What is a learning portal?

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A learning portal is a single place where employees can access learning. A key feature of a learning portal is that it is learner-centred and often organised around the current and future capability needs of the organisation. A learning portal is often a perfect place for curated content. Modern learners want experiences that are more like the rest of web than what a typical LMS offers. They want to be able to browse, choose and explore learning. In an LMS, learning is allocated and ‘pushed’ to employees. With a learning portal, learners can 'pull' resources and access what they need.   

I found myself over the last week having multiple conversations about what a learning portal is and how it differs from an LMS. One of these conversations was with an HR person, who is new to L&D, as we were working on configuring Totara LMS. He said that he'd like it to behave more like a website. When we explored this more, we discovered that he wanted fewer options on the page, and the ability to access activities without being enrolled in a course. This is more web-like than most LMS offerings.

How is a portal different to a learning management system?

LMSs are built around courses. A learning portal is often built around themes that are necessary for an employee being able do their job. You often have more flexibility about the interface and design of a learning portal because they are built around more standard web design technologies such as Wordpress.

How is a portal different to just having an L&D section on your intranet?

A portal can be just a section on the intranet but often the L&D component of an intranet is focused on L&D, e.g. policies and procedures and manuals. A portal is more learner-centred. Its focus is on what employees need to be able to do their job.

Technologies for building learning portals

Learning portals are built with the platforms most of the web is built with, i.e. common content management systems (CMS):

  • Wordpress
  • Sharepoint
  • Squiz Matrix
  • Silverstripe (Sprout Labs' learning experience platform Glasshouse is built with Silverstripe)

These platforms are not normally used for learning experiences because they are content based and don't have interactive activities and tracking. Learning experiences that are made in common authoring systems can be uploaded to these CMSs. A SCORM course is really just web content that is formatted in a particular way. Working with learning content outside of an LMS means that you're not allocating and tracking completions of courses, but not all learning needs to be tracked in that way. Tracking of learning experiences outside of an LMS isn't impossible—it's one of the main things xAPI does (if xAPI is a new piece of jargon for you).

In a modern learning ecosystem, a learning portal is often at the centre.