Hacking the learner experience: tips for configuring user engagement and adoption

NetDimensions’ 2017 North American user conference, NextSteps, took place in NOLA in May. While there, executives and L&D professionals had the opportunity to discuss new trends and best practices, expand their knowledge in technical and industry-focused sessions and gain new perspectives on meeting talent management challenges.

One of the most popular breakout sessions at the conference was titled, ‘Elevate your brand with HTML homepage widgets and skins: explore what is possible in exercising configurability to create a more engaging user experience’. Its presenters, Ali Zaheer and Garfield Bolt, are both Solutions Consultants for NetDimensions Talent Suite.

Their talk on ways to make the learning experience more engaging was a hot topic. Here are some of their best ‘course hacks’, tips and tricks to do this more effectively.

NetDimensions Talent Suite allows users to add widgets, gadgets and skins to customize their learning

It’s all about configurability

‘Hacking’ your NetDimensions user interface to engage the learner has never been easier. NetDimensions Talent Suite allows you to configure your LMS through skins, widgets and gadgets that give you the flexibility and versatility you need to present a different look and feel to learning content, holding the users’ attention and allowing them to quickly find the information they’re looking for.

What are skins and how can they help you engage users?

In computing, a skin is a custom graphical appearance package. In other words, it’s how the site looks.

Skins are achieved by the use of a graphical user interface (GUI) that can be applied to specific computer software, operating systems, and websites to suit the purpose, topic, or tastes of different users. As such, a skin can completely change the look, feel and navigation interface of a piece of application software or operating system.

Here’s an example of different skins in NetDimensions’ Talent Suite. Changing skins can customize learning for specific user groups.

NetDimensions Talent Suite LMS allows for customization through skins

Some skins make the program more aesthetically pleasing to the learner, but others can rearrange elements of the interface, potentially making the program easier to use. Some platforms support changing the standard interface, while others can add functionality.

How does skinning work?

The architecture of skinning allows for a flexible structure. In its structure, the GUI is independent from – and only indirectly linked to – the application’s functionality, so it can be easily configured for customization. Users can select a different skin whenever they wish, as well as change the position and function of the interface elements.

Skinning is facilitated by the underlying technology of the website. NetDimensions Talent Suite uses HTML, for instance, to facilitate changes of layout, and CSS to produce different visual styles.

“Skinning can distinguish among different verticals,” says Zaheer. It’s possible to customize:

  • The size and colors of images and text
  • The look of background images
  • Logos and branding signatures
  • Images of a manufacturer’s products

Through the NetDimensions Talent Suite solution it’s possible, Zaheer continues, for an organization to support more difficult language platforms – even the right-to-left written language of Arabic, one of the 43 languages that the Talent Suite supports.

NetDimensions Talent Suite supports over 40 different languages, including right-to-left languages like Arabic

What about widgets? What are they and how can they help configure compelling content?

The textbook definition of a widget is: “A stand-alone application that can be embedded into third-party sites by any user on a page where they have rights of authorship (e.g. a webpage, blog, or profile on a social media site).”

In other words, widgets are the little tools often seen in a site’s sidebar that perform one simple function, without taking up much room while doing it.

Some common examples of widgets you’ll recognize include the Twitter widget, which displays three to five of your most recent tweets and provides a link to your profile. The widget pulls information from your Twitter account and updates the feed to the widget in real time, as in the below image.

NetDimensions Talent Suite includes several widgets to amplify learner engagement like the Twitter widget
Calendar widgets do the same – they pull information to let people know about your upcoming learning programmes and events.

HTML/Code snippets are widgets in which you add your own code, allowing you to display images, add links and embedded videos and other content-enhancing activities. Widgets also improve the user experience by being omnipresent on your website, so that users don’t have to search around to find links they need.

Widgets are easy to set up. If you are an administrator, all you need do is drag, drop and add your text and images. From there you can rearrange, customize, add and delete. Widgets within the NetDimensions Talent Suite offering include both standard and customized options. Administrators can add links to catalog searches, personal calendars, embedded content from external sites, tweets, moving banners and customized reports, and even add personalized email text. This capability helps to make your LMS site optimally useful and compelling.

This is especially important for your mobile app. With NetDimensions Talent Suite’s mobile functionality, iPad and Android tablets can perform any function available to non-mobile devices, including links to external sites.

Gadgets are the building blocks of content creation

Another way NetDimensions Talent Suite helps you configure your course site is the use of a gadget – a small utility application that sits directly on your desktop and, like a widget, performs a single, simple function. There are gadgets that display current weather conditions, and gadgets that monitor computer performance, wireless connection, or let you play games or listen to music. They all work in a similar fashion to add functionality. They are easy to find, easy to install, and easy to use in a variety of ways to create attention-grabbing, interactive learning.

