Intralearn NanoLearn: Informal Social Learning for SharePoint

Intralearn NanoLearn: Informal Social Learning for SharePoint

Product analysis by Joel Oleson was requested by Intralearn, but these thoughts are my own. This analysis is designed to look into why a particular product was designed and what issues it addresses as well as provide awareness and additional insights into its niche market to distinguish it from the thousands of products in the market. I only look at the products that are worth your time. This is more than a simple review… this is an analysis.


I chatted with Intralearn Software to talk about their new solution—NanoLearn. While many of the products designed for SharePoint are attempting to address gaps in the product, Intralearn is focused on an innovative area of education, based on assessing and measuring knowledge. They focus on providing valuable metrics which highlight the impact of learning on organizational performance. U.S. firms alone spent about $156 billion on employee learning in 2011 (ASTD). They mentioned Aberdeen’s recent learning research, where respondents indicated that more than half (51%) of the learning within their organization is unstructured. With little practical follow-up or meaningful assessments, some 90% of new skills are lost within a year. Many organizations don’t evaluate how well employees have learned. Companies need to teach employees how and where to access facts. If you are inundated with facts and concepts, you will forget 90% of it. What training ought to do is help you get access to that information—databases, manuals, checklists—when you need it on the job. Employees can’t be expected to simply memorize everything. They need practical ways to be reminded of what they’ve learned and find simple ways of assessing knowledge.

Market Changes

Informal or social learning focuses on powerful learning experiences through social connections to accelerate distribution and share experiences, best practices, guidance and other content. Users of the product can learn more quickly, as they get help from their user community, gain insights and rewards as well as have incentives and benefits from new ways of tracking.

This just-in-time learning can provide a mechanism for effectively capturing the business goals through assessment of the organization’s departmental goals and ultimately the goals of the entire organization. Every company has e-learning, computer-based training and testing, providing knowledge and assessment.

Companies need to respond to changes in the industry, whether it’s new employee orientation, compliance training, security assessment, or simply making sure everyone sees the new program or direction from corporate communications. Every company needs to make sure employees are on board and understand what is expected of them. Why send dozens of nag mails, and pay for expensive software to ensure that a video was watched? There are some very inefficient ways of ensuring that employees are getting trained and even worse methods of follow-up to validate that the material was understood. Using these processes of informal learning provides a business-driven approach to integrate social learning into mainstream goals of the company.

Alignment of goals:

  • Increased innovation
  • Increased collaboration across silos
  • Improved employee engagement
  • Knowledge transfer from aging workforce
  • Reduced time to ramp up and become effective

Figure 1: NanoLearn Dashboard

Above: NanoLearn’s Nano object dashboard allows you to track views, completion of a task, and mobile access, including feedback, rich charting and allows learning admins access to categories and groups of learning Nano objects.

Intralearn in their designs has a vision, “We will revolutionize the way organizations educate their staff by assigning a value and measuring content that is outside the traditional framework of a course, dramatically enhancing the way training is provided to employees at any organization.”

Understanding the NanoLearn Strategy

When trying to understand the Intralearn strategy for NanoLearn, you must first understand the gamification in e-learning. This doesn’t mean playing games. In contrast, it occurs when learning happens in a non-game context, such as a school classroom, and when a series of game elements is arranged into a system or “game layer” operating in coordination with the learning in the regular classroom or in a business context it is computer-based learning with assessment with points or value added to the exercise.

The design of NanoLearn is focused on the idea of crowd sourced learning through social engagement in SharePoint and Lync, including the idea that any object on the internet, anything that can be a URL can be a learning object. This includes embeddable videos, word documents, PDFs, images or more. When the business is looking for results they want information instantly.

