There has been a daunting amount of misinformation distributed about Portals¹. This information from the excellent research of Mr. Elliot Masie gives clear, definitive understanding of the concept and the reality. The report first appeared in TECHLEARN, the newsletter published by Mr. Masie
Everyday we receive another press release announcing the rollout of "THE" portal site for learning. Each of these announcements is applying the term PORTAL to a different dimension of learning and training management. With portal bloat on the horizon, here are a few tips for going learning portal watching on your neighborhood browser:
A Broad Portal Definition: Any site, which offers a learner or an organization a consolidated access to learning and training resources. Portals can range from a simple page filled with links to a sophisticated virtual classroom and learning center. Most portals proudly announce themselves as portals. Others are more subtle, adding the phrase .com, .net or the rear of their corporate name; click or 2 to the front of their name; or starting with the phrase my or big. If the site claims to be your single stop for learning, you have stumbled on a portal. Of course, other sites are portals in training, and may have the name stamped on the title until we all figure out what a portal is or if anyone will make any portal bucks.
The Content Consolidation Portal: A good number of portals are aiming at the content consolidation and aggregation business. These portals want to give the learner or buyer a simple way to shop for all of their training needs on a single page. The portal gets a cut of the action and allows the buyer to have a consolidated shopping and purchasing plan. Some of these portals are content quality agnostic. They want to be the amazon.com of learning, so any content can come to their site. Others are claiming to filter content or only offer best of breed. Still others are "treating" the content so that it can be used interchangeably, mixing and matching training modules from several vendors.
The Embedded Technology Portal: These groups are using the portal as a way of embedding and selling their technology as a component of learning or on a LSP (Learning Service Provider) basis. For example, you buy a class from the portal and your organization gets all the data they would have collected if they had a training management server. Or, the portal supplies a free or usage based access to a virtual classroom with digital collaboration tools. These portals are vending technology more than content. The Internal Portal: Why go to the Internet if you can have a portal right in your digital backyard. These companies are offering to build you a branded portal, that sits right on your internal server, and offers content consolidation and/or embedded technology
These offerings are aimed at allowing the learning or business function to build a learning site rapidly and often bypass the internal anxieties of an IT department.
Community and Collaboration Portals: Other portals are popping up that focus on building a digital community of users. You can recognize these portals with the presence of standard community technologies: chat rooms, what¹s new in the learning world, threaded discussion, access to coaching and links to books to buy. We know that learning is a heavily social process, so the community portals will proliferate in the coming months.
Affiliation Portals: These portals, popping up in the non-profit association world, will offer the above services, with the "Good Housekeeping Seal" of the association. The affiliation allow for content screening and/or discount buying.
And, the portal game is new. We will see additional portals based on selling the "eyeballs" of trainees, portals offering to hold the skills portfolios of workers over their lifetimes, portals with live coaching available on a click, and portals to link learning with employment opportunities (take this class and the results go real time to the job board - monstor.com - just kidding!) And, most of the portals are nimbly ready to absorb all of the functions above and experiment with the widest range of business models.
The portals are hitting the marketplace as a large response to the e-commerce frenzy and to appeal to venture capitalists who love the idea of a single portal for all world learning. Now, it is time to see if customers share the enthusiasm for portals and which value propositions work in the marketplace of training buyers. We believe that the experimentation in the portal arena is healthy for the industry, creating new offers of capability and pricing. The only hesitation I have is when the word THE PORTAL is used more than 10 times in the business plan. One thing is sure; we will probably have more than 150 learning portals before year is out.