When you want to add text or video to a course, you use the text gadget. Gadgets are designed to put content, information and functions at your fingertips. It’s handier to have content modules floating on the desktop than to dig through layers of menus to open each application individually.

If you’d like to find out more about how NetDimensions award-winning solutions have helped hundreds of organizations with their elearning needs, get in touch today!

Three steps toward future-proofing your learning program

How to invest in your LMS now and be ready for the future

Adaptive learning. Gamification software. Microlearning. Thanks to these exciting new tools and advanced technologies – along with the evolution of business needs and market trends – the global electronic learning market is booming. Predictions are that it will continue to do so, with growth reaching $255 billion this year.[1]

If you are charged with managing the learning management system, or LMS, in your organization, you’ll be on the lookout for opportunities to incorporate these new tools and technologies. But be careful; it’s important to give a great deal of consideration to future-proofing your technology.

As author Stephen Covey famously said, “Begin with the end in mind.”[2] Your goal is flexibility. To future-proof your learning program, it is important to work with your IT manager to create a technology infrastructure that enables the support of current and future eLearning trends. Set up your core technology platforms, such as learning management systems, so that it won’t become difficult to migrate to a new system or add new eLearning applications and tools.

Future LMS

There are steps that you can take now to leverage new learning technologies without disrupting your current infrastructure, and help the IT department create an environment that supports new trends, all while minimizing costs. Here are three of them:

First: Assess how well your new learning tool can integrate into your current infrastructure

How can you assess these tools? Work with your IT director to:

  • Look at compliance with common single-sign-on (SSO) standards such as SAML, JWT, or OAuth
  • Determine if the new tool or app can leverage the standards and systems you already have in place. Then make sure your platforms provide an application program interface, or API, to manage users and enrollments in eLearning courses. Your API – the set of routines, protocols, and tools that specify how software components should interact – should be highly scalable, and have maintainable architecture
  • Make sure you are able to extract and share eLearning data in a standard way through compatibility with a specification such as Experience API, an eLearning software specification that allows learning content and learning systems to speak to each other in a way that records and tracks all types of learning experiences.

Second: Evaluate the maturity level of your learning systems to determine if they are equipped for the future

Ready yourself for the future by planning for a Learning Record Store or LRS – the system that stores learning records collected from connected learning activities systems. Skipping this step means you will lose out on the flexibility you need to easily integrate future learning tools and systems based on learner data. Again, check which SSO standards you support.

Third: Take advantage of mobile learning opportunities

Mobile learning is no longer a new idea. Also called mLearning, it’s defined as learning, education or support delivered on smartphones, tablets, notebooks or any kind of technology that allows users to move while learning. Why is mobility so important?

More people are learning remotely, and recent studies claim that workers are happier when they have the opportunity to telecommute.[3] Many more perform all or part of their work away from their desk, at remote job sites or at the customer’s location. This “anywhere, anytime” aspect of mobile learning allows learners to take advantage of learning at the point-of-need, during “down time,” or while commuting.

Other positive aspects of mobile learning include:

  • The ability to deliver short, manageable lessons in a “compact” lesson style
  • Adaptability to a learning experience customized to learner needs
  • Options for creating engaging content, from graphics to gamification

As one final step, you can also consider creating a three-year learning technology plan, utilizing these objectives, in conjunction with your IT department. Yearly reviews of your plan will enhance your ability to:

  • Take proactive steps, along with the IT team, to ensure your learning environment can accommodate future growth
  • Conduct an education gap analysis so that IT can compare options, including open-source platforms, to find the most viable solution
  • Prioritize the organization’s education gaps according to business needs and goals, and work with IT to identify the best solutions

Is your company designing a future-proof learning environment?

The real measure of your learning investment is not just about technical details, but whether your learners can use new tools and technology to navigate your educational activities efficiently. Stay focused on opportunities to incorporate new tools into your program and enhance the user experience. Most importantly, future-proof your technology so that these exciting new tools and advanced technologies can help meet your organization’s needs for continuing education.

Want to know more about how NetDimensions’ mobile LMS can help you future-proof your learning system? Get in touch today!

If you’d like to know more about the advantages of a mobile LMS, download our free Insight today.

[1] Jiyuan Yu and Zi Hu, “Is online learning the future of education?” https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/is-online-learning-the-future-of-education/

[2] Covey, Stephen, “The Seven Habits of Highly Productive People,” https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits-habit2.php

[3] Gaskell, Adi, “Why A Flexible Worker Is A Happy And Productive Worker,” Forbes Magazine, January 16, 2016

LMS best practice: enhanced user experience and analytics capabilities

This post is the second in a 2-part blog series that looks at some of the ways that L&D managers can improve the learning technology in their organizations, with a specific focus on user experience and analytics. To read part 1, click here.