The new strategies of learning really come from all departments and all lines of business. The requirements contain needs for tracking assessment against internal training programs as well as materials that must be viewed by all employees or as an update to existing information. Learning strategies in companies have increasing demands and leverage technology:

  • Immediate business alignment of SharePoint throughout an organization.
  • Familiar SharePoint interface drives adoption of knowledge acquisition.
  • Content created and stored in SharePoint is ready and waiting to be used for training purposes.
  • Learning objects reduce learning/education costs and improve knowledge retention.
  • Learning nuggets are a more efficient use of employee time, enabling them to be more productive.
  • Focus on up-to-the-minute information (YouTube, Twitter, news, documents).
  • Aggregate information to keep employees educated on latest.
  • Adds value so information can be correlated and measured against organizational objectives/goals.
  • Recognize and reward behavior through gamification techniques.

Gamification of learning is an educational approach to motivate students to learn by using elements based on video game design and game elements in learning environments.
The strategy is to maximize the enjoyment and increase engagement through capturing the interest of learners and inspiring them to continue learning.

Intralearn starts by having contributors or those in the business who understand the content-defined learning objects known as NanoLearn objects, defined as elements that can be brought into a category for tracking and simplified management. Users can then be assigned rights to not only access the information or the training but to the assigned points for completing the assignment, resulting in status on a leaderboard or awarded prizes.

It’s up to the business and how it wants to reward good behavior. It could also include certification or community recognition. The point is to make it fun and motivate players to continue playing and using those same elements in a non-game context to influence behavior.

In educational contexts, examples of desired student behavior, which gamification can potentially influence, include increasing engagement, focusing on meaningful learning tasks, and increasing personal initiative.

Getting Started with NanoLearn

Step 1: Create a learning object known within Intralearn as the Nano object.

Learning objects can be SharePoint objects, a URL, or an embedded video, such as YouTube. They may also be a word document, PDF, or training video. Objects can be set up to ensure it has been viewed, based on the level of validation that is desired—simple signature, quiz or survey. Simply add points and a leaderboard to add gamification-based incentives.

Figure 2: NanoLearn: Create Nano Object

Creating a NanoLearn object turns anything into a learning object providing count for views and validation that the document has been read or the video has been viewed with a simple validation process.

Step 2: Assign users or SharePoint groups.

Once the object is finalized, the contributor can then assign it to individuals, departments, job titles, and SharePoint groups. Consumers see a list of items assigned to them that can be launched and validated. The objects are assigned to a collection for reporting or management reasons, such as an HR collection, based on new employee e-learning activities or a set of security videos that must be viewed by all users to ensure training or compliance.

Figure 3: Assigning Users to Nano Object

Assigning users to a Nano object allows you to see per-user statistics and capture validation for specific users getting the tracking and assessment with rich reporting and dashboards. Users can be assigned individually or as a SharePoint Group to a Nano Object or to a collection of Nano objects.

Step 3: Add web part to display file or video.

There are two main web parts:

  • The Consumer web part – Used for displaying to the end user display the document, video, quiz, poll etc.
  • The Contributor web part – Used to create the quizzes and set up the objects. The web part has a role-based menu (administrator or contributor).

Figure 4: NanoLearn Contributor Role View

A scaled-down contributor view of options is available to reduce confusion for users.

  • Assign SharePoint Users or Groups to Objects
  • View Existing Objects
  • Manage a Collection of Learning Objects
  • Score Interactions and View Reports
  • Manage Categories

A personal dashboard can be used to display your personal set of objects in the My NanoLearning web part. This will reflect the set of URLs, documents, videos, and include the configuration of the items.

Figure 5: My NanoLearning Web Part Personalized for the Learning Plan of the User

After participating in the NanoLearn object, a simple assessment can be included, such as “Was this helpful?” with a simple yes or no response. This simple feedback is included in the reporting dashboard to gather additional feedback on the object itself (video, document, other).

Step 4: View reports and dashboard.

You can track the number objects created and viewed, including the unique number of contributors creating the NanoLearn objects and then follow objects completed.

Figure 5: Nanolearning Feedback

Nano Object Status – You can get the actual status of a Nano object to see how effective it is. You can get detailed statistics, including progress, percentage (%) complete, and those not started. This also includes the numbers who have viewed the item.

