To measure the effectiveness of your online training, you'll need to track e-learning activity. E-learning metrics tell you how many people have viewed your course, what scores learners have earned, and more. Many organizations must track course activity to comply with standards, policies, regulations, or laws. Others track activity to validate usage assumptions and identify trends that can help with planning and return-on-investment (ROI) calculations.

There are several ways you can track e-learning activity. In this article, you'll learn about tracking options, including manual methods and using a learning management system (LMS).

Manual Tracking

Manually tracking course activity makes sense when you only need minimal data or there are no other tracking options available.

A way to track a course manually is to include a form or certificate at the end of your course for learners to print and forward to an administrator, who then tracks which employees took the course and when. Another example is to post a sign-in sheet next to a shared computer learners use for an e-learning course. This type of tracking frequently involves filing a paper copy of the completion documentation and entering the info into spreadsheets.

Manual tracking is easy to implement without any additional investment in hardware or software. However, it is also a tedious approach that is only suitable for a limited number of situations.

Advantage Disadvantages Commonly Available Data*
  • Easy to implement
  • No additional hardware or software required
  • Time/labor intensive
  • Limited application
  • Learner name
  • Completion date
* self-reported via honor system

Automatic Tracking

Several more commonly used methods automatically record course activity data that can then be used for reporting and analysis.

Web Server Tracking

Web servers automatically collect data on the courses they host each time learners view them. Analysis of this data shows how learners used the course, and can lead to finding trends for planning and return-on-investment (ROI) calculations.

Data relevant to an e-learning program includes the number of times the course was viewed, when the course was viewed, and the amount of time learners spent in particular courses. It’s also helpful to look at the traffic patterns, which show peak usage volumes, to determine if you have adequate bandwidth available.

Your web server manager should be able to pull this type of reporting data for you easily. It’s usually in the log files of the web server that hosts your course.

Advantages of Web Server Tracking Disadvantages of Web Server Tracking Commonly Available Data
  • No special code or formatting required
  • Robust usage statistics
  • Data is anonymous (does not identify who has accessed a course)
  • Does not record any course completion status nor assessment scores
  • Number of visits
  • Number of unique vs. repeat visitors
  • Visits duration and last visits
  • Date/time of visits
  • Peak/rush hours
  • Domains/countries of visitors
  • Operating systems used
  • Web browsers used
  • Address of the link they came from (HTTP referrer)


LMS Tracking

If you need anything beyond a simple completion status or anonymous usage data, a learning management system (LMS) is probably your best option for tracking your e-learning course activity. An LMS is an application made specifically for administering, tracking, reporting, and delivering e-learning courses or training programs. While specific features vary by vendor, an LMS generally gives you the most tracking and reporting options.

Courses communicate course data to an LMS in a specific format, such as SCORM, AICC, cmi5, or xAPI (Tin Can API). From the data, you can extract details such as learner score, sections completed, user identification, and more (see table below).

Additional benefits of using an LMS is that it provides many other features useful for the administration of training programs beyond the basic tracking of data. Common LMS features include the ability to assign specific courses to specific people, notify learners of required courses, establish and monitor due dates, and much more.

Advantages of an LMS Disadvantages of an LMS Commonly Available Data
  • Specifically designed to track e-learning activity
  • Most comprehensive method for tracking and reporting
  • Can track activity of specific users
  • Can record quiz and other assessment scores
  • Unique login credentials verifies learner identity
  • Requires courses to be published in a specific format (SCORM, AICC, cmi5, or xAPI) to communicate with LMS
  • Can be expensive
  • Can require significant amount of work to install and configure an LMS
  • Total number of times started
  • Total number of times completed
  • Total and average amount of time spent in course
  • Date/time of course starts
  • Date/time of course completions
  • Specific courses started
  • Specific courses completed
  • Due dates for specific courses
  • Assigned courses that are incomplete
  • Raw quiz scorePercentage quiz score
  • Course pass/fail status


Custom Tracking

If you have the necessary technical expertise available, another option is to use a custom-built tracking system. The premise for any custom system is to create a method of storing the relevant information into a database. Custom tracking can range quite a bit in form and complexity, from a simple online completion form to a full-blown customized LMS.

Advantages of Custom Tracking Disadvantages of Custom Tracking Commonly Available Data
Can be tailored to specific needs Requires access to technical expertise N/A


Making Your Choice

The type of e-learning activity you want to track generally steers you toward the tracking method best suited to your needs.

When tracking course completions, you’ll need a tracking method that identifies the learners completing the course. Manual tracking is an option when you only need to collect minimal information from a small learner group on the honor system. If that’s not the case, you’ll probably want to consider using an LMS to track your e-learning course completions.

When tracking course usage activity without any concern for course completion, web server tracking will probably give you what you need.

Finally, if you have access to a technical expert and none of the other tracking methods meet your needs, you can explore custom tracking solutions.

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