How to Build Truly Useful Reports for Online Training

People looking at graphs on a laptop
Daniel Quick
March 29, 2021

Reporting and visualization can be the most powerful online training storytelling tool you have access to in order to make a strong business case for areas of your customer education or professional training. The Thought Industries Reporting Hub makes it easy to get the results you want.

Recently, for example, Amber, a member of our Customer Education team, was given a specific goal: to increase engagement rates with our Thought Industries Knowledge Center by 20% by the end of the quarter. Amber came up with various initiatives to do just that, and by the end of the period she had actually achieved an impressive 110% improvement.

To show the impact of her work, we developed a chart that displayed the daily number of visits to the Knowledge Center for the month before and the month after her ideas were implemented. We placed an arrow on the report to show the specific date when the changes were introduced so that the impact of her work was obvious to others. In other words, we used a online training report to powerfully tell the story of how her work increased engagement.

You probably have your own online training success stories. After all, the modern digital learning system has made it a lot easier for education teams to track information beyond basic enrollment or satisfaction metrics, such as:

  • How many accounts have we trained?
  • How many people within each account did we train?
  • When was the last time someone in that account engaged with learning content?
  • How well did people in that account do on this quiz, those modules, or that assessment?

More recently, education teams have been able to connect their learning system data with data from other business systems such as Salesforce, Gainsight, Zendesk, and Heap, to cross-reference training outcomes with business metrics, such as product adoption and retention.

Mix data with sophisticated data visualization tools, which make it easier for human brains to process a lot of information, and you get a winning combination: the ability to understand how your efforts are affecting the business and report on that to your stakeholders in a clear way to earn additional investment for your education team.

Essential reporting and analytics functionality for online training

If you feel stymied in your efforts to do the reporting you need and make the business cases you want, consider whether the reporting abilities of your learning platform are giving you the flexibility and customization you require. As always, you want to align your learning programs with the overall business goals. What you’re going to measure as an education team will change based on what the current goals or focus of the business are. One quarter you might want to drive and measure account penetration; in another quarter, you might want to drive and measure customer satisfaction. Your reporting tool needs to be powerful enough to accommodate the shifting priorities of your organization.

If you don’t have anyone on your team who understands data or you lack access to data scientists, then you’ll want reporting capabilities to help you answer essential questions about your program. At a minimum, you’ll probably want to measure engagement metrics, content consumption, assessment scores, and customer satisfaction or CSAT scores. You’ll also need to be able to understand how those metrics change over time based on the actions you take. Finally, if you want to transform your data into a story that others understand, you’ll want the ability to visualize data.

If you have advanced data analytics capabilities, consider prioritizing access to powerful application programming interfaces (APIs) so you can structure your data, and pull it into your data warehouse and business intelligence tool such as Looker or Tableau; or connect your learning data to Salesforce or another CRM or to your product analytics tool, to get a sense of how your program is impacting your business metrics.

Reporting the way you want it

Recently, Thought Industries introduced Reporting Hub as a new aspect of its learning platform. Reporting Hub is powered by Looker, a popular business analytics data visualization program. That gives out customers a highly flexible, best-in-breed reporting tool that can pull in and work with all kinds of data sources to ensure that the data you’re working with is timely, reliable and accurate.

Then, to give you a jumpstart on doing the reporting that’s important to you, we’ve created a library of nearly 40 reports that we consider universally useful to learning teams. And we’ll continue building up that collection with time. You can dig into those and run reports as you need them. You can also add them to a dashboard and access them on a regular basis (more on that in a minute).

Or you can choose Explorer, which is a dedicated area for creating custom online reports–to answer questions not addressed by any of the prepackaged reports in the library. As you develop your questions in Explorer, you can add as many “dimensions” or customizations as you want, then save your query–called a “look.”

Once you have the reports that matter to you set up, you can assemble or “pin” those into dashboards, which can be customized for different types of users or uses. Reporting Hub lets you maintain up to five different dashboards. Your executives might want to see specific segments of learning and online training data, whereas your customer success folks might want another segment. Or you might want to set up a revenue dashboard and a content dashboard.

Dashboards are important because they give you and your organization a customized “one-stop shop” for viewing all of the metrics that really matter. As business goals evolve from quarter to quarter or year to year (or whatever period matters to your organization), you can change out the reports that appear on the dashboards to reflect new priorities–or simply create a new dashboard. By using Reporting Hub, you can create real-time dashboards with all of the online training data you’re generating inside of the learning platform, with a minimum of effort and time.

Where to start with online training reporting

If you’re wondering what reports matter the most for online training programs, let me offer a simple framework with four levels of metrics, based on my experience.

Engagement: A persistent fallacy in the learning business is that if you build it, they will come. In my experience, that’s not at all true. Education teams are finding out that while they may have capacity in developing training content, if that content isn’t getting into anyone’s hands, what’s the point? To ensure you’re measuring engagement, consider adding the following reports to your dashboard:

  • Daily traffic to your site
  • Most popular learning objects (e.g. courses)
  • # of enrollments during a specified period of time

Reach: You can drive all the traffic you want to your site, but that doesn’t necessarily tell you how deeply or broadly you’re reaching into your customer accounts. For example, you may have one large account where training was mandated, which then generates a huge spike in your traffic. Or, perhaps for some reason a single person logs in hundreds of times a day. Reach is about making sure that you’ve got sufficient account penetration. Consider online training reports such as:

  • % of all users of your product who have enrolled in a course
  • % of all accounts with at least one enrolled use
  • # of unique learners who actively engage with content each day (or week or month, depending on your preference)

Quality: Even if you’ve ensured your content is getting into the hands of your learners, it’s important to measure the quality of your content. You don’t want learners to feel disengaged with the learning experience: Otherwise, they may not complete courses or return for additional education. Reports to consider adding to your dashboard include:

  • Customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) for all of your courses
  • Course completion rates (bonus if you can measure where learners are “dropping out”)
  • Average time spent consuming content and/or average content consumed per learner

Impact: The best reports help you understand how your work impacts the broader business. This analysis is more challenging because it requires multiple sources of data, including from sources outside your learning platform (such as your CRM or your product analytics tool). However, if you’re able to connect your data through APIs or a BI Connector to other data, you can arrive at powerful insights that will supercharge your efforts to grow your program. Consider dashboards that include the following reports:

  • Average retention rates for trained vs untrained customers
  • Average product adoption rates for for trained vs untrained customers
  • How completing a course impacts time to value

Now, tell your online training success story!

Once you have your online training dashboards set up, you’re ready to tell the story of how your work has impacted the business. Remember to focus on the data that matters most. This will likely change depending on the goals of your business. Revisit your learning metrics regularly and make sure they’re aligned to the current business objectives.

Also, think about how to be strategic when you’re ready to report on your education program. Consider developing concise reporting plans optimized for your executives and other stakeholders that address the questions they care most about. Make sure your reports get in front of them regularly so that they’re aware of how your program is impacting the business.

Whether you’re sharing victories or problems that you need the team to mobilize around, the addition of effective online learning analytics, reporting and data visualization to your repertoire will help you tell the story of your learning program.

Learn more about Reporting Hub, which is built into the Thought Industries learning platform and available to all customers.

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