As an analyst, I am often approached for advice by companies – both practitioner and provider. These interactions are not simply one-way dumps of knowledge. I learn as much from these conversations as I share. I would not be able to do what I do without maintaining the constant connection to real-world experiences that comes from these dialogues.
And, every so often, these interactions become a story unto themselves. Sometimes questions come in bunches. Patterns emerge, indicative of some undercurrent of which the individual questioner is often unaware. The trend demands its own attention.
Well, recently a clear and provocative pattern has emerged regarding the intersection of Microsoft SharePoint and the Learning Management System (LMS). In the span of two weeks five separate companies ranging from a small boutique professional services firm to a couple of the largest and most familiar technology companies around today have essentially asked the same two questions:
- Do any existing LMS providers integrate with SharePoint – such that my learners can take care of all of their learning transactional needs (e.g., finding learning content or events, seeing their upcoming events or assigned content, viewing transcripts, etc.) in SharePoint without having to enter the LMS environment?
- Has anyone (e.g, Microsoft, 3rd Parties, Open Source) created plug-ins or custom additions to SharePoint such that we could use SharePoint as our LMS?
First, let's talk about the questions on their face, then address the larger implications:
As to whether or not any provider is already offering integration with SharePoint, the answer is: . While most providers should be able to accomplish some degree of custom integration, such custom work usually comes substantial costs and potential growing pains as both systems evolve. Those providers built on Microsoft's .NET platform will be better suited for achieving and maintaining deep connections between the systems.
Of the ~40 companies in our latest LMS Industry Study (publishing soon!) only one, Operitel, openly markets its abilities to connect SharePoint and the LMS. Operitel is able to leverage its separate experience as a hosting provider and implementer for SharePoint in this regard. Other providers tell us they have accomplished some type of custom integration, but most often just a simple single-sign-on connection allowing the user to seamlessly "click-through" to the LMS.
As to whether or not SharePoint can be a LMS, there are some existing options. Microsoft offers a SharePoint Learning Kit, which includes certified support for SCORM 2004 and 1.2 e-learning content. The code for the kit is available for free to SharePoint customers. On the product page for this kit is a list of partner integrators that can assist organizations looking to implement it. Also available is a Podcasting Kit that organizations such as British Telecom are already using to support social learning.
Besides Microsoft, there are a few very small LMS providers offering similar SharePoint-based LMSs, including one branded SharePointLMS. But, again, none of the major LMS providers has made a visible move in this direction.
So what do these questions tell us about the LMS market in general?
The first question is a variation on the portlets and web services theme that we have been hearing for some time. Many LMS customers are unhappy with the usability of their systems. They want a better user experience for their learners – and that means fewer, more consistent systems with which to engage. It means bringing learning to the learner such as in the learning portal concept, rather than forcing the learner to go the learning in the LMS. The organization's common intranet portal (i.e, SharePoint) is an obvious place to start.
(For more on learning portals, see our case study on IBM in our Research Library.)
I have talked to several LMS providers about this topic. Some claim that they have created such connections for a few clients, but always on a custom basis. By and large, very few of the LMS providers are marketing their support for open APIs and portal standards (WSRP and JSR-168) that would allow for exposing major LMS functions inside of SharePoint or other portal technology. At the moment, LMS providers tell us that they have heard little demand for these integrations so far. This fact seems hard to believe given some of the conversations I've had over the past year; and I suspect they will see increasing demand from their existing clients soon. In the meantime, LMS providers may begin to realize what the Enterprise Social Software providers have already realized. SharePoint provides a ready-made market.
(For more on the Enterprise Social Software market, see our industry study.)
In the Enterprise Social Software market, many providers have chosen to openly partner with Microsoft , marketing pre-built integrations with SharePoint. As of 2007, Microsoft had sold 85 million SharePoint licenses to more than 17000 companies and was generating $800 M in revenue. Comparing the existing LMS market to that of SharePoint, and it would seem there are many SharePoint customers potentially in need of an LMS. The existing LMS providers would be well served offering their best-of-breed technology through SharePoint rather than waiting for the SharePoint customers to go in search of free or nearly-free alternatives.
So, does this concept pique your interest? Are you a SharePoint customer looking to either integrate your LMS with SharePoint? Or perhaps even replace it? Have you tried the SharePoint Learning Kit? Let us know! Comments welcome!