EK’s CEO, Zach Wahl, previously published Knowledge Portals Revisited, a blog that spells out an integrated suite of systems that actually puts users’ needs at the center of a knowledge management solution. We’ve long acknowledged that content may need to live in specialized repositories all across the enterprise, but we finally have a solution that gives users one place to search for and discover meaningfully contextualized knowledge within one portal.
Knowledge Portals, as described in Wahl’s blog, integrate data and information from multiple sources so that organizations can more efficiently generate insights and make data-driven decisions. However, if our goal is not just to enable knowledge insights but also to improve learning and performance, there are some additional design imperatives:
- Findability of content by task or competency
- Focus on the actions which enable learning
- Measurement of learning and performance
Findability of Content for Learning and Performance
When designing a Knowledge Portal, one of the key considerations is how content is organized to optimize findability. Recently the EK team designed and developed a few Knowledge Portals and the information architecture and metadata strategies centered around business-specific concepts:
- For a global investment firm, the key organizing principle was deals and investments. Employees of the organization needed to see all of the data and information about a particular deal in one place so they could spot trends and analyze relationships between data points more effectively.
- For a manufacturing company, the key organizing principle was products and solutions. The Knowledge Portal needed to dynamically aggregate all of the information about a product, from the technical specifications to the customer success stories all in one place. That place became one dynamically assembled page for each product.
A Knowledge Portal gives you the ability to see all of the diverse knowledge assets in context. But developing the skills and abilities to apply and solve complex problems using those knowledge assets – that requires dedicated learning and performance improvement strategies. When the goal of the Portal is not knowledge but instead improving learning and performance, the organizing principles change from business concepts to competencies or tasks.
- If the primary driver is to improve learning, the organizing principle becomes competencies. For example, Indeed.com identifies eighteen essential sales professional competencies. These competencies, such as upselling, negotiation, and product knowledge, would serve as an excellent navigational structure and Primary Metadata Fields for organizing a learning-focused portal for the organization.
- If the primary driver is to improve performance, the organizing principle becomes tasks. Put yourself in the shoes of a busy sales professional trying to complete a simple task, such as preparing and delivering a product demo, unsure of the correct process. The sales professional needs to quickly find the performance support and supporting knowledge necessary to complete their task – they don’t want to wade through a competency-based navigational structure about higher-level concepts like upselling. Instead, they seek a system that allows them to find action-oriented, task-focused information at the point of need.
The technical applications of these concepts are manifested in a few ways. In its simplest format, the key organizing principle informs the navigation menu, as shown in the gif above. Competencies or tasks can also serve as the top level of a hierarchical taxonomy, enabling users to filter search results by competency or task.
If we want to get beyond search and navigation and start to use AI to automate recommendations of content, we can build an ontological data model as the foundation of this functionality. In this instance, the key organizing principle must become central to our ontology. This can often be achieved by having many entities of a particular category or class. For example, in a Learning Portal, there would be more competency entities than entities of any other category or class. In a Performance Portal, we would emphasize task entities in the ontology design.
Actions to Enable Learning and Performance
Findability of knowledge assets solves the problem of access to knowledge, but to develop skills and abilities, users must invest a bit more effort. Through active engagement with new information and content, individuals can enhance their understanding, retention, and application of knowledge. A Learning and Performance Portal builds on the foundation of a Knowledge Portal by not only aggregating information but also incorporating features that encourage active engagement and interaction.
A typical level of engagement and interaction might be reviewing a piece of learning content (reading a summary of a process and or watching a video about it) and then answering a question. E-Learning courses often handle this through multiple choice, true/false, or matching questions. These types of assessment questions add multiple benefits at once – we collect formative or summative data about learner performance, and we also provide the learner an opportunity to pause and reflect on what they just read. Instructional designers have a lot of tricks up their sleeves to promote interaction and reflection, including branching scenarios and gamification. These types of dynamic interactions must be incorporated into our Learning and Performance Portals rather than simply enabling users to see all of the information in one place.
Another way we can promote dynamic interaction and reflection with new ideas is by enabling interactions with real people. When our Learning and Performance Portals aggregate all of the information about a competency or task in one place, we should include relevant Communities of Practice (CoPs) and contact information for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). What better way is there to actively engage with new concepts than by asking questions and engaging in dialogue? What better way to learn a new task or process than by helping to collaboratively improve it?
Measuring Learning and Performance
In a Knowledge Portal, typical data points collected include the number of unique visitors to the portal, which pages they’re spending time on, which pages have high bounce rates, and what terms users are frequently searching for. This data helps us understand the performance of the content and the portal itself. But in a Learning and Performance Portal, we need to understand the specific learning content users were exposed to and, ideally, data that indicates mastery of concepts and/or successful performance of tasks.
In compliance-focused situations, data must be able to confirm that a specific employee fulfilled the requirement of accessing the correct information, serving the purpose of liability avoidance. Data that indicates that the employee completed a course or watched a video suffices in these cases. EK developed a Learning and Performance Portal for a client, which captured Experience API (xAPI) activity statements for each individual, tracking not only whether they started an instructional video but whether they watched it all the way to the end. We were able to generate reports showing which users never viewed the video, viewed but didn’t play the video at all, played a portion of the video, or completed the video.
While compliance remains an important requirement, utilizing Learning and Performance Portals enables organizations to go beyond simply checking off completion. They allow for a more comprehensive assessment of learners’ knowledge and skills, providing a more holistic view of their learning journey and progress. Depending on the learning strategy employed, Learning and Performance Portals can capture additional data beyond mere completion status. This may include tracking whether learners correctly answered formative or summative assessment questions and the number of attempts it took them to do so. Furthermore, the portals can record any earned badges or certifications as a result of completing specific learning activities. xAPI activity statements can be used to track whether or not a learner connected with an SME, joined a CoP, chatted with a mentor, or performed well in a multiplayer game.
By capturing this data within Learning and Performance Portals, organizations can gain insights into learners’ proficiency levels, their progress in mastering specific topics, and their overall engagement with the learning materials. This data can be valuable for assessing the effectiveness of the learning programs, identifying areas where additional support or resources may be required, and finding and recognizing individuals who have demonstrated competence through job performance.
A modern learning ecosystem requires a diverse body of learning content, from eLearning courses and webinars to performance support and communities of practice. Often we need multiple systems to best enable this diverse learning content. A Learning and Performance Portal can provide that single entry point for learners so that they can find everything they need to develop a new competency or perform a task all in one place. Further, this learning content is automatically aggregated – removing a manual content maintenance burden from your instructional designers and trainers. If you can use some support in the design and development of a Learning and Performance Portal, Enterprise Knowledge can help.