Stripped of its hundreds of bells and whistles, a learning management system (LMS) is essentially a software application designed to do two things:
- Provide learners with learning content
- Report on the progress of these learners.
Given that all LMSs have these two features in one form or another, it's probably not surprising that given the 50/50 odds, reporting consistently comes out on top as the feature that most disappoints LMS administrators. A couple of years ago, I wrote that "LMS solution providers are constantly walking the fine line between ease-of-use and how powerful and customizable to make their reporting features." There's another reason, though, why many organizations hate their LMS's reporting.
Evaluating an LMS's Reporting Abilities
In all my years with Absorb speaking daily with organizations, large and small, about the features they need in an LMS, not one has ever provided me with a sample report they need created. Instead, prospective customers typically ask:
- "Does your LMS provide reports?"
- "Can these reports be customized?"
- "Can these reports be saved, shared with others, automatically e-mailed, and exported?"
Answering "yes" to these questions typically satisfies the person evaluating the LMS, who then moves on to asking about other required features. Very rarely, the most disciplined evaluators will ask for a list of the report templates contained in the system. I send them something like this:
- Learner Activity
- Learner Progress
- Department Progress
- Learner Competencies
- Course Activity
- Course Summary
- ILC Sessions
- ILC Activity
- Curricula Activity
- Course Evaluations
- Course Approvals
- Session Approvals
- Other training
- eCommerce transactions
- Question Banks
When they see that the list of report templates is pretty long, they're usually thrilled. At that point, some may ask to see a sample report. I then show them something like the sample below, walking them through the process of adding and removing columns, filtering information, sorting the data, saving and sharing the report with managers, etc.: A customizable course activity report such as the one above meets the needs of the vast majority of LMS administrators. A small percentage, though, may have unique needs that depart from the template. Perhaps they need a specific column of data added that isn't part of the template. Or, perhaps they need a new template that isn't part of the standard library. That's where disappointment may set in. For clients with unique reporting needs, some LMS vendors may provide automated custom reports emailed or pushed out to an FTP site. Or, the vendor may provide an API or other tools that allow the organization to extract data, in real time, to create reports. The bottom line is that it's good LMS selection practice to consider the data you need to have displayed in the reports used to manage your learning initiative. If the LMS can't produce the exact report you need, speak to the vendor about potential options. You can reach out to us any time and we'd be happy to show you more about our reporting capabilities and how it would work for your specific needs.