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A Guide to Using Notifications in SuccessFactors Learning for Efficient Communication

by Eric Wood, SAP ERP HCM/SuccessFactors Solution Architect, Presence of IT

December 6, 2016

Learn how to use the latest features in SuccessFactors Learning for customizing the look-and-feel and content of email notifications to provide professional-grade communications to your employees around their learning activities. Understand the features, capabilities, and processes in the learning management system (LMS) for tailoring notifications to your requirements, and how they can play a key role in your HR communication strategy for learning and development.

Most seasoned project managers and systems implementation specialists will tell you that strong, clear communication is vital to the success of any project. This is one thing that has remained constant, even with the shift from implementing on-premise SAP ERP HCM to cloud HR systems. While the focus on the communication channels and messaging leading up to go-live is critical to the successful delivery of a new HR system, the importance of communication extends far beyond the life of the project itself. Keeping users engaged by the system, and getting critical information to them in a clear and timely manner and at a level that matches the user experience of the system itself, is a must for those organizations that need their system to grow with the company.

An ongoing requirement for learning management systems (LMSs) is the communication with learners, supervisors, and other key company stakeholders. An important part of any SuccessFactors Learning implementation is determining how the system will communicate with these key users, and how the message will be structured and delivered. The primary communication mechanism from the LMS are system email notifications, and there are many different standard notifications that can be triggered from the system (over 100 in total). SuccessFactors Learning comes with standard default templates for these notifications, but they are somewhat generic and are often not very useful in a productive environment. This is especially true for the notifications to employees and managers that are meant to keep these users abreast of their learning activities, deadlines, and actions needing their attention. Fortunately, SuccessFactors recognizes this gap and provides tools for customizing these system notifications. Therefore, companies can format and brand these system emails so that they can consistently, professionally, and clearly communicate with users.

The topic of system notifications should be a key part of any SuccessFactors Learning implementation. When you are reviewing notifications from the LMS, consider the following main points for properly leveraging these messages in an organization’s HR communication strategy:

  • Identify and prioritize LMS notification templates critical to the processes and features being implemented in your SuccessFactors Learning system.
  • Develop a consistent, consumer-grade branded template as the base in which to build all customizations to LMS notifications, as well as for building effective mobile-responsive communications.
  • Define the content of each template, keeping the message clear, concise, and to the point (no one likes to read lengthy emails).
  • Look to leverage certain LMS capabilities for providing more enriching content in system email notifications, including direct links, attachments, and further tailoring of notifications for specific objects such as learning items (courses) and scheduled offerings.
Standard SuccessFactors LMS Notifications

SuccessFactors Learning provides more than 100 notification templates for various system email notifications that can be triggered by actions across the system. Some notifications are much more critical and relevant to core learning processes than others, however, and this number also includes some obsolete notifications from the core Plateau product, such as deprecated features involving performance functionality. Thus, part of the challenge of any SuccessFactors Learning implementation is identifying and prioritizing notification templates for customization. The following sections highlight notification template groups within the LMS and the critical individual notifications within each group that should be reviewed as part of an organization’s overall learning communication plan.

Scheduled Offering Notifications

The notifications in Table 1 are triggered out of the LMS around the scheduling processes involved in managing user registrations for scheduled-based training. These notifications are critical to organizations managing scheduled-based, instructor-led training in the LMS as they inform learners and managers alike of their enrollment statuses in specific scheduled offerings.

Notification template ID

Description

SystemEnrollmentNotification

Notice is sent to a user, supervisor, instructor, and contacts when a user is registered for a scheduled offering.

SystemScheduleCancellationNotification

Notice is sent to a user, supervisors, instructor, and contacts when a scheduled offering is cancelled.

SystemUnenrollmentNotification

Notice is sent to a user, supervisor, instructor, and contacts when a user is withdrawn from a scheduled offering.

SystemWaitlistNotification

Notice is sent to a user, supervisor, instructor, and contacts when a user is waitlisted for a scheduled offering.

SystemWaitlistRemovalNotification

Notice is sent to a user, supervisor, instructor, and contacts when a waitlisted user is enrolled in a scheduled offering.

