If your organization already uses SharePoint for intranet, content management or project management, you might be thinking about using the same platform to build a web-based learning management system (LMS) on it. It’s really tempting to do so, as instead of buying another third-party LMS you could opt for employee training based on the already familiar environment. But it may be not as easy as it sounds.
In this article, we’ll analyze the pros and cons of a SharePoint learning management system and try to answer the question: can it meet corporate training needs as effectively as a specialized LMS?
Features of SharePoint LMS
Learning management systems have a variety of features that facilitate planning, implementing and assessing a specific learning process. Let’s see what SharePoint can offer in this regard.
Authoring training content
Pro. As SharePoint has out-of-the-box (OOTB) integration with Office 365 productivity tools (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Visio, etc.), simple e-learning content, such as lessons with text, image and video files, can be created right in SharePoint. It’s possible to incorporate content from other sites, for example, videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Wistia, etc. to SharePoint lessons. SharePoint also allows creating libraries with links to text documents and multimedia files.
Con. SharePoint doesn’t have specialized built-in tools for authoring more complex training content with such elements as interactive videos, maps, sliders, calculators, etc. In addition, SharePoint is not SCORM compliant OOTB. It’s possible to publish SCORM content and save it in SharePoint libraries but to view SCORM files, SharePoint needs to be customized.
Managing training content
Pro. SharePoint ensures centralized storing of e-learning content linking it to metadata and powerful search. SharePoint allows a user to perform basic list view customization, like filtering, changing the sort order, showing or hiding columns, and quickly find training content in a library with thousands of items. SharePoint also allows restricting access to test answers, teaching aids, etc., so only trainers can view and modify these materials.
Con. It’s impossible to change the layout and conditional format of a SharePoint list, connect the list view to other lists, etc. OOTB but these features can be customized using SharePoint Designer that you need to download. Also, editing training videos, enabling inside video search, managing live webinars, etc. require integrating SharePoint with visual content management systems.
Managing trainees and trainers
Pro. Using SharePoint workflows, it’s possible to enable automatic enrollment of trainees to the chosen course according to their skill and knowledge assessment. It’s also possible to connect a discussion to a specific course, assign courses to a group of employees in line with an organizational unit or other attributes and automatically adjust training needs depending on promotions, transfers or team changes. Through a system of permission levels, SharePoint allows determining what kind of content trainees are allowed to see.
The platform also offers a wide range of capabilities for trainer-trainee and trainee-trainee interaction and file exchange: group sites, blogs, discussion boards, forums, chats, wikis.
Con. SharePoint doesn’t have emailing functionality on its own and it needs to be integrated with an emailing service (for example, Outlook). Depending on the training needs, trainers and trainees can opt for more advanced collaboration, communication, task and project management tools (Yammer, Microsoft Teams, Project Online, Planner, etc.) that can be found in Office 365.
Making a course calendar
Pro. SharePoint OOTB functionality allows creating a calendar for scheduling trainings and other events (tests, exams, assignment deadlines, etc.). SharePoint can be synced with Outlook, which allows trainers and trainees to have access to all the events in their native Outlook calendar and a SharePoint calendar in Outlook, drag and drop events from the Outlook calendar to the SharePoint calendar and vice versa, etc. The events from different calendars will be marked in different colors.
SharePoint also provides the Overlays feature that allows, for example, combining a trainer’s calendar with a calendar of a group of trainees for the trainer to see other courses and events they attend and schedule trainings accordingly. Users can also overlay an Exchange calendar on top of their SharePoint calendar view.
Con. SharePoint calendar view takes a lot of space on the page with no option of configuring. Background color options for SharePoint overlays are restricted.
Pro. SharePoint notifications are sent to users automatically via emails or text messages and can be driven by events (enrolling to a course, completing a topic, passing or failing a test, etc.) or by changes in e-learning content (creating, uploading, modifying, etc.). SharePoint also allows prescheduling notifications about meetings, trainings, exams, deadlines, etc.
Con. OOTB SharePoint doesn’t enable users to send out alerts on certain dates, for example, for an overdue assignment.
Pro. SharePoint provides assessing trainees’ knowledge through simple tests. SharePoint offers this functionality with lists and allows creating multiple choice and yes/no questions, scoring the training results, creating diagrams based on answers and designating either a pass or a fail grade.
