Analytics Isn’t a Thing



Software is usually classified based on the problems it solves. Need software to help track customers? CRM. Need software to manage what happens in the classroom? LMS. Need software to handle your core business functions? ERP. Using this same logic, there’s no rational question to ask where the answer is “analytics.” Analytics doesn’t solve a problem. Analytics provides data and insight that can be leveraged to solve problems.

This might seem odd coming from someone who is in charge of analytics at a higher education software company. My point is that we shouldn’t be “selling analytics” and customers shouldn’t be looking to “buy analytics.” Analytics isn’t a thing. Analytics help solve problems like retention, student success, operational efficiency, or engagement.

What brought this to mind for me was a bit of cognitive dissonance the other week. The 2017 NMC Horizon Report for Higher Education was released and for the first time in a while, Analytics didn’t appear in the “Important Developments (time-to-adoption)” section. In my mind, I wouldn’t say that analytics “has arrived,” so I was a little surprised that it wasn’t called out as a specific trend.

As I got to thinking (and reading deeper into the report), it dawned on me that analytics was in the 2017 report. It just wasn’t called out explicitly. For historical reference, here’s how analytics has progressed through the Horizon report over the years (graphic attributed to Audrey Watters, shading added by me):

Horizon Report Data Liberation
Image attribution: Horizon Report Data Liberation (

You can clearly see the advancing trend of analytics from 2010 to 2016. In this year’s report, though, you need to understand that analytics isn’t called out as “a thing.” Instead, it’s embedded in many of the other points in the report. In this Important Developments section, Adaptive Learning and Next-Gen LMS explicitly reference analytics as a part of those trends. IoT and AI are also intimately intertwined with analytics. Additionally, an earlier section of the report lists “measuring learning” as a mid-term key trend. This is 100% data dependent and has benefited from the growth of analytics. All of this helped to bridge that dissonance gap for me. Analytics isn’t called out in the Horizon Report because analytics isn’t a thing.

I hope the NMC folks don’t make me look like a fool and bring analytics back next year (I just read through the list of expert panelists… I know a few of you personally… if you’re reading this, I hope my analysis makes sense!). Beyond this report, though, I hope the “analytics isn’t a thing” aphorism takes hold with institutions looking to better leverage data in their day-to-day operations. Don’t say that you’re looking to buy an analytics product. Talk about the problems you want to solve and the goals you want to achieve. Once you zero in on that end goal, then you can talk about how information and access to data will help get you there.