ApmInstanceDelivery

Notice is sent to users and supervisors as a reminder of upcoming attendance in an enrolled scheduled offering X days prior to the start of the training.

Table 1
Critical notifications related to scheduling processes in SuccessFactors Learning  

Learning Plan Notifications


Table 2
lists notifications that are triggered out of the LMS around the processes and actions that manage assigned trainings to users that make up their current learning plans. These notifications are critical to ensuring that learners are aware of any changes to their learning plans, including new assignments, changes in existing assignments, and required training that is approaching or past due.

Notification template

Description

ReassignStudentComponentNotification

Notice is sent to users when they are reassigned to a new learning item.

CERTIFICATE_OF_COMPLETION

Notice is sent to users when they successfully complete a learning item.

ApmStudentLearningPlanNotification

Notice is sent to users when changes are made to their learning plan (assigned learning).

ApmSupervisorLearningPlanNotification

Notice to supervisors when users complete learning items, whether successfully or unsuccessfully.

ApmTrainingExpiration

Notice is sent to users and supervisors when an assigned item is nearing its due date for completion.

ApmTrainingOverdue

Notice sent to users and supervisors when an assigned item is overdue for completion.

Table 2
Critical notifications related to the management of user learning plans in SuccessFactors Learning 

Approval Processing Notifications

Table 3 lists notifications that are triggered out of the LMS around workflow approval actions (i.e., registration or withdrawal approval processes). These notifications are critical for organizations that use approval processes for self-registration as they notify respective approvers of submitted requests and keep learners informed of changes to pending requests they have submitted. 

Notification template

Description

ApprovalProcessApprovalProgressed

Notice is sent to users who submitted a registration request when a step in the approval process is completed.

ApprovalProcessApprovalRequired

Notice is sent to the approver(s) when an approval process begins or the next step in the approval process is taken.

ApprovalProcessInitialRequest

Notice is sent to users after a registration request is submitted, confirming that the approval process has been started.

ApprovalProcessRequestApproved

Notice is sent to users when their registration request for an item/scheduled offering has been approved.

ApprovalProcessRequestDenied

Notice is sent to users when their registration request for an item/scheduled offering has been denied.

ApprovalProcessRequestExpired

Notice is sent to users when their registration request has expired.

Table 3
Critical notifications related to workflow approval processing in SuccessFactors Learning 

Other Types of Notifications

Table 4 lists other LMS notification templates that typically warrant consideration for customization of content and formatting due to their purpose and distribution to learners from the system. 

Notification Template

Description

ItemEvaluationAssignmentNotification

Notice is sent to users when they are assigned a new questionnaire survey (level 1 to 3, using the Kirkpatrick model for evaluation).

FollowupEvaluationAssignmentNotification

Notice to supervisors when they are assigned a new questionnaire survey (level 3).

JamGroupInvitation

Notice is sent to users when they are associated or registered to a learning item in which a Jam group is related.

ObserverNotification

Notice to a nominated observer for a task-checklist learning item when a user requests the observer for the item.

Table 4
Some other important notifications related key processes in SuccessFactors Learning

While these tables list what I consider the core set of LMS notification templates that typically should be considered for customization, this is not a comprehensive list of all system notifications that can be processed from the LMS. You can use these as a starting point, but you should also compare your organization’s planned use of the LMS and features within the system with that of the notifications that are provided (standard SAP documentation on LMS Notification Knowledge Support and Tips, including a listing of available LMS notifications can be found here).  

There are many other administrative- and background-specific notifications as well as notifications related to specific features in the LMS, such as the Training Planner, External Training Request (SF-182), and Account Registration/External Sites functionality. Any planned customizations of notifications in the LMS should be done with respect to the functions and features to be implemented and used by the organization.

Customizing Notifications in SuccessFactors Learning

At this point, using the tips from the first part of this article as your guide, you should have identified notifications that require customizations around layout and content. The next step is then to design a common email template to be applied to each notification. Developing one common template on which to base each individual notification within the LMS simplifies the technical work required to customize each template, and also provides a consistent design across all LMS notifications. This process typically involves an organization’s corporate communications group, aligning corporate styling and branding guidelines to your desired design. Having a uniform appearance for all system notifications also keeps the core goal of any communications strategy in mind, providing a clear and consistent message to recipients.

