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Jan
31
2012

An Administrator’s review of SuccessFactors/Plateau LMS 6.3

Well, by the time i start writing this review Plateau LMS has been already re-branded as Success Factors LMS, and the success factors acquired by SAP! However for an e-learning and LMS professionals still the name ‘Plateau’ is going to be a most compelling brand name for a while.

Being a technician in the learning industry for a while and worked with dozens of custom and branded Learning Management Systems i thought to share my opinion on the latest and the greatest version of the Plateau LMS 6.3 for the benefit of e-learning and LMS community.

First of all, Plateau developers took a very brave decision on integrating their LMS with the rich media interface developed through Adobe Flex and they have almost succeeded with it! Well, the reason i say ‘almost’ is having tons of flex components in the front end of the LMS comes with tons of pros and cons. Many of which feels more ‘fancy’ than the actual need.

I am going to split my review by the sections of the Plateau/SuccessFactors/(SAP) LMS.

 

Learner Interface

Plateau Success Factors LMS

Plateau/SuccessFactors LMS 6.3 Learner Home Page

 

When the learner logs in for the first time they will see a welcome message with some introduction information about the system. Once this message closed the actual learner home page will load.

The learner home screen is well designed from the end user perspective, after all the very purpose of a Learning Management System is to fulfill the learning needs of an end user. An end user of LMS obviously will not be ‘techy’ and all he/she will be very specific with their objectives. For them a Learning Management System is no different from the tons of other systems the organizations force them to live with. Plateau developers done a fantastic job in designing the learner home screen keeping in mind of what they ‘need’ to focus preciously.

The moment a learner gets in he will see a list of his “To-Dos” (in most other LMS’s what is referred as ‘Learning Plan’). The To-Do list will preciously list the trainings the learners are supposed to take with due dates if any. There is a search box at the top of “To-Do” list and a learner can start typing some keywords to further drill down into the trainings they are assigned for.

Since this whole To-Do list is built as Adobe Flex component, a learner can type some keywords in the To-Do search box and the relevant results will display instantly as they type, Cool!

Other than the To-Do list the learner can view their assigned Curricula and Completed Work (what is referred as ‘Learner History’ in most other LMS’s).

There is also a small box with some quick links (these links can be customized for a example a link to the help desk can be made available here). Below the curricula and completed work boxes there is some extra space reserved for some other custom sections (like ‘competencies’ for example).

The completed work section again built with a flex component like the To-do list (with instant search feature).

 

Learner Interface – Catalog Search

The most important (catalog) search is available at the top right. Just like any other LMS learner can perform basic search (e.g. WBT/ILT/Curricula by title/ID) or advanced search (e.g. divisions/groups).

The learner can also browse the courses by subject (like technical, compliance, regulations etc).

One thing, I have liked here is the simplicity for the learner to launch the courses. Once the learner search for a course they get an option to launch the course in one click, compare to many other leading LMS’s (like sumtotal) there is no concept of ‘registration’ procedures (for Online Training/WBTs). The learner can launch it in one click or add the course into their to-do list. So simple!

However i would say the simplification was a bit overdone here, because one of the very basic need for the learners that is browsing the courses by ‘catalog’ is totally missing. For example if a learner has access to 10 catalogs from different organizations and each organization consists of about 1000 courses then the learner will see all 10,000 courses in a blind view without knowing which course belongs to which catalog. Compare to this the sumtotal’s catalog view was much better because the learner will see the catalogs listed clearly by title and they can select the catalog and sub-catalogs and see the courses inside them so clearly. With Plateau it’s big minus. The learners unnecessarily exposed to 1000’s of courses without a clear organization!

But in overall this is all learners left with. Not much of not much of complex sections to deal with, I felt like learner’s life a lot simplified in overall. Plateau may be having some additional sections possibly (at least they were not used in the LMS i have worked with).

 

 

Manager/Supervisor Interface

A manager will have their home page just like a learner. But additionally they will have a section to manage their employees/direct reports.

A manager can view their direct report’s learning status and assign the trainings. The manager can see their employee’s home page elements like To-Do list, curricula, completed work just like how their employees will see, which is cool feature!

The manager also will have options to assign the courses to their employees and will have access to some basic reports as well.

The employee management section in overall well designed from the usability perspective.

 

 

Administrator Interface

The administrator interface has tons of details to talk about.

 

Search Bar

The administrator interface also consists of a general search bar at the top where you can type some relevant keywords to reach out to a particular section or to search course as well. For example typing create item will take the administrator to the Item creation area. It’s a like smart search bar. However it wasn’t much of attractive thing because it’s performance was a bit slow.

