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Finding a Focus: Four Ways Next-gen Learning Portals Change How You See Performance

In recent years, gigapixel photos have become popular. Capturing visuals from national parks, cityscapes, and sporting events, these photos stitch together many high-fidelity images to create amazingly detailed panoramas. The largest that I’m aware of—a nighttime view of Kuala Lumpur—is 846 gigapixels (a resolution equivalent to about 70,000 iPhone pics). You can get lost in the image, panning across buildings, zooming in to a single street light and back out again. The amount of visual data is dizzying.

In the field of learning portals (including performance portals, engagement portals, and traditional LMSes), I see a parallel trend. Many of the companies we talk to are stitching together pictures of performance from multiple systems and sources, including enterprise and program-specific platforms, to try to create insight into learners and behaviors. As with gigapixel images, the breadth of data available is impressive. But with so much to look at, our challenge as system architects and administrators has become a matter of focus. What should we be looking at, and when and how?

As we’ve worked with our partners to address this design challenge, we’ve found a few key principles drive usage and performance in the areas that matter most to business results.

1. Design the Homepage: When learning and performance portals fail to gain traction, it’s more often because users are overwhelmed by too many features rather than frustrated by not enough.

To avoid this problem, set aside the comprehensive system feature lists, and instead start with learner pain points. Why will they want to use the portal? What will it help them do better or faster? If the handful of core features that align most with pain points or process improvements aren’t accessible from your homepage in fewer than 2 clicks and less than 10 seconds, your homepage needs revision.

2. Personalize the Journey: Effective, modern portals know who you are and why you’re there. Unfortunately, many systems still default to one-size-fits-all. If your portal needs to support performance for multiple roles, you’ll create better usage with a design that serves content and features dynamically, based on individual needs.

As with the homepage design, personalization helps us compete for user time and attention. Five highly relevant, prioritized, role-specific features will support performance far better than 50 marginally relevant ones.

3. Foster Ongoing Reference and Support: Learning is a process, not an event, but many systems still expect learners to take in all relevant knowledge in a single sitting. This strategy simply doesn’t work for higher level, skill-based programs.

Instead, design your programs so the learning itself builds habits of reference for point-of-need performance support in the portal. It’s often as important for learners to know where to go for answers as it is for them to remember the answers. With a sustained performance support strategy, you’ll make your portal “sticky” and create a context in which learners actively pull information, rather than turn to outside (and possibly incorrect) sources when they have questions. See how Avon University put learner needs first to create a system reps wanted to use.

4. Focus your Dashboards: A camera lens defines what we see (and don’t). Similarly, performance portals shape the data we see and act on and, just as important, the data we ignore. We can’t look at everything, so the best portals focus on the points that align most with our business goals, through at-a-glance data visualization strategies.

This means we must think about data-gathering tools as we design, such as ongoing micro-assessments, realtime content-usage tracking, social shares and favorites, even action plan progress. In many cases, the simple act of targeted measurement and progress visualization by itself has a positive effect on performance.

The new ecosystem of learning portals and enterprise systems is creating powerful opportunities to drive and view performance within an organization. However, too many of us are getting lost in the picture, unsure what to focus on. Designed correctly, a performance portal frames our attention, maintains our focus over time, and helps us avoid one of the most common stumbling blocks to new system adoption—feature overload. It helps us identify and scale the content and learning strategies best aligned with measurable business results.

How are you dealing with the new realities of multiple systems and portals? Are you finding these systems help you focus or add noise?