Understanding Licensing and Usage

I didn’t get too deep into licensing. They had some server licensing and user-based licensing options. They have options for small companies and larger companies. Intralearn is currently focusing on on-premises, hosted, and private cloud deployments. Both SharePoint Online and Office 365 are on the roadmap for future support. The learning objects scenarios have options to integrate with Exchange, Lync, and you can even do some of your own development to add to a much larger variety of scenarios. They see these e-learning solutions not just being used as corporate solution but also in partner portals, partner training and assessment solutions. I think you’ll find them open and interested to hearing your own scenarios and being part of your next generation social e-learning solution.

My Thoughts & Experiences on NanoLearn

The social learning (informal learning combined with gamification) space is poised to grow. There are many departments and lines of business that really hope to take advantage of the work that’s happening in this space. What I feel like this product has going for it is the simplicity of embedding YouTube or corporate training video uploaded to SharePoint and being able to track and assess what was learned. In the recent past, I’ve seen a lot of custom solutions built in this space, and it’s great to see the solution and the data come together. The SharePoint space has gotten a lot of data, including much of the departmental training solutions. Departments that are trying to get value out of the “already deployed” and “used SharePoint solution” will be pleased with their ability to find ready-made solutions. The ability to build the learning and assessment in a very unstructured way without need for trainers and books and all the legacy, and instead take advantage of the e-learning with social learning built on a gamification strategy is really pretty clever. Education mixed with technology solutions being combined with Intranets and ECM solutions definitely makes a lot of sense for combining real business needs with existing investments with no real development required.

Reality Check and Feedback

While I have enjoyed the components that have come together, the solution still feels like it’s coming together. The solution feels a bit like you’re working with the guts or management and you’re responsible for building the chrome. There’s really not that much UI that users end up seeing. The web parts and much of the admin UI are built with a blocky modern design look that some may like. Some may find they need to put some custom look or CSS to the design. Navigating the UI has definitely gotten some better but could still use more work to make the solution as simple as it really is. The good news is that I’ve found the Intralearn team to be extremely responsive to my feedback about the product being still a bit rough around the edges, but as I see it, the users won’t see it. The simple UI that’s been designed for the contributors is a much smaller audience who will need to have some training. With a little bit of work in the UI, the need for training could go from being 30 minutes to 5 minutes as the product improves.

When I hear e-learning and SharePoint, I think most think about e-learning solutions, such as computer-based training or LMS solutions that fit very special types of sharable content object reference model (SCORM) modules. SCORM didn’t come up in our conversations and LMS comes across as much more structured than what I found in this solution. I think about NanoLearn as being much less formal and being set around capturing knowledge with a much, much more flexible structure of creating a learning object that can really be about anything. Give it a URL and it’s now a learning object. I think it’s important to understand the difference between this ad hoc informal social learning verses a more formal LMS solution. This really is a different solution and you have to pay attention to the difference or be disappointed that the requirements don’t line up. This is a much more flexible solution.


While most companies will continue to strive to develop their workforce through structured learning management, enterprises no longer need to rely solely on instructors, handbooks and large classroom environments to do so. The innovation that is the NanoLearn product provides a social learning-based environment for creating learning objects that can easily be tracked for views and simple validation with a survey, quiz or signature as having completed the exercise for compliance.

Those who find that SharePoint continues to live on as a glorified file share should listen up, as this product introduces real business value immediately by providing features and functionality that provide a solution for creating a structure that makes anything in SharePoint and anything accessible via URL or on YouTube as an embeddable web part for displaying tips, help, training, or whatever makes sense. Maybe the need is to share a CEO video and getting the number of people who viewed it and capturing whether the employees find value as the key scenario that hits the spot. Imagine all of those news articles you’re pushing out as having an ability to capture if they are actually being seen and if people see it as valuable or a waste of time.

If you like what you’ve seen here or are interested in seeing more, Intralearn would love to give you a demo of NanoLearn and show you more.  I have really only scratched the surface in this product analysis.  See more on the Intralearn website or view the NanoLearn brochure.

Questions? Contact Intralearn at

Originally published on on June 10, 2014