What's a Learning Analytics Platform?


Learning analytics may be a new term to the learning and development (L&D) community, but the concept of analyzing and building reports from learning and business data has been in practice for decades. In this post, we'll explain how learning analytics platforms are using data to help bring L&D's efforts front and center.

Have your cake and eat it, too.

Learning Analytics Platform

During the last 10 years, L&D reporting has naturally forked into two directions—one area occupied by learning management systems (LMSs) that provide transactional and very specific, yet limited, reports; the other area ruled by business intelligence (BI) tools that provide access to vast amounts of data to be mined and manipulated by experienced analysts.

Enter the learning analytics platform (LAP)—which sits cozily between these two worlds, while not only providing some of the familiarity and off-the-shelf functionality of an LMS, but also the sophistication and analytics capability of a BI tool. (In other words, if LMS reporting and a BI tool had a kid, this is what it would look like.)

An LAP aggregates data about all of the training and learning events across your organization and applies sophisticated reporting and analytics capabilities so you can gain a deep understanding of the learning happening within your company as well as how that learning impacts the overall business.

But before we explain more about what an LAP is, let’s start with what it isn’t.

1) It isn’t an LMS.

The biggest difference between an LAP and an LMS is the the lack of training delivery or any other attempt to “manage” learning. You can think of the LAP as the parts of the LMS that track learning activity data and provide reports on that data—only implemented far more robustly. An LMS typically only records learning events that happen within that LMS. As a result, LMS reporting is often limited and requires additional cost or expertise to access effectively.

2) It isn’t really a BI tool.

You can think of an LAP as a BI tool designed specifically for L&D. And it’s that specificity that provides a few advantages. Chief amongst them is the out-of-the box reporting functionality that comes with a specialized offering. Most L&D practitioners generally ask a lot of the same questions, and an LAP can readily answer those 100 or so common questions without the need to create custom reports.

Because LAPs are designed to be used directly by L&D departments without the need for specialists or IT resources, they're often a lot easier to use than BI tools, especially for non-analysts.

3) And, it isn’t just an LRS.

An LRS is a tool defined by the Tin Can API (i.e., Experience API or xAPI) for the storage and exchange of data about learning activities. A LAP typically contains an LRS, but adds significant reporting and analytics capabilities not typically found in an LRS.

Typically, an LRS is part of another system, but it may also exist on its own. A standalone LRS will usually provide basic reporting, but it's mostly technical in nature and deals with the number and types of learning activity statements it contains. 

LAPs and standalone LRSs are often used to consolidate data from many learning systems (or LMSs). They can act as systems of record for all learning data as a tool for feeding learning data into other systems, either in raw or aggregated form.

Why use an LAP with an LMS or BI tool?

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and you can’t measure what you don’t have. That includes training, performance, and business metrics.

Enhance your LMS’s value by tracking what’s outside of it.

How much of what you’ve learned has come from a formal e-learning course delivered via an LMS? Probably not very much. Learning is much broader than what organizations are usually able to track. LAPs capture data from any learning event, not just the tiny fraction of formal learning happening in LMSs.

LAPs typically take advantage of xAPI to seamlessly capture learning activity data from virtually any learning system. Remember, a key component of an LAP is an LRS. That means an LRS that implements xAPI protocols can capture and store data about any learning event, including:

  • informal learning,
  • social learning,
  • mobile learning,
  • game-based learning,
  • simulation-based learning,
  • e-learning courses,
  • classroom sessions,
  • conference attendance,
  • and much more.

Connect training and performance to show L&D's impact.

A robust LAP also can capture data from a variety of other sources. Most important, an LAP aggregates data about employee behavior and organizational performance. These additional data points allow you to take a broad look at learning’s true impact.

Get closer to business metrics.

Marketing teams have HubSpot, sales teams have Salesforce, logistics departments have SAP, and so on—they all have tools that provide specialized reporting for each respective function. All these systems were designed to deliver value within a specific department, while offering the flexibility to send data to a data warehouse where analysts can run numbers and dig around. And LAPs provide L&D practitioners with that same strategic, data-driven functionality to take a peek under the hood, to measure and evaluate training, and send data onto the mothership, if needed. 

Recommended Reading

eBook: Download How Watershed Fits in a Data Ecosystem to learn more about all the ways in which Watershed fits into a data ecosystem.

Up Next: Real-World Learning Analytics

Now that you're up to speed on learning analytics, it’s time to see how they’re applied in everyday practice. Join us as several L&D practitioners share their experiences and offer helpful advice on starting your own program. 

Getting started is easy.

As you can see, learning analytics open a world of insights and data-driven decision capabilities. And the possibilities for what you can measure and evaluate about your learning programs is nearly endless. Remember, getting started is easier than you think. Even just a few data points can yield powerful results. Use the following guide to help you get started right now!

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Mike Rustici

About The Author

As an innovative software developer turned entrepreneur, Mike Rustici has been defining the eLearning industry for nearly 20 years. After co-founding Rustici Software in 2002, Mike helped guide the first draft of xAPI and invented the concept of a Learning Record Store (LRS). In 2013, he delivered on the promise of xAPI with the creation of Watershed, the flagship LRS that bridges the gap between training and performance.