 

Records Search

Another impressive feature is the way the search works in general within administrator interface, be it items, content objects, users or any type of records. All the sections start with a search screen with a set of fields. The search fields and results both are in-general well customizable. For example, when I search for the user records, I will have at least 30 optional fields to input and build a search criteria. Similarly while displaying the search results I will have at least 30 optional fields to show along with the search results. For example if  the search results by default displays the user name, id and e-mail then I can additionally configure it to display their organization code and supervisor details as well, Cool!

 

E-Commerce

One annoying thing is the e-commerce features (such as currency preferences) shown in the front end for users and administrators. These features mostly exist with many other leading LMS’s as well. The point is even though these LMS’s built with commercial business model support (such as pay to learn), such e-commerce features won’t be required mostly when deployed to the corporates. Even though all these LMS developers offer so much of customization options it’s unfortunate that they don’t have an option to hide all these e-commerce stuffs when they are really not required.

 

 

Items and Content Objects

It is important to understand how the terminologies used in plateau LMS is a lot different from a typical LMS. In Plateau LMS the courses referred as ‘Items’. Unlike many other LMS’s in the market the Item will not store the course contents itself. The actual course contents (the course files) stored separately in form of ‘Objects’ these are called as ‘Content Objects’. An Item tied with content Object creates a course. Only Items will be visible for the learners. The learners will ‘not‘ know anything about content objects.

The idea behind this could be re-usability; one content object can be tied with multiple Items to create multiple courses.

A Curriculum (like a certification program) could consist of group of Items. Sub-curriculums can be created under a particular curriculum. A curricula/curriculum could be consist of optional and mandatory courses (Items).

There is a different concept called ‘Requirements’. The Requirements are very similar to curricula with some differences. For example if there are 5 Items in a Requirement then it can be configured such a way that the learner can take any 3 of 5 to fulfill the completion criteria (like electives).

Other than the standard LMS tools like enrollment/registration etc, a set of unique tools available for manipulating learning history or to provide learning credits manually. I have liked this particular part because it is very easy to process multiple learners completion records with multiple Items (courses) at the same time. Something which is only available with professional LMS’s.

 

Assignment Profiles & Job Positions

Assignment profiles and Job Positions are two powerful features to facilitate the automatic training assignments for the users based on some predefined criteria. For example using assignment profile we can setup the system to assign some required training for a new hire automatically as soon as they are added into the system.

Similarly the users can be assigned trainings automatically based on their positions or the role they perform with the help of Job Positions feature.

These two are really powerful features if implemented and used well. But it will require some degree of smartness to use them with the advanced requirements without messing up.

 

Reports

There is a separate section dedicated for Reports. Plenty of standard reports and options to build custom reports are available. Like any other section every report provides extensive options to define the filter criteria.

However the drawback her is the way reports are titled for example everyone understands the term ‘Completion Report’ but the same termed as ‘Item Status’ and there are so many other reports with the name ‘Item’ which makes it overall bit difficult for consumers to find exact report they need. Moreover there is no clear report descriptions available as well. Overall the usability requires some greater attention here.

Proxy

Another cool new feature called ‘Proxy’ Interface. This feature allows the administrators to review a learner’s Interface just like how a learner will see from their login. For example after making a training assignment an administrator can use the proxy feature to verify that the newly assigned training appears in the learner’s To-do list properly.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Plateau LMS 6.3 is a fantastic product. Extensive and unique features built with every corner of the LMS. However in my opinion the biggest mistake plateau developers have made is the way they have used the Adobe Flex Interface especially with learners.

They have not used just the components, rather the entire learner home screen built to load within the flash player. This Adobe flex interface is very heavy in size and requires tons of classes to load before the learner set to start with something.

Flash is generally good with animations but for functional intensive applications they are definitely not suitable due to tons of crash issues and loading problems (I used to be an experienced flash/flex developer myself for years!). Within few months of this LMS implementation I have seen at least 3% of users had variety of trouble just with loading their home page because of this!

The only major advantage with this entire flex based interface is the ‘instant search’ feature. Is it really worthy to bet their entire product performance and stability as whole for this? I seriously doubt.

I have also seen this latest version of LMS compatible with mobile platforms. However I have no clue about how they have managed to make this LMS (with Flex Interface) to work with Apple products!

So Again, lots of powerful features in overall. But the decision of flex components usage really makes the implementation really challenging from the learners perspective. Plateau developers should consider get rid of all flash components from their front end for the long term success and survive the competition.

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