Learning Management Systems create poor user experience

According to a study conducted by the Brandon Hall Group, 50.6% of organizations say poor user experience is a significant barrier to satisfaction with learning technology. It’s important for a company to have an easy-to-use, modern-looking system.

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.

According to learning analyst, Talented Learning, it is easier for LMS users to tolerate weaker user experience when training is mandatory, such as regulatory compliance training, but when the LMS is used for extended enterprise, such as dealership network training, the users must be persuaded to complete training regularly. In this case the user experience is key.

Key best practices for improved user experience

  • The User Interface (UI) has to be intuitive to reduce the number of clicks required to complete a task.
  • Applications have to be user-friendly and not built for experienced users only.
  • Make sure administrators, as well as selected users, can modify the layout of their homepage, edit menus and shortcuts and easily create new skins. This is a matter of configuration and not customization.
  • Social features such as forums are important for an LMS. It’s a place where managers and employees can share ideas and contribute to the development of best practices. Make sure you can easily embed Widgets (for example internal forums, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos) into your homepage so they are easily accessible for users.
  • Understand your vendor experience with learning portals and how well they integrate with the LMS.
  • Just-in-time learning is vital to the success of a learning program. Learning should be accessed on mobile device whenever users need it. That is why the ability to download content to a mobile device for playback even when offline is important.
  • Upgrade your LMS frequently – LMS vendors invest significant development resources into making sure that each successive version provides even better usability. This should also take into account user feedback, to give the best learning and performance management experience on any type of device.


Analytics capabilities

Measuring the business impact of learning using analytics tool is becoming increasingly important for the L&D function. 39.7% of organizations say poor analytics capabilities is a significant barrier to satisfaction with learning technology.


Key best practices for enhanced learning analytics

  • Focus on data that matters to your organization. Big data expert and author Bernard Marr points out in an article on Forbes: “Why go to all the time and trouble collecting data that you won’t or can’t use to deliver business insights? You must focus on things that matter the most otherwise you’ll drown in data… This is why it’s so important to start with the right questions.”
  • Start your journey with analytics now. It might take years to gather enough data before it will actually be relevant for the organization.
  • If you have already started your journey, make sure your analytics engine integrates multiple data sources. Your engine should correlate learning to other data coming from the rest of the business.
  • Most organizations don’t yet have a data analyst dedicated to learning. Make sure you have flexibility to create your own reports and easily create dashboards and charts without the need to learn complex tools.


Did you enjoy this blog? Then you might also be interested in our “8 Best Practices for a Successful LMS Implementation” brief. Download it now. If you’d like to speak to a NetDimensions LMS consultant about the challenges your organization is facing, get in touch here.

Why choose a learning portal?

This blog is based on a learning portal seminar hosted by Peter Dobinson, Solutions Architect at NetDimensions’ partner company LEO, at the NextSteps 2017 conference in London.

Learning portals can be customized to deliver tailored e-learning solutions on all devices, including smartphones and tablets

While a Learning Management System (LMS) provides a wealth of diverse information for your learners, portals act as a neat destination on more focused areas. As well as being gateways to further learning, portals are popular with NetDimensions’ clients because of their capacity to provide everything from guidance about new working processes to insights into user engagement.

Why do organizations like learning portals?

There are a lot of reasons why companies find learning portals highly effective. You can target a specific audience – potentially employees, customers or anyone who wants to access your learning programmes – and focus on a precise business impact area or goal, such as sales learning, with a holistic solution.

This is primarily what makes a portal different from an LMS: rather than providing a single solution to people across departments, languages and countries, a portal offers excellent learning opportunities to a subset of people with particular business requirements.

You can still utilize all of the features of your existing LMS, but you can tailor the learner experience for the content you’re presenting. You can offer a highly customized and relevant experience through the knowledge and activities you choose to present to your users. This makes a portal ideal if any of your users have ever had difficulty finding the information they want within your LMS, or if they only need to complete a small portion of your learning library in a short period of time.

How does a learning portal work?

A custom portal has functionality which allows you to build and update the specific journey and information being provided. The portal also receives and launches content from your LMS, and it can link to your social tools, allowing your audiences to further their learning through tools such as discussion forums, real-time chat and collaborative learning experiences.

There are two other important elements to portals: application programming interfaces (APIs) which can be used to link your systems and allow them to communicate with each other, and normally some form of Single Sign On (SSO), allowing your learners to log into the portal and access all of the content from your systems with a seamless login experience from a customer portal, or some other tool they already log into.

This can be achieved on a large scale. A great example of this is LEO’s work with one of the largest food and beverage manufacturers in the world. With over 80,000 employees globally, some of whom are external, the organization operates various portals for colleges of excellence covering topics like sales, marketing and supply chain fundamentals. The organization opted for a learner portal rather than an LMS because they wanted a small subset of learning material within a customized learner experience (LX).

