This is a question we are often asked, and the answer is a resounding yes! SharePoint and by extension, Office 365, lives for this kind of thing. Let’s use the example of a business that sells safety wear that needs to ensure their distributors know how all the products work, as well as when new products come online. It helps if you already have the e-learning content ready, but if you don’t and you have to design your platform from scratch, this is what I would do :
1. Start High-Level Planning
Whip open a mindmapping tool of some kind, (or whatever your planning tool of choice is, it could be OneNote, Visio, PowerPoint, Word or Excel for that matter). Make high-level bullet points of what needs to be covered, (which you will further drill down into for the nitty gritty stuff), like this :
2. Understand the Audience and Interaction Levels
Who will need to access this? Is it internal staff only? Or external people like customers and suppliers? Do people need to be able to have a conversation with each other in a forum type situation? Or chat to a product specialist if they are stuck or have questions? Is it okay if everyone sees these conversations, or must they be private? (It would be far better to have transparency on the conversations from a complexity point of view, as well as for self-servicing over time by creating a frequently asked questions section later on). It’s important to know this so you can plan the groups, permissions and email alerts, reminders and notifications that need to go out.
3. Understand the Content and Match it to the Technology You Now Have
Traditionally, it would have been done using PowerPoint slides and Word document assessments. With the tool set available in Office 365, you have a much wider scope to do this so much better. I would not use PowerPoint at all anymore, nor Word user manuals. Keep in mind that everything below can be permissions restricted, that forms part of your planning.
I would introduce videos to allow for blended learning. Create channels in Stream to store them. They are automatically transcribed too, so if you don’t have any content yet and want to fast-track that, create videos and upload them, then copy the transcription and put it into pages with expanded information and convert some into cheatsheets and checklists. If you don’t have Stream, you can still upload the videos into standard document libraries, you just won’t get the transcription.
e-Learning will certainly require assessments, so that’s where Microsoft Forms comes in – a brilliant tool that allows people to do online assessments and get their marks immediately. You can then use Flow (Power Automate), to route the assessment information into a custom list in SharePoint Online so you can get your instant reporting, and put on flags for marks that are too low for example, which will be sent to the product specialist to address. Need to give them certificates of completion or competence? You can automate that too from the assessment data. Create the certificate in Word or PowerPoint, then use Power Automate and quick parts in Microsoft Office to automatically generate a certificate and PDF it if the student passes the assessment. Then you can email the PDF off to them.
If there are checklists people need to use on an ongoing basis, you can use Kaizala to send them to all your external users so you don’t need to worry about PowerApps licenses. (You have the option of Kaizala, Microsoft Forms and PowerApps for that).
You can do amazing online presentations of content using Sway instead of PowerPoint, with links at the end to the assessments, and back to the e-learning portal.
Instead of doing user manuals, use modern pages and turn an entire Communication Site into a user manual. Depending on how much content there is per subject to be learnt, or per user manual, you could either put all the content into one site collection called Eyewear Training for example, or break it up into different site collections like Sports Eyewear Training and Welding Eyewear Training.
On home pages, you can use the Countdown Timer to the next live training if you’re doing that, or a countdown to the deadline to complete the assessments. You can also add the Quick Chart to the home page with a high-level report of how many people have completed the assessment, how many passed, how many failed. You can do this per region and per product line. Use News Posts to share new content that has been added.
Conversations – who’s talking to whom? You can use an Outlook group, Kaizala, Teams or Yammer for this. When in doubt, go back to “what do I need to report on or manage?”. Do you need to be able to track a conversation, or extract a FAQ out of it? Or have different discussion topics? Yammer is probably the best option for an e-learning scenario, but Teams could work just as well.
4. Permissions to Get This Done
You are going to need SharePoint Administrator rights in Office 365 to build this solution, because you’re going to be creating loads of site collections. Request access now if you don’t have that already. It’s going to drive you mad to have to log a call for every single site collection you’ll need. If your company is adamant that you can’t have those rights, you can still achieve all this using Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams, just make sure you create public and not private groups or you may run into issues later adding larger audiences. You won’t get to use the Communication site template, which would be ideal, but you can still rock this using modern SharePoint team sites. If you are going to use Kaizala, then you will also need those admin rights.
5. Tie it All Together
Create all the site collections you need for each of the product lines, and tie them all together using a Hub Site. The navigation will be critical to really rock this. Get all the content in, then ramp up the mega menu to make it all easy to use.
Here’s an in progress Policy Centre that works just as well. Replace the word Policy Centre with e-Learning Portal, or Eyewear Training, (for our case study). The dropdown menus will link to chapters of learning, presentations, cheatsheets and assessments.
Some screenshots of different tools to use.
This is a really cool project to do. It’s a brilliant way to use loads of different tools already available to you in Office 365. Step one is to plan your e-learning tracks first. Decide what content you need for each of them. Start writing and recording that content. Don’t bother formatting Word and PowerPoint documents because you’re going to do it in modern pages instead. But you can still start collecting the screenshots and content. Don’t forget proper naming standards on any uploadable or downloadable content so it supports the search engine.
Have fun and get creative!