SharePoint for Social Learning : Hero or Villain?

I’ve just read an interesting blog entry by e-learning analyst Craig Weiss, titled “SharePoint – Social Learning Savior?”

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Craig suggests that in the corporate world you cannot “toss a rock in any direction without someone mentioning SharePoint as the glorious solution for social learning”. I’m afraid this is definitely true on this blog!

He points out several disadvantages of SharePoint, the key ones being:

  • It’s not an out of the box solution, you need to configure it and customize it
  • You need resources and time to use it for social learning well
  • User interfaces and features aren’t as strong as some bespoke social learning systems
  • There is a risk of overloading users
  • And a risk of a lot of lurkers rather than contributors
  • For an LMS, you’re really better getting another product than building your own customization on SharePoint

His conclusion : “SharePoint can be a solid social learning platform, but unless you understand the challenges and potential pitfalls ahead of time, then you might be in for a quite a surprise”.

My first reaction on reading the article was that he was attacking a product I love, and how dare he! But reading through his blog, he’s clearly someone who writes knowledgeably on other subjects.

I think he’s missing some significant advantages of SharePoint:

  • If you are already using SharePoint, then it’s an easy step for social learning, and using it rather than a new system will make it more cohesive
  • Even though there may be extra costs in training for new applications, the software itself is potentially free (i.e. already deployed) in many organizations
  • SharePoint has a definite future. It will be present for years to come, whereas other products may not last so long; you could move to a less widely used program and in a few years time have to move again
  • There is a huge body of knowledge and skills and vendors, a whole ecosystem for SharePoint which nothing else can match

But it is true that effective use of SharePoint needs time and resources, setting up governance policies and training your users. You’re not just going to flick a switch to make SharePoint a great learning system – it’s going to require time and effort. SharePoint like any other IT system has pitfalls and challenges – and I recommend reading his article for a neutral view as well as reading the musings of enthusiasts such as myself!


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