Con. OOTB SharePoint lists and columns have limits. For example, you can have a maximum of 48 calculated columns, so if you need more columns to display assessment results of more trainees, customization is required. Also, OOTB SharePoint doesn’t support creating tests based on question routing – asking questions based on replies given earlier in the test.
Pro. Depending on managers’ requests a training coordinator can set up a workflow on automatic enrollment of employees to external trainings. After a training is completed, SharePoint allows gathering employee feedback using surveys in a corporate intranet and testing knowledge they acquired during an external training.
Con. Trainees can’t view SCORM compliant e-learning content shared with them during an external training if their company’s SharePoint environment is not customized.
Pro. The cloud deployment of SharePoint ensures access to learning content regardless of a trainee’s location. Trainees just need a connection to the Internet to access e-learning materials 24/7 from desktop or mobile devices to be able to view and download lessons, complete and send assignments, comment on tasks, etc.
SharePoint co-authoring capability allows trainees to collaborate on the same documents, for example, while working on a group project and share completed assignments with a trainer for assessment.
Con. OOTB SharePoint doesn’t support streaming video conferences, and webinars live.
Self-learning and re-learning
Pro. SharePoint can provide trainees with open access to training materials and they can browse content libraries with lessons. Trainees can also track training materials updates and refresh their knowledge when needed.
Con. Access to SharePoint Online is dependent on the Internet connection.
Pro. SharePoint offers to create and store bite-sized microlearning modules (videos, blogs, podcasts, job aids, daily tips, etc.) to use for ongoing training or refreshing knowledge after a training ends. SharePoint supports using microlearning content on mobile devices.
Con. SharePoint doesn’t support interactive content OOTB.
Pro. SharePoint offers OOTB support for granting achievement points and badges for mastering a new skill, completing a course, passing a test or an exam, etc., as well as creating leaderboards with employees’ scores. These features can be a part of a company’s recognition and reward policy and go well with the social side of a corporate intranet.
Con. Achievement points can be awarded for participation in a limited range of activities. For example, it’s impossible to customize the awarding of points for activities like creating a document. A user can only have one badge and giving another one takes away the first one. Also, badges are text only and OOTB SharePoint doesn’t allow making graphical badges.
Pro. SharePoint supports professional certification to assure an employee’s qualification to perform a job. SharePoint allows for sending notifications if an employee hasn’t passed a certification test, track progress and display scores on the employee’s profile in the intranet. SharePoint can also provide automatic adding a certification test to the employee’s to-do list based on a workflow. After they pass the test, an electronic certificate can be added to the employee’s profile.
Con. It’s necessary to customize SharePoint to create interactive dashboards on certification assessment results.
Pro. SharePoint can help to catalog, search, and manage the skill sets of employees. It’s possible to create a database of employees’ competencies and skills in SharePoint and enable their search for anticipating human resources needs and managing recruitment. SharePoint supports employee ranking by competency levels, scheduling assessment events, etc.
Con. OOTB SharePoint doesn’t support interactive progress, performance and competency dashboards.
Feedback, analytics & reporting
Pro. SharePoint enables trainees to assess materials of finished courses. Trainees can implement ratings and tags to give real-time feedback on the learning material. It makes the courses with the highest rated materials come first upon search.
Due to automatically generated reports, SharePoint can help to track who has taken training, completed which tests, finished courses on time, etc. SharePoint enables tracking trainees’ course registrations, progress, competencies, certifications, engagement with content and course materials and makes reports using these data.
Con. OOTB functionality of SharePoint supports just a few types of audit reports (content viewing, modification, deletion, etc.) and usage reports (numbers of recent site visits, new items added, etc.). To extend and customize reporting functionality, SharePoint needs to be integrated, for example, with SQL Server Reporting Services.
Choosing SharePoint as a learning management system, you will have extra costs on subscriptions only if you want to connect additional users to your SharePoint LMS. However, you’ll need the assistance of an IT services provider in implementing an LMS even if you already have SharePoint, so that SharePoint components and tools should work as an integral entity. Also, your SharePoint LMS can be a costly solution if you need complex customizations or third-party integrations to meet your training needs.
On a final note
If your company has a subscription to SharePoint and Office 365, you already have a rich toolset that you may use for creating a robust learning management system. SharePoint OOTB functionality offers ample content management capabilities and Office 365 suite can enrich them with a wide range of collaboration tools. What’s more, you can extend SharePoint learning management functionality through customization due to the platform’s high scalability and flexibility.