Thought leader interview with Danny De Witte, an IT and Learning
expert in Belgium
Danny, what is your background?
I started at Elsevier Training (part of the Reed Elsevier
group), where we did some early work on PC learning. Then I was one
of the co-founders of U&I Learning, which was one of the first
Belgian e-learning companies, and I worked there for 12 years.
About 2 years ago I joined Xylos, I wanted to broaden my work and
one of the systems I wanted to work with was SharePoint.
Is your main interest learning or IT or both?
It's a bit of both. I started as a system engineer a long time
ago, but I became interested in learning. Now I specialize in using
technology to enhance the learning for end-users of my
How did you first get involved with SharePoint?
My first contact with SharePoint (2003 version)was at U&I
Learning. We needed to implement an internal knowledge platform and
SharePoint was the tool we used. Now at Xylos, we are a Microsoft
partner, and I have the opportunity to work with SharePoint
specialists. We use and implement SharePoint a lot and I have been
able to get much more involved with it.
How widely used is SharePoint in Belgium?
Not as widely used as in some countries. Most companies are
still running SharePoint 2007 but a lot of companies are installing
or migrating to SharePoint 2010. Usually the driver is as a
document management application or to replace a file server. That's
the first step that customers use it for.
We would like to see our customers also use SharePoint for
learning purposes. This is happening slowly. We do have some
implementations that use the SharePoint Learning Kit for
Do you find the SharePoint Learning Kit to be
I often refer to it as "My first steps in learning" for a
customer. The only thing they want to do at the beginning is to
make a course available and have some tracking on it (who has done
it and when). Tracking at the course level is not a basic
functionality of SharePoint, so we have to have something that does
the tracking for the customer. And the SharePoint Learning Kit can
do this and give a very basic, quick report for a few courses.
What kinds of customers are using SharePoint for learning in
They are companies in various industries. For instance, we have
one in the Chemical sector, they already have SharePoint 2007 and
they want to make one or two courses available to everyone. Another
company, a worldwide company, is also using SharePoint 2007. And
they say, we want to train our sales people, we have new products
which are being launched very quickly, we want to put the learning
for a new product online.
Did you use any kind of assessments?
For one customer, we built a course using Captivate and
Presenter, and there was a small assessment at the end of the
What do you think of the future potential of SharePoint for
use in learning?
I think it's huge. We have the new version 2010, it has lots of
possibilities, meaning that you have the social part in it now. You
have additional metadata functionality. You can create a community,
you can add an expert search, you can define expertise, and all
these things. If you build it correctly, you can have a mixture of
formal and informal learning. What we promote to our customers is
"If you use already SharePoint, then all the knowledge within your
company is already available via SharePoint. Let's link these
documents, these PowerPoint, whatever they are to a community site
where you can have your employees discussing these specific
We often give the example of information about specific topic
like Project Management. You have a site that holds documentation
about your PM approach, you can add some learning parts, and you
can really build your community based on existing content that is
I also see a lot of value in connecting an LMS (learning
management system) with SharePoint. We have an agreement with
e2train where we use their LMS. We put our content in it, because
the customer wants to know who visits the content and how much time
they spend there, and then we build web parts that get the content
from the LMS and display it in SharePoint. So the company gets the
tracking from the LMS, but the employee has a single portal to
So the LMS runs on top of SharePoint?
No, it's a separate system. We run them side by side. We've
built some web parts which identify the user and gets some content
from the LMS and displays it in SharePoint.
So users don't need to login to the LMS, they go to a specific
site in SharePoint and if there is a course in the LMS for the
topic they are interested in, the course material is displayed in a
web part on that site, so it's all context driven.
I've heard of other companies using SharePoint as a portal
into a Learning Management System. Do you think this works
Well it depends on the company - what do you really want to know
about the learning of the end-user?
If I log in to a course ten times, or if I spend ten hours on a
course, that doesn't mean anything. It just says that I have logged
into the course ten times and spent ten hours on it, it doesn't
measure my learning. So if you don't need that information, you
really don't need a learning management system. You could say, here
is the course; take the course, and afterwards do an
The main reason to have the LMS is for reporting, I call it for
"funding purposes". Here in Belgium, you are able to get some
funding from the government if you have a certain number of
educational days within the company. Sometimes I talk to a customer
and say that if someone visits a course for two hours, it doesn't
say anything about their learning. Did they learn something? We
don't know - the only way to tell is by testing the person - using
What do you typically recommend to customers?
Most importantly you have to listen to the customer's needs!
Do you already have something in place? What do you want to
achieve? Do you want to build communities? Do you want to
facilitate "informal learning"? Do you want to have formalized
For instance, I was at a customer a few months ago who said they
wanted communities of practice for learning. They thought they
might need an LMS, but I told them they didn't need an LMS,
SharePoint can do it
So sometimes people think they need an LMS but
Yes. People often think that if they want to start learning
within the company, they need a learning management system. And
that's not always the case. A LMS as the words say will manage your
learning, and in a large company where you have lots of courseware
going from e-learning to classroom training to documents and other
stuff, well then, to cover the management, workflow and the
reporting needs, a LMS is very handy. If you don't need all this,
then you could choose something else like SharePoint.
What would be your advice to someone looking at doing
informal learning using SharePoint?
First of all, they have to use the latest version, SharePoint
2010. SharePoint 2007 is fine, but there are lots of improvements
in the latest version. I would suggest they start with a knowledge
site on a specific topic, where they can bundle all the information
that's available and activate the services they require.
You don't need custom software to get started. Under normal
circumstances, we use out of the box SharePoint. We strongly
recommend to start using the MySite functionalities. Encourage
people to fill in their profile completely with their expertise,
things they are interested about, how to contact them etc. The
implementation of SharePoint, the MySites functionality and Lync
could be, when correctly implemented, a very powerful learning
What about Office 365?
We're looking at this. We think it would be very powerful for
customers to start with Office 365, using SharePoint for learning
in the cloud, say with 20-30 users. Then if they like it, they can
move the whole company to the cloud or install SharePoint On
Premise. However we need to be sure that everything what we put in
the cloud can easily be transferred to On Premise if needed.
For the moment, this is a concern.
How do you see the future?
I think lots of companies will start to use SharePoint or other
community-content system for learning.
For SharePoint to be really useful, it would be nice if we could
have some additional tracking within SharePoint where we can see
who clicked on what, what was the contribution of users on
topics/forums so you can rate or award people based on the
contributions they do.
I think we are not there yet, we still have a long way to go.
But things are moving in the right direction.
Thank you Danny. How can people contact you?
I'm on Twitter at @paravolve. And I work
at Xylos - www.xylos.com. We
have expertise in SharePoint and learning. If someone wants a
SharePoint and learning solution, we can help them make it
John was a speaker at the European SharePoint
Conference 2011. Why not keep up to date with all the
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