Effective dashboards and analytics are often missing from many LMS platforms. That’s because it’s very challenging to implement a training analytics dashboard—and every end-user wants something just a bit different from their peers.

This problem actually extends far beyond LMS platforms. That’s good news because the result is a powerful tool that can empower L&D teams to collect training analytics for free—and easily create clear, attractive data visualizations.

All disciplines, from marketing to sales to logistics, are itching for better ways to visualize their metrics and KPIs. This has sparked creation of a class of business intelligence, or BI software. These tools empower users to load in their own data and create their own dashboards and visualizations.

Popular tools include GoodData, Looker, Tableau, and Domo. However, one tool stands out from all of them: Power BI. This free BI tool from Microsoft allows you to quickly import data files and create interactive dashboards and reports.

At OttoLearn, we use Power BI as part of the analytics suite with our Agile Microlearning platform. This allows our enterprise clients to build their own custom dashboards. Any L&D team can use Power BI in a similar manner.

Let’s explore the steps in building a custom interactive dashboard. We’ll use fictional OttoLearn data.


Figure 1: The default OttoLearn advanced analytics dashboard powered by Power BI, showing an overview of learner mastery

Alt text: The default OttoLearn dashboard powered by Power BI includes charts showing learners’ activities and progress over time. Individual data are displayed, along with averages

The first step to using Power BI is to load in your data files. With OttoLearn, we export a single XLS file that contains all the data. Some platforms may generate or multiple data files, which Power BI also supports.

Once your data files are uploaded, you must establish relationships between the different tables. For instance, if you have a table of your users and a table with their scores (in our example, mastery levels by module), you simply link the common data columns so that Power BI knows how to connect your data.


Figure 2: An example of linking related data across tables

Alt text: A list of users is linked to a module that measures progress

Once your data points are connected, you’re ready to design your dashboard. Power BI displays all of your data. Simply drag data onto the page, then select a type of visualization. Presto!


Figure 3: Power BI creates many types of data visualization from your data

Alt text: Clear graphical and drop-down menus allow Power BI users to select a data visualization type and drag the desired data fields onto the visualization page

For example, you can create a bar chart that shows how many employees have reached the “mastery” level of a particular skill—and display the percentages by region or location.

Insert video file “OttoLearn PowerBI Add Mastery by Location Tile”

Figure 4: This short video shows the steps in creating a bar chart visualization of learner mastery by location

Alt text: A bar chart shows what percentage of learners in each location has mastered a selected skill

It’s easy to change a visualization to a different format, or emphasize different data. Just click on it and select a different visualization type. Let’s change from a bar chart to an interactive map showing learner mastery by location.

Insert video file “OttoLearn PowerBI Convert from Bar to Map”

Figure 5: This short video shows the steps in converting a bar chart to an interactive map

Alt text: With a few steps, the bar chart becomes a map; the circles over each location are sized according to the number of employees in each location have achieved mastery, and hovering over the location with the mouse pops up a box with the relevant data

Power BI offers more features with its AI-powered natural language queries. Explore your data by typing in a question. Power BI dynamically finds and visualizes the answer. Simply drag that visualization onto a page.

Insert video file “OttoLearn PowerBI NLP Queryp”

Figures 6 and 7: NLP query support makes it easy to find the data you’re looking for

Alt text: A screen capture shows the field where a user can type a query. A short video shows that typing a question dynamically creates a visualization with the data that answer the question

In addition to the clear dashboard with your learning analytics and the ability to easily create data visualizations, Power BI offers many more features:

  • Add filters that automatically carry over and apply to your other pages. For instance, you may want the user to be able to filter the analytics by department, brand, country, job function, etc.
  • Share dashboards with others in your organization; set row level data permissions to limit who can access what data
  • Set an automatic refresh interval for your data (using the free Personal Gateway)
  • Download your analytics as a ready-to-present PowerPoint

Using a tool such as Power BI to obtain and analyze free training analytics enables you to break free of the pre-packaged reporting from your LMS platform, and start designing your own visualizations. You can give each learner access to the information they need to turn training data into actionable insights.


Power BI offers guidance, sample data, and other resources to help you become a power user:

Register for the Free Tools for eLearning Spotlight, an online event taking place January 30, to discover more ways to enhance your eLearning without draining the budget.