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Academic Institutions: Improving SharePoint User Training With Contextual Learning

By Alex Brown
Updated October 15, 2023

VisualSP Help System for Academic InstitutionsMicrosoft SharePoint has become a popular resource for education organizations, with good reason. The tools available in SharePoint enable users to create, collaborate, approve, and more – all within a secure environment.

The use of SharePoint in academic settings cover a wide spectrum – from a single site where staff, faculty, and administrators collaborate on documents internally to an entire campus dashboard, where faculty and students interact digitally.

SharePoint provides a single source to find current class and campus information, documents and related communications, and web parts that provide testing functionality, assignment submission, and student activity tracking.

But there is a key issue when it comes to making SharePoint work well for education organizations: getting users to learn their site functionality quickly.

Providing guidance that helps all users understand their SharePoint sites is key to making educators' investment in the platform worthwhile.

SharePoint Users Need Learning Support During Key Times

In addition to a new system rollout, there are times when academic organizations need to support users with easily consumed training content.

Managing Organizational Change

When educators migrate to an updated version of SharePoint, there are often modified workflow capabilities or new functions that users must master. Learning new activities can be stressful for users, causing delays in adoption during times of change. Onboarding users to new functionality can add to the pain of organizational change.

Likewise, when new classes or programs are added to a curriculum, there may be a set of users that are affected by having to learn and use a new web part. So, change management must be supported by user training.

Assigning New Site Collections

When new site collections are created, there is usually a group of users that will need to be guided toward task competency when they work in that site. They may need to learn how to manage their OneDrive account or find out how to fully use the social tools, such as newsfeed.

This situation can be even more challenging if the assignment of a new site collection follows a recent migration. In these cases, there is more learning that needs to take place, potentially slowing the adoption of the sites by users.

Assigning New Roles to Users

Academic institutions can assign a number of roles that allow certain activities or access to specific areas. If a user's role changes, they will need to understand how to complete new tasks.

A typical role breakdown may look like this:


  • Read, browse, search, and download site content


  • Read, browse, search, and download site content
  • Create/edit site content
  • Approve site content additions and changes
  • Create/edit lists and libraries
  • Change page structure/visual design
  • Add/edit web parts


  • Read, browse, search, and download site content
  • Create/edit site content


  • Read, browse, search, and download site content
  • Create/edit site content
  • Approve site content additions and changes


  • Read, browse, search, and download site content
  • Create/edit site content
  • Approve site content additions and changes
  • Create/edit lists and libraries
  • Change page structure/visual design
  • Add/edit web parts
  • Administer permissions

Site collection administrators may be tasked with helping users build SharePoint skills for a new role. That's when the process of getting users on board quickly can be problematic.

SharePoint Administrators Struggle to Support Users

Some site administrators may not be prepared to support users as they learn to use SharePoint. In some cases, they may not have the technical expertise or SharePoint experience to assist their site or site collection users completely. Other times, there may not be enough resource time available. For example, one multi-campus technical college that VisualSP has worked with was limited to a single SharePoint farm administrator for 17 campuses.

Organizations inside and outside the education space have felt the pain of poor SharePoint adoption. Often, the issue is not a poor user experience. It's the lack of effective training and knowledge management tools available that work inside the SharePoint environment. And education organizations with limited, qualified site administrators are left to tackle user support with few options.

Available Help Options May Hinder Learning

Although the existing help available through Microsoft is sufficient, users must sift through help files to find the exact task they wish to complete. Take a look at the help page for "Getting Started with SharePoint", for example. You'll find 10 different tasks described on a single help page. That instruction approach is too fragmented for learners to be immediately effective at all of the tasks described. So users would have to return to the page when they forget information about a specific activity.

Users want to be able to learn quickly, and they want training that is easily accessible so they can complete their job or class work. Navigating to independent help resources slows the learning process for many people. Having guidance, training, policy information, and other content in the user workspace improves task competency faster, helps with memory retention while learning new tasks in SharePoint, and strengthens organization governance.

Educators understand that people learn in different ways. Some prefer to read documents, others learn better with video demonstrations, while some absorb information faster through images. In order to accommodate different learning styles, multimedia training and user support is the preferred knowledge delivery system.

Contextual User Support Improves SharePoint Learning Outcomes

Recent advancements in contextual training and user support applications have made user learning easier and more effective. SharePoint users can learn while interacting with their SharePoint page – in the work context. Research supports the use of these applications to improve user learning and adoption of SharePoint.

A 2013 SkillSoft survey revealed that 33 percent of 1,000 office workers said they "prefer to learn by feeling or experiencing what they’re learning about." Furthermore, a study by Towards Maturity uncovered that "88% of learners are looking for self-paced learning, and 54% are looking for learning on the go."

Contextual user support, in the form of micro-training delivered in the user workspace, has been showing results in learning outcomes. A 2014 report titled Building Staff Engagement revealed that learning innovation (such as the VisualSP solutions) results in a 23% improvement in the speed of a new system rollout, and a significant reduction in time-to-competency.

Among the key learning performance indicators that have been improved are:

  • Increases in productivity
  • Reduction in errors and workflow disruptions
  • Increased capability to deal efficiently with SharePoint-related issues without escalation

The Help System for SharePoint and Office 365 adds to SharePoint's impact by improving user adoption through micro-training popup windows that guide users through a specific task, keeping them focused on the activity.

Contextual training also reduces the impact on SharePoint administrators. For instance, the technical college mentioned above was able to overcome the limitations of having a single administrator to manage an entire SharePoint farm for users across all its locations.  

It is true that SharePoint is a powerful toolset that can help higher education providers improve many areas and connect multiple campuses together. And educators have recently embraced new technology to provide online classes, shared file libraries, grading, and more. Putting SharePoint technology to work effectively requires users to understand and adopt the platform. This is where contextual learning is effective.

To find out more about the impact of micro-training and contextual learning for SharePoint, get your free copy of Micro-training in Context: The Path to Faster Technology Adoption.{{cta('09f7b59e-de26-41e8-be8b-283d8a7454bb','justifycenter')}}

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