Before diving into discussing how to edit (customize) notifications in the LMS, note that the material in this article is based on the new Notification Template Editor in SuccessFactors Learning that was introduced in the b1511 release. To use this new template editor and process for customizing notifications, you must first enable it if you haven’t already done so. This can be done by an administrator with appropriate permissions in System Admin in the LMS. Follow menu path System Admin > Configuration > Global Variables (Figure 1). In the panel that expands on the right, select the Use Editor Content When Sending Email Notification: check box, and then click the Apply Changes button (not shown).


Figure 1
Enable the new notification template editor in SuccessFactors

SuccessFactors Learning provides a WYSIWIG editor for customizing notification templates, which supports HTML formatting to create modern, professional emails. Before you go wild with possible design ideas, however, it is important to consider how most users are consuming emails sent from the LMS. Recent studies have noted that nearly two-thirds of all emails today are read on mobile devices. Considering this, take a minute and think about how you view and use emails. When it comes to emails on mobile devices, what stands out about how these emails are viewed versus how they’re displayed on a desktop? Most consumers make a quick decision about whether something is worth their time in the first few seconds of viewing. If you must squint, frantically zoom, and scroll to read an email on your mobile phone, it won’t be long before you delete the message and move on to the next one.

Spend a few minutes and search the Internet for the term mobile email optimization. The importance of mobility in email communication has grown rapidly in the past years as mobile-open rates for email continue to increase. What, you’re probably wondering, does this digression have to do with SuccessFactors Learning emails? By using HTML, which is supported by the LMS notification template editor, organizations are not only able to create professional, branded emails, but also ones that are mobile-responsive. User experience matters and goes a long way in fostering high levels of engagement in a system; therefore, don’t assume that the users’ experience and history with the SuccessFactors LMS is only dependent on what they see when logged into the system itself.

What are mobile-responsive emails exactly? Mobile-responsive emails adjust their layout display based on the device in which they are viewed. Since there is a premium on mobile screen space, horizontal viewing of information in an email displayed on a mobile phone is much more limited than on a wide-screen desktop. By using HTML, however, it is possible to provide some dynamics in email design, whereby the layout of an email on a smaller screen can dynamically adjust depending on the horizontal display available. By making emails mobile-responsive, you can ensure end users have a clean and clear view of the information in your notifications regardless of which type of device they use to read the message.

The purpose of this article is not to provide a tutorial on coding mobile-responsive emails. However, the example email notification template that is shown in Figures 2 and 3 is designed with these considerations in mind. (The example screenprints show a training registration confirmation email notification sent from SuccessFactors Learning when viewed on a desktop and a mobile device, respectively). If you again search for the term mobile-responsive emails, you’ll find a plethora of information on the topic, including numerous templates to use as models. A general understanding of HTML coding is required for using these templates and customizing them in the LMS.

If you decide to implement mobile-responsive emails using the notification template editor in SuccessFactors Learning, you need to test the emails across a range of devices as there may be some differences in how they are displayed (this is due to the variety of platforms and difference in standards that are supported). Figure 2 is a screenprint of a training registration confirmation email notification sent from SuccessFactors Learning when viewed on a desktop. Figure 3 shows the email notification viewed on a mobile phone. Notice how, when viewed on a mobile device, the buttons fall underneath the training registration details in the email body, as opposed to being shown to the right of this section when viewed on a desktop, eliminating that pesky need for horizontal scrolling.


Figure 2
Example of a training registration confirmation notification when viewed on a desktop


Figure 3
Example of a training registration confirmation notification when viewed on a mobile phone

Editing Notification Templates in SuccessFactors Learning

As mentioned previously, SuccessFactors Learning provides an HTML WYSIWIG notification template editor tool that administrators can use to customize notifications as required. With this tool, administrators can define the various subjects that are populated for a notification depending on the recipient in addition to editing the body of the email notification accordingly. Notification templates within the LMS can be searched, viewed, and edited through the administrator interface by following menu path System Admin > Configuration > Notification Templates (Figure 4).


