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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tracking Without an LMS

Based on an earlier post - Tools for On-Demand Information - An LMS?, I received a couple of questions around tracking.

Then today, I saw a post on TrDev about tracking without an LMS and thought I should maybe clarify what I often see as the choices around tracking:

a. Click tracking
b. Custom tracking
c. LMS tracking

Click Tracking

In Click Tracking, you rely on looking at logs of what pages have been clicked on and get reports via log file analysis (web analytics) tools such as WebTrends. These tools will tell you:
  • How many users have visited each page (HTML page)
  • When users are visiting
  • How long users stay

This is very standard technology that likely your IT shop can provide for you. If they cannot, then you can do what I've done on this blog and embed SiteMeter onto all of your web pages and it will give you similar kinds of reports. In fact, if you go to the link at the bottom of my blog (you can't see this in the RSS feed), you can see what traffic I get.

What you don't get with Click Tracking (without using some tricks) is the ability to see what any individual user did on the system. Thus, you couldn't tell if John or Sue finished the course. So, you have to answer the question:

Do I need to know if people are completing the course?

If the answer is no, then the other aspect to this solution is to create your course in a way that is easily tracked. Remember that Click Tracking only tells you what page was clicked on. This means that you need separate pages for your course. If you create a single, big Captivate Flash file, you will have no clickstream data. Instead you need to break the Captivate movies up (which is good practice anyhow) and put separate Captivate movies on each page.

LMS Tracking

I'm skipping Custom for a second. LMS tracking relies on creating a SCORM or AICC course which then communicates with the LMS in order to provide details of score, sections completed, which user it is, etc.

There are two issues with LMS tracking. First, many people do not have an LMS available to them. Second, even if you have an LMS you may not want to require users to login before they access content. This is discussed in Tools for On-Demand Information - An LMS?

Custom Tracking

While it is becoming less common as prices for LMS products have gone down and there are more hosted LMS products available, there are still times when we build custom tracking solutions. If you have no IT support available to you (i.e., simple programming), then this option is not available. However, there are some very simple things you can do to quickly and easily track your courses. While there are many solutions and lots of possible permutations, the basic approaches that are used are either a Simple Database or Enhanced Click Stream.

In a Simple Database approach, users will be asked to enter their name (sometimes at the start and sometimes at the end) in a simple form that will be recorded in a database. A simple web page is created that dumps out these results. There are lots and lots of subtleties here, but this is very simple to pull together and will give you a record of what a specific individual did. This approach is good when you only need a simple report of who has completed the content and do not need details of how they got there.

In Enhanced Clickstream, we will continue to rely on a tool like WebTrends, but we will put in place a simple bit of code that will enhance the clickstream data (the web log file) with information about the particular user. Normally, we rely on asking the user up-front for who they are (and then embed a cookie for repeat visits). This way, we can encode each page hit in the log file with the user information. WebTrends and other such tools can look at these parameters and give details of what pages that user has gone to. If you have a single completion page, it is easy to get a report on who has "completed" the course. This approach is good when you want to get more details of what individuals are doing on the system.

Keywords: eLearning Resources


Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,
I am in process of developing a E-learning Software for Real Estate company, we want all our books, seminars and workshops to be recorded and put in a E-learning Solution.
I am facing few problems :-
1> Should i go ahead with OR without LMS ?
2> What would be best technology to use for development ?
3> How can reduce deploy time ?
4> Buffering

I would appreciate if u can help me a bit on this.



Tony Karrer said...

As I'm sure you recognize, this is not an easy question. Much of my answer to your questions would depend on the specifics of what you are developing, i.e., what do you mean by "e-Learning Software" and "e-Learning Solution" ...

The rest of the answers follow. If you want to provide a few more details, I can try to point you in the right direction.

wadwekarg said...

I understand it is ot a easy question. My company is a Real Estate Company and wehave publications, Seminars and Workshops which we wanted to record and then run it with Flash presentation.
We want to devide one book in say 5-6 classes of 2 hrs each and a user can draw his own schedule.
I am not sure what u will call it, a E-learning Solution Or whatever but that is our requirment. We have staff of
2 PHP/ MySQL combination
1 Graphic / Flash folk
1 Sun Certified Java programmer
1 Oracle, ASP.Net folk.

I have tried to clarify things to you, if u need any more info please let me know. I would appreciate ur guidance on the same.



Tony Karrer said...


Your situation is not all that uncommon. You have a limited set of materials that you need to get delivered. Likely you won't want to be encumbered on a per-seat license basis by an LMS. Also, likely you don't need a lot of the features of a normal LMS. At least that's my experience.

I would base my decision on whether to evaluate using an LMS based on the complexity of the requirements you have. If you are going for a very simple - sign-up, e-commerce, see available courses, track what an individual has taken, little to no reporting, then with the skills you mentioned you can easily build this yourself.

It becomes more interesting a decision if you have more complex requirements in any of the likely following areas:

* Assignment rules
* Notifications
* Groups of Learners
* Reporting
* Administration

The more sophisticated the requirements become, the more likely you will want to look at an LMS.

Again, unfortunately, this is something I get hired to figure out for clients and its not an easy answer without diving into the details. If you have a more detailed requirements document, I can skim it to see if I can offer quick advice.

wadwekarg said...

I appreciate your reply, thank you very much. Well what we are looking at is very simple, reporting YES i would like to have no doubt.
I want simple process :-
View list of available Course Or workshop / Seminar along with thier brief info & price.
Get into details of each course.
Select one and schedule ur classes.
Like 2 hrs daily for 4 days OR 4 hrs daily for 2 days etc
Pay us through Paypal or CC
We validate E-mail send him user name password
user start viewing the pre recorded voice supported by Flash presentation according to the schedule he has opted.

Now as i said above, reporting i would like to know who has taken up which course.
Let me also clarify u that all courses / Seminars and Workshops will be pre recorded with flash presentation.

I would appreciate if u can send me ur mail id and phone number.



Anonymous said...

Hi Tony, I`m from brazil and have worked with e-learning since 1988... Market here has changed a lot, and LMS became a very controversial theme. I´m putting a lot of energy on getting to know Moodle, I believe that this LMS is the best solution to our corporate market, this is against all.... companies that have developed their own LMS and would much rather sell theirs e-learning system solution. Or companies that represent in some forms SunTotal, SABA , ETC…
What you think about Moodle lms?

Tony Karrer said...

I think Moodle is a good LMS for what it is. There are a lot of things that you want to do in a corporate environment that Moodle is really not designed to do. Compliance tracking and notification are good examples. However, you can work around any of this. So, likely Moodle is a good thing to consider.