5 Pitfalls of Using Excel to Report on Learning & Development

Many organizations use Excel or other spreadsheet software for L&D reporting. And as you might imagine, this tedious process has several challenges.

This blog post explores the top five pitfalls of using spreadsheets for learning evaluation and how a learning analytics platform can offer a more efficient, insightful training evaluation and measurement alternative.

So long, spreadsheets!

Each month, organizations manually pull learner data out of various systems and import it into master spreadsheets to generate statistics, graphs, and charts to share with stakeholders.

In addition to the countless hours it takes to gather data, this process is prone to frustrating obstacles. Here are the top five:

1) Manual processes take time and are prone to error.

Creating L&D reports manually with software like Excel is a significant challenge due to its time-consuming nature. Each month, you might need to copy or enter data, create reports, and adjust spreadsheet formulas. Moreover, this labor-intensive process is prone to user error whenever you generate a new report.

However, a learning analytics platform allows you to build an L&D report once and automatically update it with new data flowing in from your integrated data sources.

This report’s configuration functionality is a huge time saver, especially in the long run. While there’s still a risk of human error when configuring a report, the repetitive use of the same report reduces the chance of mistakes—providing ample opportunities to identify and correct them.

2) Nobody knows how the magic spreadsheet works.

Have you ever relied on an Excel sheet that “magically” calculated results and was integral to a critical process—despite your lack of understanding of spreadsheets? And, of course, the person who created it has long since left the company, taken retirement, or mysteriously disappeared during last year’s Christmas party.

There’s no way to modify the file in this scenario, as business processes have evolved, and fixing errors is almost impossible. Yet, this situation is all too common, and organizations become deeply dependent on these unmaintainable spreadsheet monsters.

In contrast, a learning analytics platform is maintained by professional developers who specialize in code management and are committed to understanding the platform thoroughly. Even if a developer leaves, the vendor ensures continuity through effective knowledge sharing—resulting in well-documented features and easily adjustable L&D report configurations.

3) Spreadsheet version control, what's that?

With spreadsheets flying here, there, and everywhere, knowing which version is the latest and greatest is impossible (if one even exists). Should I look at 2016_November.xls on the intranet, or does Sandra’s email with 2016_November_final_updated_cw-edits_FINAL.xls have more up-to-date figures?

Struggling with data consistency issues is frustrating enough without knowing which raw data version is accurate—but when various files contain differing formula tweaks, the confusion can escalate rapidly.

With a learning analytics platform, you’re working with a single version of the data—a reliable source of truth. While it may offer different options to view your L&D data, you can trust that the underlying data is up-to-date and consistent.

4) You have limited control over access.

Data security isn’t guaranteed even with password protection and storing a spreadsheet on your intranet. You can’t be sure if document sharing has been appropriately restricted.

  • Has someone else shared the file, possibly inside or outside your organization?
  • Who shouldn’t have access to it?
  • Could information about learning and job performance fall into the hands of a fraudster looking for a vulnerability to exploit?

A learning analytics platform enhances your control and record-keeping capabilities, allowing you to track data access meticulously. It also enables the implementation of granular permissions so individuals can view data pertinent to them without having access to the entire dataset.

5) Spreadsheets lack data standardization.

When working with spreadsheets, you face the risk of spreadsheet compatibility issues and a lack of consistent metrics—which can lead to misunderstanding your L&D data.

There’s no guarantee that two sheets with the same purpose will look or function identically or that a document will be compatible with an earlier version of that same spreadsheet from a previous quarter.

If your measures and metrics vary from one project or month to the next, they become ineffective for tracking progress or pinpointing decline.

A learning analytics platform ensures data is stored in a uniform data format. Metrics calculations are managed centrally, enhancing your control over and insight into any changes. And when metrics need updating, you can quickly re-evaluate previous periods using the new metrics currently in use.

There's a better way to report on training!

Sure, a learning analytics platform can help save you from Excel Hell, but did you know it also can aggregate all of your data about the learning and training events within your company?

And its sophisticated reporting and analytics capabilities mean you get a comprehensive understanding of the organizational learning happening across your company. Read more about these platforms in our learning analytics blog posts.

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