Figure 4
Access the Notification Templates page to view, edit, and customize LMS notification emails

When you use the template editor for the first time, the legacy template text for a notification is used to generate a new HTML notification template, which can then be customized as desired. To use the email notification that is based on the new notification template editor, select Messages (Figure 5) and, in the screen that expands on the right, select the Use Editor Content When Sending Email Notification: check box. When this check box is selected in a global notification template, the system uses the template defined in the new editor when generating system emails as triggered by actions in the LMS. To launch the template editor for a notification from the Messages page, click the Launch Editor link, highlighted on the right in the screenprint.


Figure 5
Enable the new editor content to be used for a template email notification sent from the LMS

This opens the template editor, shown in Figure 6. In addition to the WYSIWIG editor functions, there are several other elements available to you in the Notification Template Editor. Administrators can customize notification templates within the editor per locale (language) using these editor functions, specifying notification email subject lines and body text. To build an effective and complete template, you first must have a good understanding of these options.


Figure 6
Use the SuccessFactors Learning Notification Template Editor to edit email templates

Customizing Text in Email Notifications

As mentioned previously, the SuccessFactors Learning Notification Template Editor lets you customize the look and feel of emails using HTML. The WYSIWIG editor, while basic, provides common features that can be added to the email quickly and with one click from the toolbar. Figure 7 and the list that follows provide a summary of the WYSIWIG HTML editor's capabilities.


Figure 7
The SuccessFactors Learning Notification Template (WYSIWIG) Editor toolbar options

  1. HTML option– Allows you to view and edit the notification’s HTML code directly.
  2. Text formatting option – Offers various text options, including bolding, italicizing, or underlining text.
  3. Undo/Redo – Let’s you undo or redo the last change.
  4. Alignment – Offers different options for text alignment, including left, center, and right justified.
  5. List formatting – Allows you to add bullets and numbered lists, and indent text.
  6. Text Color – Offer options for formatting text color and text background color.
  7. Tables – Offers the option of inserting HTML tables into notification.
  8. Links / Images – Allows you to insert links and images into notifications.
  9. Expand – Let’s you see the editor in an expanded view.

10.  Font formatting – Allows you to change the font format and size.

While the HTML editor capabilities of the Notification Template Editor provide quick and easy tools for applying basic HTML formatting, more complex HTML design should be done outside of the LMS, using a more powerful HTML editor. This may be required depending on your design, especially if you implement mobile-ready emails. Creating and editing the notification HTML outside of the LMS lets you more quickly and easily develop the core notification. When doing this, however, you should periodically place the HTML into the notification template editor to ensure it renders appropriately within the LMS.

To finalize the notification, you eventually need to shift fully into the Notification Template Editor, adding necessary syntax tags (discussed in the following section) and revisions to polish the notification and then test it from the LMS. The editor provides a feature that lets administrators send preview emails quickly from the editor (using the Send Preview button in Figure 6), which then sends the notifications to the administrator’s email to quickly show what it looks like in a local email client or mobile device.

Using Syntax Tags

Each notification template is assigned to a syntax object that provides a set of syntax tags to be used in a notification to provide dynamic information within the email to the recipient (Figure 8). This is how a notification template places on-demand details, such as user name, course title, and scheduled offering details, into the email dynamically upon processing. When email notifications are generated by actions within the LMS at run time, syntax tags within the notification template are parsed by the LMS and replaced with the dynamic content they represent (i.e., user name, user ID, location description, and so on). Recipients of generated notifications do not see any technical references to syntax tags contained within a template, as the tags in the resulting email are removed and replaced by the appropriate dynamic text for each syntax tag.


Figure 8
The entries for syntax tags in the Notification Template Editor

Depending on the notification template being edited and the related syntax object, the list of syntax tags that can be used in a notification may differ. You must know which syntax tags are available in each notification before defining a final layout. In the Notification Template Editor (Figure 8), the syntax tags that can be used in this notification are listed on the right side.

