5 Pitfalls of Using Excel to Report on Learning

     

Many organizations use Excel or other spreadsheet software to evaluate and report on their learning programs. And, as you might imagine, this tedious reporting process comes with several challenges.

So long, spreadsheets

Do you know the pitfalls of spreadsheet reporting?

Each month, organizations manually pull data out of various systems and import it into master spread sheets to generate statistics, graphs, and charts that are shared 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.

When it comes to creating reports with software, the biggest challenge is that it’s a manual process. Each month, you have to copy or enter data, build reports, and possibly tweak formulas. Not only is this process incredibly time consuming, but it’s also vulnerable to user error every time a new report is created.

A learning analytics platform (LAP), however, allows you to build a report once and then have it automatically update with new data flowing in from your integrated data sources. This functionality is a huge timesaver, especially in the long run. There’s still a risk of human error when configuring a report, but since you’ll use the same report again and again, there’s far fewer opportunities to make errors and many more opportunities to spot errors and correct them.

2) Nobody knows how the magic spreadsheet works.

Have you ever used an Excel sheet that not only “magically” calculated results, but also was critical to a particular process—although you never really understood how that spreadsheet worked? (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.)

In this scenario, there’s no way to modify the file, 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 spread sheet monsters.

By contrast, with an LAP, a team of professional developers takes responsibility for managing the code that processes the data. It’s their job to know the platform inside and out, and even if a developer leaves, the vendor will have processes in place to ensure knowledge is shared. As a result, features are normally well documented and report configurations are clear and easy to adjust.

3) Which version is the latest version?

With spread sheets 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? It’s bad enough not knowing which version of the raw data is right, but when different files contain differently tweaked formulas, things can get really messy really fast.

With a learning analytics platform, there is one version of the data, one source of truth. There might be functionality to view the data from different angles, but you can be confident that the underlying data is up to date and consistent.

4) You have limited control over access.

Even if you password protect the spread sheet and keep it on your intranet, you can never be totally sure with whom the document and password have been shared. Could the file have been shared by somebody either inside or outside of the company who wasn’t supposed to see it? Could data about learning and job performance be used by a fraudster phishing for a weakness to exploit?

With a learning analytics platform, you gain robust control and recordkeeping abilities to monitor who has accessed the data. You can also make use of more granular permissions and allow people to see data that’s relevant to them, without giving them access to everything.

5) There’s no standardization.

When you’re working with spreadsheets, there’s no guarantee that two sheets with a similar purpose look the same or work in the same way. There’s not even a guarantee that a document will be compatible with an earlier evolution of that same spread sheet from last quarter. If your measures and metrics mean different things from project to project and month to month, they are worthless for showing progress or identifying decline. Worse, you may not even know that figures are being calculated differently and make decisions based on misunderstandings of the data.

With a learning analytics platform, data is stored in a common format. Metrics calculations can be managed centrally, giving you better control over and visibility into any changes to how they are calculated. Where metrics do need to change, you can immediately go back and look at previous periods using the new metric that’s measuring your current data.


There's a Better Way!

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 can gain a solid understanding of the learning happening across your organization. Read more about these platforms in our learning analytics blog series.

Learning Analytics Explained

Andrew Downes

About The Author

As one of the authors of xAPI, Andrew Downes has years of expertise in data-driven learning design. And, with a background in instructional design and development, he’s well versed in creating learning experiences and platforms in both corporate and academic environments.