Experts see promise in Learning Path Authoring for Dynamics 365 CRM apps

By:  Linda Rosencrance

With the December 2016 release of Dynamics 365 sales and service apps, Microsoft has added an important new authoring capability to its in-app help feature known as Learning Paths.

Following the introduction of Learning Paths in Dynamics CRM Online 2016 Update 1, Learning Path Authoring offers customers a new way to add customizable help that users see in Dynamics 365 when they open a page, perform an action, or click the Help button.

Peter Majer, a principal consultant at Sonoma Partners, has been following the progress of Learning Paths and says he’s “really excited” that Microsoft now offers organizations the ability to create their own content.

“When it was first released, that was definitely a limitation and I don’t think many people used it because it just came out of the box with standard content that didn’t really pertain to them,” Majer says. “Most of our customers are XRM, they don’t use CRM just for CRM. They have their own custom processes, their own custom entities – the whole process is configured and built in a way that’s tailored to them. So now being able to tweak the content and change it to your own specific content is a big step.”

Learning Path was conceived as a tool for rich, contextual-based training with walkthroughs, videos, and articles. With Learning Path Authoring, companies can deliver custom content for different user roles, meaning a sales rep would only see content relevant to her role, according to Microsoft. You can display Learning Path content included with Dynamics 365, create your own Learning Path content for your users, or both. Microsoft has published a tutorial to help companies create their own guided help.

Guided Tasks and Sidebars

Learning Path includes Guided Tasks and Sidebars. Guided Tasks are a series of steps – or even one step – companies can use to guide users through common or new tasks, according to Microsoft. They can also be used to ensure that tasks are performed consistently in an organization, or that data is entered a specific way to support a company’s processes or workflow.

A Sidebar is displayed when a user clicks the Help button, navigates to a page, or clicks a link or button on a page for which an organization has created content, according to Microsoft.

“Both the Sidebar and the Guided Tasks are the next evolution of Help,” says Gretchen Opferkew, a Microsoft Dynamics 365/CRM MVP and director of education at PowerObjects, an HCL Company.

“It’s also kind of a throwback to Clippy in terms of it comes up and it’s overlaying on what you’re looking at. It can guide you through steps or information related to your business process or your expectations in your role.”

A new training and adoption tool

In a blog post, Microsoft Dynamics 365/CRM MVP Sarah Critchley stated that the new Learning Path feature can “greatly assist” with training and to some extent, user adoption.

“The functionality even provides contextual help which follows a user through a specific process, waiting for them to complete actions before proceeding,” she stated. “When this was first introduced a user could only use the standard out-of-the-box learning paths related to the standard entities.”

Critchley also noted a limitation of the current Learning Path functionality – there’s no way to log when a user finishes a Path or log any kind of rating or feedback. This improvement will hopefully become part of the functionality in later versions, although nothing has been confirmed, she stated.

“[Learning Paths] are also a great way to ensure users follow a consistent process to completing tasks throughout your organization, and work well as supplemental training after an official training session in which you run new users through your CRM deployment,” noted Majer in a blog post. There, Majer offers a tutorial of creating guided tasks (see below). The task author may select, for example, if this is an error-guided task like lack of permission; if the task will open when a link is clicked on a Sidebar, or when the page loads; and the security role(s) that you want the Guided Task to be displayed for.

Dynamics 365 Learning Path Guided Task
Guided Task dialog box

Despite the importance of introducing authoring to the Learning Path feature, this first release does come with some limitations and “hiccups”, he says.

“It’s great but it’s very finicky and sometimes it doesn’t work and it doesn’t save and I’ve run into a bunch of issues,” Majer says. “Hopefully, it will get better in a subsequent release. Maybe in the spring release it will be improved and more stable but this first one seems a little unstable.”


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About Linda Rosencrance

Linda Rosencrance is a freelance writer/editor in the Boston area. Rosencrance has over 25 years experience as an reporter/investigative reporter, writing for many newspapers in the metropolitan Boston area. Rosencrance has been writing about information technology for the past 16 years.

She has covered a variety of IT subjects, including Microsoft Dynamics, mobile security issues such as data loss prevention, network management, secure mobile app development, privacy, cloud computing, BI, big data, analytics, HR, CRM, ERP, and enterprise IT.

Rosencrance is the author of six true crime books for Kensington Publishing Corp.