To use a syntax tag in a notification, first select the location for placing the tag in the email subject or body within the editor. Click the syntax tag that you want to use from the list on the right and the tag is inserted in the email where it is selected. Syntax tags used within the notification email body are shown as block elements. You can remove syntax tags by clicking the X icon in the syntax tag block itself in the body of the email. 

Using Logic Tags

A set of special syntax tags is also available, called logic tags. Logic tags are syntax tags and, if available for a particular notification template, are listed in the syntax tags area of the editor along with other syntax tags. Logic tags act differently than regular syntax tags, however, as they iterate over data to create lists. It is important to understand how these affect email processing to recipients, such as supervisors, instructors, and contacts. Loop and roll-up tags are two types of logic syntax tags found across a number of notification templates available in the LMS. 

Loop tags are used to loop through a list of data specific to the purpose of the notification and creates a single wrapped-up email to the recipient. This type of tag could be used to loop through requested courses applicable to the processing of the item request list automatic process (ApmComponentRequest) notification and sent to course contacts to inform them of minimum request numbers being met, or to loop through learners receiving a registration confirmation notification (SystemEnrollmentNotification) to include a list in the notification that is also sent to the learners’ supervisor. The special tag for loops can be used in any notification template, but it is the use of other syntax tags within the loop that results in a recipient receiving the applicable iterative information.

Another iterative syntax tag provided for use in some LMS notifications is the roll-up tag. Different versions of this tag can be used to insert text into a notification that is only relevant for non-learner recipients (i.e., notifications to supervisors, facilitators, or contacts—not the user). These tags can be used to display the ID and name of each user who receives the notification message individually so the non-learner recipient (i.e., the supervisor or instructor) sees a summary of who received the notification directly.

These roll-up tags are designed to be used in notifications that go only to non-learners because the LMS only sends one email to a supervisor, instructor, or contact as a summary notification even if multiple notifications are triggered to individual learners during the same action. This helps prevent these types of users from being spammed by all the emails sent to each individual learner. The text provided in-line with a roll-up message syntax tag is displayed to these types of users when these roll-up notifications are generated to supervisors, instructors, and contacts for applicable notifications.

Figure 9 illustrates how loop and roll-up syntax tags are used in a Training Registration Notification (SystemEnrollmentNotification). The block of text in the middle of the email body (shaded in yellow) is set up in a loop, and lists all the users receiving the email that roll up to a common supervisor, instructor, or contact receiving the same notification. The roll-up message syntax tag within the loop provides informational text in this block, informing the recipient that the registration confirmation is being sent to the list of users displayed. The list of user names and IDs is controlled by the loop and respective list syntax tags contained in the notification.


Figure 9
Examples of loop and roll-up syntax tags in the editor, and the display of the notification that results

Using Different Languages in Email Notifications

Finally, it is worth noting that, for companies supporting multiple languages (referred to as locales in SuccessFactors Learning), each template can be customized with respect to each system locale (language) installed within the LMS. In legacy notifications in the LMS, translations within notifications were accomplished using labels. Labels were heavily used in the system and provided the backbone for locales/translations in the LMS itself where label objects were defined with translated text across defined locales. However, with the new notification template editor, the use of labels within notifications is no longer supported.

Whenever you launch the notification editor for a template for the first time, the system replaces references to labels from the old templates with the label values for the locale selected. Administrators can then maintain each template in each locale (language) desired, where static text contained in each template and locale should be provided in the appropriate language. You can use the locale drop-down field in the top right corner of the notification template editor to toggle between the different customized views of a template for each locale installed in the LMS, as shown in Figure 10.


Figure 10
Choose a different language into which to translate your email notification template

An email has been sent to:





 

Eric Wood

Eric Wood is an SAP ERP HCM/SuccessFactors Solution Architect at Presence of IT. He has 11 years of experience in corporate and consulting roles, focused on the strategy and development of HRIS solutions, specifically SAP ERP HCM. Eric is also a frequent conference speaker at SAP conferences in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Singapore.

You may contact the author at eric.wood@presenceofit.com.au.



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