Online learning programs have a variety of reporting needs whether it is a required state report, information for your governing board or reports that help you determine how well you are meeting program goals. Many, if not all of the necessary reports will be provided by your Learning Management System (LMS) and/or Student Information System (SIS).
Understanding your reporting needs is important as it will guide you in selecting the LMS and SIS that meets your overall needs. Not only do you need to understand the types of reports you will need, but you also need to decide if it matters if the reports comes from your LMS or your SIS. This decision will be based on issues such as:
- Is your program part of a larger organization that already has an established SIS that you will be using? If so, you will probably want to have your online learning program be able to have the SIS generate the same type of reports that the rest of your organization receives from the SIS.
- Which system will be controlling processes such as registration and student progress tracking? It probably makes sense for the system that controls those processes to produce the associated reports, but you may also need to have the other system generate similar reports so that you can verify that the integration of the two systems is operating correctly.
As the name implies, operational reports support your day-to-day tasks. Reports of this type include items that are required for any school such as enrollment reports, progress reports, report cards, course completion reports and/or transcripts, etc. In some cases, a standard report for a brick-and-mortar school may need some significant modifications for your online learning program. An example of such a report is an attendance report.
In a traditional school, an attendance report provides information regarding when students are present, absent, or tardy. The information from an attendance report might be used for situations ranging from student discipline (if a student is tardy too often) to completing required state reports that could have implications connected to the amount of funding the school receives.
For an online learning program, attendance may have a completely different definition than being present in a physical classroom at a specific time and the regulations for reporting attendance may also be very different. As a result, the attendance report may have to function in a completely different manner, perhaps based on when, how often, and how long a student is logged in. Even if this information isn’t required for official attendance reporting purposes, this information may be very helpful for identifying students that need intervention or extra support because their participation level isn’t sufficient to successfully meet course requirements.
Your program’s structure and governance will also have an impact on your reporting requirements. For example, a state virtual school or any program that allows for students from multiple schools to enroll into their program may need to allow a designated site coordinator for each school enrolling students in their program to run all of the basic operational reports but the output of the reports is limited to only those students from their particular school.
Most LMS automatically capture a significant amount of data such as the amount of time a student spends on each individual content item, the amount of time a student spends on a certain time of activity such as discussion board assigments, as well as all of the digital communication that occurs between students and between student and teacher. The amount of data generated is overwhelming. Making sense of the data requires the necessary data analysis tools as well as individuals with expertise in educational research. Some LMS have optional reporting systems with sophisticated data analysis tools. In other cases, you may simply want the LMS to be able to export the data in a format that can then be imported into an external data analysis system. Often this data analysis effort will be part of a program evaluation effort.
Not all analytical reports require sophisticated data analysis tools. In some cases, you may simply want reports that provide historical data that will allow you to identify trends that are useful for future program planning. For example, a growing program will find reports that show summary and disaggregated enrollment data very helpful in projecting future enrollments which in turn will determine future budget and staffing needs.