The New ‘Programs’ in SuccessFactors Learning (b1405)
With the b1405 release for SuccessFactors Learning, a major new piece of functionality is being introduced to the product, albeit in a ‘Preview’ release (i.e. – beta). This new concept of Programs in the LMS presents learning administrators with a fresh way to structure learning and tailor packages of learning for different groups and needs. Curriculum have been in the LMS for a while and provide a nice way to structure various learning elements (Items/Requirements/Sub-curricula), but Programs provide a different way to think about your structured learning offerings for your organization.
For anyone who reads my blogs, you know I like to compare SuccessFactors functionality to on-premise SAP HCM, and today will be no different. For those familiar with SAP Learning Solution, SAP has a concept of Curricula and Course Programs already. In true SAP fashion though, I’ve found over the years the use of the two in SAP seem backwards to a person’s assumed meaning of ‘curricula’ vs ‘program’. Curricula in SAP are meant to have defined start and end points, with course offerings that are meant to be taken by the learner in a structured manner with respect to the overall timing of the curriculum. Many people in the US equate the term ‘curriculum’ to a University curriculum. Curriculum in SAP are not nearly as flexible as one may think when making this comparison as they are meant to drive learners through specific training and offerings in a set time frame. This can lead to some confusion for users of SAP LSO, as the Course Program concept in SAP is much more similar to the University curriculum concept that people are more familiar with.
The use of Programs in SuccessFactors Learning is conceptually similar to the use of Course Programs in SAP LSO, however, SuccessFactors Learning has a much bigger vision for Programs in the LMS than what is possible in Course Programs within SAP LSO. If you read the b1405 release notes from SuccessFactors on the topic of Programs, you will see they are designed to deliver simple and intuitive learning that spans over time and can be comprised of differing types of learning activities. This is very similar to Course Programs in SAP LSO, with one key difference. Course Programs in LSO provide a similar ‘learning map’ so to speak through learning courses, but that’s all it provides within the program (courses only). One of the great things about Programs in SuccessFactors Learning is the content (called Activities) of the Program does not have to just be learning items. There are several options in the preview release with b1405 for the activities that can make up a Program, and more are to come in the roadmap for the functionality.
Programs are an opt-in feature with the b1405 release, and keep in mind it is a preview/beta release, so you will see some functionality around them still yet to come, plus don’t be surprised to find a bug or two if you play around with it now (I already have). You have to opt-in to the use of Programs in the LMS, which as an admin in the LMS you can do so by following the steps below.
- In the System Configuration files, in the LMS_ADMIN file, set the parameter for enableBetaProgramsFeature to ‘true’
- Prerequisites in the LMS_ADMIN file include
- Set parameter enableCatalogFilteredSearchAndIntegratedSocialContent to ‘true’
- Also you must be using the latest UI display (‘Recommended’ setting in the User Settings configuration of the LMS)
- Prerequisites in the LMS_ADMIN file include
- There are new security workflows for admins for the use of Programs. Check to ensure your admin roles contain these.
Once you have activated Programs in SuccessFactors Learning, you should see menu options for them within the Learning area of the administrator portal. You can create Programs much like you create any other entity/objects in the LMS. The screen shot below demonstrates the options available when creating a Program. For the purpose of this blog, I am creating a Program for a New Manager Training Program to help give us some context.
- Type – Programs in the LMS can be one of three types, which dictate the structure and timing of the program in general.
- Scheduled – Programs of this type have a set Start/End Date and Time. This can be compared to Curriculums in SAP LSO, which are meant to be taken during a specific period.
- Duration-Based – Programs of this type have a fixed duration overall, but learners can start the program at different times. More flexibility is given to learners here, allowing the Program to be started at any point in time while dictating that the program should be completed within a certain duration.
- Open-Ended – Programs of this type provide the most flexibility, dictating no start/end date and times or fixed duration.
- Progress Restriction – Within the Program, admins can restrict the progress through the various activities in a couple of ways
- By Completion – Selecting this option for progress restriction requires users to complete previous sections before starting the next section of activities.
- By Schedule – Selecting this option for progress restriction requires users to wait until the scheduled time before starting a section with respect to the overall timing and duration of the program and sections within it.
- Note – This option can only be used for progress restriction if the Type is set to ‘Scheduled’
Once an admin specifies the base information to create a Program, the main maintenance screen for Programs is displayed. First thing you should notice if you are familiar with the LMS from the admin side is the UI here is completely different than the typical screen that is shown to an admin when maintaining various entities in the system. Maintaining a Program here provides a tile-based look and feel similar to the end user UI of the LMS and the rest of SuccessFactors and BizX in general (maybe a sign of things to come in the rest of the Admin portal within the LMS…who knows). The main maintenance screen is broken down into the various tiles below.
- Description – Text based description of Program, visible to learners when looking at the Program details. Can have different translations based on locales as needed.
- Agenda – The agenda is the structure of the Program, made up of various Sections and Activities.
- Settings – Various differing settings for the Program, including the program type, status, domain assignment, program group, and progress restriction.
- Assignment – Reflects the number of Assignment Profiles that contain the program.
- Publishing – Reflects the number of Catalogs and Subject Areas that are related to the program.
The following sections provide further details on maintaining Programs within SuccessFactors Learning.
As mentioned before, the Agenda of the Program forms the overall structure of the Program. It is broken down into Sections, and each Section can contain various Activities. Within the Agenda maintenance area of a Program, the right hand side provides admins with the ability to add Sections and Activities to the Program as desired.
