Data Collection is a great way to digitise your manual processes, but it needs a bit of care in attention in the planning.

Here are some tips to make the process smoother.

Read the whole chapter before you start

The Data Collection chapter has a great summary of what Data Collection Forms and Rules do, and how you can use them in your organisation.

Design your question and answers first

Best to do this outside of onCourse. You can do it on paper, make a spreadsheet, whatever helps you to design the form. If you’re trying to digitise and existing manual form, you can simply highly the ‘questions’ and ‘answers’ on the current paper form as your starting point.

If you’re using a digital tool, make sure to turn on your spell checker, it saves a lot of time later!

Whatever format you use, make sure to share with other staff and get feedback on what they think before you add it to onCourse.

Design your Form first

Start with the Answers, not the questions

The great thing about the Data Collection in onCourse is that you can combine this with the Custom Fields to create almost any question you like.

When you design your forms, start with the answers you want, and then work backwards.

Customer fields are where the answers to your unique questions are stored. You’ll need to create these first so you can add it to the Data Collection form.

A drop down is better than a free text field

Dropdown image

Free text image

Your data collection is most effective when you can use it in reports and exports as well as the record. (and great for your business intelligence!) The better quality the ‘answer’ the best quality your intelligence.

Think of the question ‘How many years have you played the Flute?’

The answer could be free text, which would be a number. When users have a free text field, they might respond with 9, or about 9, or nine. There are lots of ways this can be written, and if you want to use it later to see if your course is more popular with beginners or experienced players, you’ll get a lot of different answers, which makes it pretty useless.

If you gave them a drop down, you could create the categories you want them to self-select. eg

1-2 years (Beginner); 2-4 years (Intermediate); 5 years + (Experiecend player); other;*

A free text field only works if there is a unique answer for each student or enrolment. e.g. Last Name.

User the ;* to make an ‘Other’ option with a text box

Sometimes there are people who don’t fit a category. You can manage this using the ‘wildcard’ i.e. an asterisk. This is a special symbol that adds the option ‘other’ and a text box. You get the best of both worlds.

Use a naming structure for custom fields if you have a lot of them

If you have a lot of custom fields, you might find that later on, you’ll need to update response and will need to create a new field.

Custom keys need to be ordered, so you should start each with an internal code, and add a few numerals so you can insert new custom fields later.

i.e. For BMW program, you may start the custom field code with BMW

Then add three digits BMW000

When the BMW program changes, you can create a new custom field BWM001, and they will

Get feedback from other and review your design

Once you’ve got a working design for the form, it’s a good idea to share it with stakeholder to get feedback. Your tutors, enrolment and admin staff, managers, etc, can all give useful feedback or suggest other questions that might be helpful.

It’s also a good time to do some basic reviews, like spelling or grammar check. Grammarly has a free spell checker if the tool you’re using doesn’t have one.

Think about the audience when you create your Labels and Help Text

The ‘label’ is the text of the question you ask during the checkout.

The help text appears in the field to clarify what your needs the student write.

Your labels and help text are customizable, so it’s a good idea to think about your students and what they would expect when you write you labels and help text. This will help to create the best checkout experience for your students.

You can use different combinations here, to customise the text for your organisation and students.

For example of some combinations, you might use for the last name field

Field - Last Name Lable - Last Name Help text - none

Field - Last Name Lable - Family Name Help text - none

Field - Last Name Lable - Legal Surname Help text - Your surname as on your licence

Field - Last Name Lable - Surname Help text - Please add your surname

Enter into onCourse

Be very careful entering your custom fields

Once a Custom field has a response, editing the responses will wipe all your current responses - you lose all your data. So best to make sure it’s got all the options you need before you make it live on your website.

Do another Spell Check just be sure!

It’s pretty easy to change it but best to spell check as much as possible.

Test it on your website

You should run through an enrolment process on the website to check the form displays as you intended. It’s a good idea to use an existing contact to check how it will appear for existing students, and a new contact so you can see how new student would experience this checkout.

Best to do this in the morning, since you’ll need to make the form live on your website, as online enrolments are most likely in the evenings.