These portals offer bespoke learner experiences and content to different groups within the business – they each have a customized user interface, learner experiences and content. They use gamification to drive people to the platform, they are localized for the different markets around the world, and are built to be fully responsive to allow access from a 3G connection. Thousands of users can access knowledge specific to their role through these custom portals, and learning leaders can also track their progress, helping to measure the business impact of learning.

Another learning portal example is NetDimensions work with Digicel, who were looking for a customized learning solution. About 1,000 young millennials work for Digicel, a mobile phone manufacturer in the Caribbean. NetDimensions’ success with this group was down to an attractive, easy-to-use learning portal accessed through an automatic enrolment after they were given a code. Dynamic videos and other training ploys were made accessible only to users who visited the portal.

A group of L&D leaders discussing the implementation of learning portals

How should your learning portal evolve?

Whether you want to change your portal’s resources or update its information, provided that you portal has a content management system (CMS) behind the scenes, moving elements around and adding new content won’t take too much of your time and doesn’t require any coding. Reporting and analytics allow you to take an agile approach and respond to the needs of your learners.

When NetDimensions worked with dental innovation company 3Shape, for example, the organization’s portal leaders tailored aspects of their content after discovering that dental assistants, rather than just dentists, were among the portal users carrying out scanning.

With a learning portal, you can be confident that a solution which meets your needs now can be easily adapted in the years ahead to enhance the user journey and maximize the business impact of learning. This versatility is another key benefit of using a portal.

If you enjoyed this blog, then you might also be interested in reading about transforming the learner’s experience through learning portals. To speak to a NetDimensions consultant about our learning portals and LMS solutions, get in touch here.

Peter Dobinson is a Solutions Architect at LEO
Peter Dobinson has had over 10 years’ experience in designing, building and managing online products. He previously worked for Philips, Specsavers, Electronic Arts and the NHS. At NetDimensions’ partner company LEO, he is responsible for some of our largest learning architectures, working as both Solutions Architect and Technical Lead. He is an expert in learning management systems, data-driven design, product management, data analytics and system integrations.

More Artificial Intelligence capability has been added to the NetDimensions Talent Suite

The recently released version 13.1 of the NetDimensions Talent Suite includes a number of exciting new features, such as bolstered Artificial Intelligence (AI) capability.

Artificial Intelligence, or machine intelligence, is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior”. Artificial Intelligence is widely tipped to revolutionize the Learning & Development (L&D) industry with its ability to use technology to make automated, intelligent choices on an ongoing basis.

Artificial Intelligence was first introduced to the NetDimensions Talent Suite with the introduction of Dynamic Load Analysis in version 12 in July 2016.

The NetDimensions Talent Suite version 13.1 sees new, enhanced AI functionality with the addition of the AI Assistant Recommendations feature.

AI Assistant Recommendations analyzes a user’s current training history and then suggests other courses that may be of interest based on their training. See below a sample screen of the new AI feature:

A screenshot of the new Artificial Intelligence feature, AI Assistant Recommendations, which has been added to NetDimensions Talent Suite 13.1

How to use AI Assistant Recommendations

There are several options available to refine and customize the recommendations, which are ‘star rated’ to indicate relevance.

The recommendation focus has three options available to help the AI functionality deliver the most relevant options.

  • Personal Preferences – the recommendations are based on self-enrolled courses in the learner’s training history.
  • Job Related Suggestions – the recommendations are based on courses in the learner’s history that were assigned (such as group enroll or auto-enroll).
  • Surprise Me – this recommendation option is based on all courses in the learner’s history. Since each course can have multiple associated courses, the AI assistant will use a probability function to vary the returned output, instead of simply ranking the recommended courses and returning the highest ranked courses (which is what happens with the first two options above). This means that the list of recommended courses can vary each time a ‘Surprise Me’ request is made.

These features are combined with options to consider all courses in a user’s training history, only the last 30 days’ history, or the option to focus on one particular course.

Artificial Intelligence Learning

The AI algorithm: what you need to know

The process, which runs in the background, is completed once a week, and implements a ‘Collaborative Filter’ algorithm similar to that used by online video library services, such as Amazon and Netflix, but tweaked for training relationships. It has a few details worth noting:

  • To deliver the most relevant and up-to-date results, only the past 18 months of training data are analysed.
  • The algorithm works at an impressive pace – a typical analysis of a large database containing 5 million rows can be done in 5 minutes versus 10 hours. To do this efficiently, it does the calculations in memory.

NetDimensions’ award-winning talent management solutions can help your organization take the next great step in the evolution of training technology. Contact us today to learn more about Artificial Intelligence in the NetDimensions Talent Suite 13.1.