You can add numerous sections at one time to the Program via the ‘Add Sections’ area. Up to 30 sections are allowed for a program, and when you add sections, you can specify the default period of time for each section (in days, weeks, or no duration). After Sections are added you can adjust their titles and durations accordingly. Every section in the Program does not have to have the same duration.
After you have added Sections to the Program, you can then add Activities to desired section. Activities are basically tasks for the user to complete when going through the program. Presently a Program can have the following Activities, but note not all of these Activities are truly available as of the b1405 release even though they are shown here (remember this is just a preview release for now).
- Ready for use now with b1405 Preview Release
- Item – An Activity can represent a learning Item, which would require the individual to complete the item successfully in order for it to be marked as complete within the Program.
- Link – An Activity can be a link to anything you may want it to be, within SuccessFactors or not. You can provide your own text description for the link and its purpose within the Program as desired.
- Note – Users will mark this type of Activity as Complete on their own when done.
- Text – This type of activity is sort of a catch-all. From a technical standpoint it’s nothing more than just a text description of an activity/action that needs to be done.
- Note – Users will mark this type of Activity as Complete on their own when done.
- Not available as of b1405, coming soon
- Jam – Activities of this type can be associated with an existing Jam group or allow you to create a new Jam group directly from the Agenda maintenance screen, similar to how you can do so presently for Items. For now, you can use a Link activity to provide a direct URL to a desired Jam group.
- Document – Activities of this type can be associated to documents that you can upload directly. For now, you can store the document somewhere online and provide a Link activity to the document if desired.
- Survey – Activities of this type can be associated to a questionnaire survey created in the LMS.
As you add Activities to your agenda, you will see in the tile interface how the structure is coming along and make adjustments as needed. The screen shot below provides an example of reviewing the more complete Agenda within a Program.
Publishing a Program
After you create a Program, the next step is getting it out to your users. Currently there are two methods for doing so, very similar to how you would assign Items out to users in your organization. You can add the Program to desired Catalogs to make the Program available to users when searching the catalog. Alternatively, if you want to directly assign the Program to users so it is automatically on their learning plan, you can do so via an Assignment Profile. The ‘Publishing’ section of the Program maintenance screen will allow you to make assignments for Catalogs (and Subject Areas). The ‘Assignment’ section of the Program maintenance screen will not allow you to make Program assignments to Assignment Profiles, but will reflect any existing relationships that do exist. In order to add a Program to an Assignment Profile (or create one), you will have to go through the Assignment Profile maintenance process.
Viewing Programs as a User
An end user within the LMS can then view Programs available in Catalogs they are assigned via the catalog search, or if a Program is already assigned to a user via an Assignment Profile, the user will see the Program already on his/her learning plan. The screen shot below shows how a program will look to a user within the catalog search. Also note a filter under the Category area of the catalog search is available for ‘Program’.
The screen shot below shows how a Program is displayed to a user once assigned to his/her learning plan. A user can filter here by Program as well.
After enrolling in a Program, a user can then manage his/her progress through the Program accordingly. As mentioned previously, Activities within the Program that are not Items (i.e. – Link or Text) will not be systematically determined for their completion for the user. A user will mark his/her completion for these types of Activities as desired. As a user progresses through the Program, a completion % bar reflects his/her progress accordingly.
Roadmap for Programs
While the Program functionality is a major part of the b1405 release for SuccessFactors Learning, keep in mind it is only in preview/beta presently. While in theory you can turn it on now and use it if you want, I would not recommend doing so in your production environment. For now I would get familiar with the functionality in your staging environment, discuss how you see Programs being utilized within your organization, and have a plan ready for roll-out when the bugs and additional functionality for Programs comes in the next release or two. Below is a summary of what is still yet to come for Programs so you are aware.
- Not currently supported
- I expect notifications to be available for assignment of programs, plus notification around Activities within Programs that are schedule/duration based, meaning they should be completed by a certain time.
- Supervisor functionality
- You create a Program now, you can’t delete it (at least not yet)
- If you’re like me and you use your Recent bar to bounce back and forth between objects in the LMS you are currently working on, you won’t see your recent Programs for now
- Live edits to already assigned programs
- Except for titles/descriptions. This means you add an Activity to an existing Program that is already assigned to users, they will not see that addition.
- Roadmap for Future Releases
- Closing functionality gaps above
- Multi-purpose scheduler
- Flexibility with settings
- Jam and BizX integration
- Jam integration as mentioned before, tying an Activity to a Jam group or creating one from the Program maintenance.
- BizX integration I imagine in the sense of having assigned Programs for users on the To-Do list in BizX when applicable.
Overall I think the introduction of the Program concept in SuccessFactors Learning is a great piece of new functionality for organizations to leverage in the future. Be patient as SuccessFactors fills in the gaps in functionality. Take it for what it is right now, which is a beta release of functionality, not meant for true production use. Once the kinks are worked out, Programs should complement Curricula in the LMS very well, similar to how Course Programs and Curricula complement each other in SAP Learning Solution. The functionality of Programs in SuccessFactors Learning though will be much greater than what is available in Course Programs in SAP LSO, which is exciting for anyone familiar with the two applications. I will try to update this blog accordingly as future releases expound on the functionality for Programs within the LMS. For now, please feel free to share your thoughts and comments on the functionality, especially if you get a chance to play around with it now that it is available to Learning customers as of the b1405 release.