out a new anything, let alone a learning management system that involves a variety of people and steps including planning, configuration, integration, migration, testing, and go live. According to an article in Learning Solutions Magazine, it’s estimated that it takes on average between six months to a year to implement an LMS hosted on the premises, or three to nine months for SaaS solutions. Depending on your particular situation and needs, SharePoint can often shorten this time-intensive implementation because it is already integrated with your IT infrastructure and other management systems.

Have you ever noticed that some workers don’t deal well with change? They’re tasked with a million things to do and the minute they’re asked to “learn” one more thing, such as a new LMS for instance, it puts them over the edge. According to the Harvard Business Review, the top three reasons for employee push back when faced with change is loss of control, excess uncertainty, and the feeling that more work will be added to their plate. Not so with SharePoint, if your organization is already using this tool. Your employees won’t have to learn a new password or login information because SharePoint is already synced with Active Directory. In addition, there is no need for the “more work” of learning a new system. Microsoft SharePoint is designed with a Microsoft Office-like interface that users are already familiar with.

Content

With learning and development, content is the name of the game. This happens to be where SharePoint shines. Using SharePoint as an LMS streamlines the process because now you eliminate the need to transfer content from one system to another. This is incredibly useful when dealing with standard operating procedure (SOP) and compliance training. Strict versioning and workflows also ensure that only the most up-to-date file is used and stored in one central location.

SharePoint makes it easy to share training content to only those you wish to view it with permission settings. You can choose to make content available to your entire workforce, make it team-specific, or even to your extended enterprise.

Customizable team sites are great for training because they provide a one-stop-shop where learners can find all of the content they need from training material, schedules and calendars, task lists, discussions, and much more. An example is creating a new employee portal. Trainers can update all new paperwork, SOPs, general company info, etc. You can assign tasks to a learner and add them to their calendar. New employees can also send an email from the portal to HR or write on the discussion board.

Collaboration

Research shows that not only is there an increase in productivity with social collaboration but also better learner retention. So that is why SharePoint has upped the ante with improved social features like personal sites, communities, forums, Wikis, and blogs. You have the opportunity to revamp your learning model.

Social collaboration features in SharePoint give a single place to connect with experts across an organization, whether in the office down the hall or on the other side of the globe. Questions can be answered quickly in order to make the right decisions, avoid reinventing the wheel, and improve work.

An example of utilizing social in SharePoint is with new employees. There are always lots of questions that come with a new job, and SharePoint communities help make finding the right people with the right information easy. Community members can even be awarded badges to help identify them e.g., peer mentor or new-hire buddy.

Another way to apply SharePoint social features with training is by tying a discussion to training material. This gives a better sense of connection for those working remotely. Learners can converse with the trainer as well as their peers. The ability to post videos is also an enhanced feature useful for training—or connect Microsoft Lync for instant messaging, calls, and video conferences.

Reporting

Reporting is an important tool if you want to know whether your training initiatives are successful. SharePoint provides the option to send a survey or quiz to learners. This information can then be used to create customized, interactive reports and dashboards with charts and graphics sharable with anyone.

Example: CorVel reaps benefits of SharePoint as LMS

CorVel, a leading provider of risk management solutions, had a significant investment in SharePoint. Using out-of-the-box SharePoint capabilities, InfoPath, and a little custom code, they were able to create a homegrown learning management system for their training needs.

This solution in SharePoint worked for several years but additional business-critical requirements overwhelmed the system. Specifically, CorVel needed to be able to track continuing education credits, attendance at training webinars, and awarding of continuing education credits. They also needed to be able to offer better compliance and security such as eSignature capabilities. Tracking training and testing results was another important need as was offering a short learning curve for employees. From a business investment and efficiency standpoint, CorVel needed a solution that fully integrated with their existing SharePoint network.

These additional requirements went beyond what CorVel’s in-house development team felt comfortable with building. However, SharePoint had proven to work well for them previously so when they needed to improve upon their homegrown solution, rather than moving to a totally different approach that would have been less compatible with their other enterprise systems (and would have required more tailoring), replacing it with another LMS based on SharePoint made perfect business sense.

CorVel implemented a vendor-provided learning management system based on SharePoint to solve their additional training needs. They were able to integrate with existing SharePoint content, reuse their SharePoint network, and completely reuse existing approved personnel profiles, organizational structures, and related SharePoint metadata.

With this implementation, CorVel was able to see a cost savings of approximately $500,000 during the first year of operation. They were able to save money in IT infrastructure, training and development, and travel. They were also able to reduce IT expert-resource consumption, avoided retraining costs, increased onboarding pace, and increased the efficiency of documentation and the training team. 

Conclusion

SharePoint is about giving you and the people you work with a better way to get things done together. SharePoint’s capabilities extend far beyond just being a content management tool with reporting and collaborative features that just work naturally for training needs. If your organization is already using SharePoint, why not leverage its capabilities for your learning management?

This multifunctional tool can help keep your entire organization in sync, make processes and people more productive, deliver more engaging and effective customer experiences, assist in achieving legal and regulatory compliance, and balance IT and business needs including reduced total cost of ownership (TCO).

CorVel’s experience highlights how you can use SharePoint as a homegrown LMS as well as when there is a need for more advanced features that only a comprehensive LMS can provide. SharePoint provides an upgrade path in this situation, avoiding the need to convert everything to a new system.

I hope this article provides a “light-bulb moment” and sheds some light into all the untapped features in SharePoint that will make your training and development job easier.

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