Let's say for a minute that our most important job as instructional designers is to create simplicity and relevancy out of chaos—the chaos of way too much information. To that end, I’d like to suggest that building a well-designed learning portal is the cornerstone to all learning solutions.
Why? Because, at their best, learning portals integrate the best qualities of convenience stores. They quickly and conveniently give learners access to content and support by providing—
- A convenient location in the moment of need
- A layout that allows for grab-and-go and for finding more
- Single-serving packaging (bite-sized learning chunks)
- An option for a live attendant as needs arise
- 24/7 availability
The website db101.org is a good example of this. This site is designed to help people with disabilities increase their income and standard of living through work. There is a ton of useful information here; however, it gets complex very quickly.
To help users navigate site, the Minnesota Department of Human Services decided to embed learning elements within the site. We worked them to create several educational pieces and to create the How-To tab. Here's how we enhanced the Home tab:
The How-To tab engages users in the site’s content quickly and purposefully by encouraging them to take three simple steps the first time they visit the site:
In addition to the learning content on the How-To tab, we placed learning nuggets throughout the site. For example, there are short software demos and quick reference guides at the point of need and the Talk to an Expert live chat feature on every page.
By adding these elements, the entire site essentially became a learning portal—a convenient destination to kick off learning, grab and go, and then continue to come back for as long as needed, 24/7.
Turning a Web-site like db101.org into a learning portal is not super complicated, technically. Turning an ERP system into a learning portal, however, is a different challenge.
Fortunately, systems like Oracle eBusiness Suite and SAP are becoming much more flexible.
As an example, a colleague recently worked with a client to embed learning and support content directly into SAP transactions screens. By adding learning-related buttons to SAP transaction screens, the client provided step-by-step and conceptual help in the moment of need. This has proven to be particularly helpful for those transactions that are complex or performed infrequently.
The irony for instructional designers is that creating simplicity and relevancy is far from simple. While we do not need to be IT gurus, we do need a comprehensive understanding of what is possible with the technologies with which we and our learners work. And, as with any ID effort, we must sort through all the goods available to find just the right things to stock our “convenience store shelves.”