The term “learning portal” is used liberally in the training industry, but what does it really mean?
By common definition, a portal is described as a gateway, doorway or entrance. Likewise, in computing it generally refers to a website that provides links or gateways to other websites. This idea affords businesses with the opportunity to consolidate relevant learning resources and tools into one location to accomplish a specific business or learning goal.
So, how is a portal different from a Learning Management System (LMS)? It’s a fair question with a fuzzy answer.
LMS’ such as NetDimensions Talent Suite are highly configurable and are capable of providing a portal-like experience using out-of-the-box functionality. However, organizations commonly configure their LMS as a one-size-fits-all solution to provide a superset of content and tools for many people within the organization, and covering many different subject areas.
A custom portal, on the other hand, provides a learning experience that targets a specific business goal, audience or subject area to deliver a focused, holistic learning solution. Today, we see that businesses are developing portals for multiple subject areas, including:
- New hire onboarding
- Sales training
- Service training
- Manufacturing training
- Compliance or technical training
- Extended enterprise and more
So what’s the big deal?
Employees today are both oversaturated with information and short on time. They need to be able to quickly access the right learning tools and information, right when they need it. A custom learning portal can provide this and so much more. Here are a handful of key attributes and features that a custom learning portal has to offer:
Tailored Learning: Portals afford us the opportunity to build personalized learning experiences for a specific audience. It provides a focused learning experience without the “noise” from other features and content.
Learning Paths: Portals can provide clear multi-modal paths or learning maps, with direction and support that provides context and explains how the pieces fit together. Learning paths can be displayed with a custom visual and indicate progress as each step toward the learning goal is completed.
Centralized: All the important content and informational tools that help you with your job are in the same place. This is a great time saver and encourages loyalty to the site by providing a “go to” place for all learning and knowledge share activities for that audience or subject area.
Combined Formal & Informal Learning Modes: Informal learning from peers, and learning on the job, accounts for 70% of what we know. Portals afford the opportunity to integrate on-the-job and other informal modes of learning with formal learning modalities to provide a complete holistic training experience.
Relevant Contextualized Messaging: Because the portal has a subject focus, you can motivate learners and drive training with regular messages, news and alerts that are job and/or role relevant. Messaging can also be centered around new programs, pending deadlines, new products and other goals of the group represented by the portal and most importantly provide the all-important WIIFM messaging to drive the training.
Promotes Continuous Learning: Portals promote continuous learning by providing a go-to place to share and consume the latest news, and information.
Motivation: It is often not enough to simply provide learners with training resources, they also need motivation. Portals can leverage gamification strategies to encourage learners, including badging programs, and leaderboards.
Facilitates Development of Best Practices: Managers and employees can share ideas and contribute to the development of best practices, and continually refine them. As suggestions and ideas are approved and established as policy, you have effectively created a community of practice.
Tapping into the brain trust of your company’s employee population through social media tools allows employees to be recognized and feel like they are part of a team.
Integrates Training with Business Process: In some situations, combining other business information or data with training resources can make for a powerful business solution. For example, a sales portal that displays sales figures for the company’s products indicates that a specific product is not selling well. The sales manager provides new strategies for selling that particular product via the social media component. And, some of those strategies may have actually come from a front line sales person who shared their ideas on the portal. A working example of learner curated content, vetted and approved by management then turned into best practices, just in time.
Portals provide only the stuff you need…
Because portals are generally custom built for the business, they can be designed to include only the branding, tools and features that are relevant to the business goal, again, providing more focus. Further, features that are not commonly found in LMS’ can also be woven into the portal to create a total solution. These may include:
- Leaderboards – which provide a fun competitive environment to motivate learners
- Badging – a system for earning and collecting awards
- Wiki – to allow members to post and share documents and information
- Blogs – where managers or portal owners can post articles and solicit feedback
- Forums – to facilitate discussions on topics related to the portal
- News – to allow managers and portal owners to disseminate important details, provide up to date info and keep the site current
- Video Posts – similar to News, these provide a “channel” for portal-topic related messaging
- Surveys – as a method to collect opinions from employees about a product, topic or the site itself
- Feedback – for another method to collect input from the learner audience, via email
- Reference articles – are anything from product brochures to articles that support the learning topic
- Job Aids/Performance Support – just-in-time reference documents
- Analytics – these management dashboards and other analytical tools can be integrated into portal solutions
And, that’s just scratching the surface. The point is that nearly any web-ready component can be designed into the site to help accomplish the learning goal.
Learning Portals provide a solution designed around a business goal
Sometimes simply making learning content and services available to employees won’t solve your business problems. In these cases, we need to present the relevant tools and resources to our learners within the context of the business challenge and provide the important motivational components.
A custom learning portal provides the key link that brings the learner and the resources together to achieve a real business solution.
For more information on learning portals and how they might help your organization:
- Watch this video interview I gave at Learning Technologies 2016 in London a few weeks ago,
- Watch Webinar On Demand: Portals – Transforming the Learner Experience, or
Gray Fowler is Senior Vice President, Strategy and Design at NetDimensions. Gray has been managing custom eLearning projects for over 15 years. His expertise includes a wealth of learning technologies including portals and mobile solutions. Gray is a frequent speaker at industry conferences such as Learning Technologies and mLearnCon.