Uncanny Owl Turns 10

Ten long years ago, on May 29, 2013, Ken and I (Ryan) cofounded Uncanny Owl. With absolutely no experience starting or managing a business, no clear direction, and 4 children under the age of 3 between us, walking away from our stable, mid-level jobs at great companies somehow seemed like a good idea.

Here we are in our Toronto office in June 2013 (we ended up abandoning a physical office in 2018):

Ryan & Ken at Uncanny Owl in 2013

The first 3 years of the company largely consisted of experimenting with a lot of elearning ideas and taking on any consulting projects we could find. We had grand visions and aspirations, and we worked hard trying to build Uncanny Owl’s reputation in the elearning space.

It wasn’t until almost a year after we started the company that we began focusing on WordPress and LearnDash. That journey started when we built a website to showcase our course development expertise, but instead of asking us to build courses for them, visitors wanted us to build a copy of the website. We started showing a “Want us to build a site like this for you?” banner for visitors from LearnDash and our website, and the rest is history.

Uncanny Owl Timeline

So what happened over the first 10 years of Uncanny Owl? Here’s a timeline covering some of the highlights:

  • September 2013; We sent out our first invoice to a customer for a whopping $67.80. Work was slow and losses were high for the first 2 years.
  • March 2014: We took on our first LearnDash consulting project. Justin Ferriman and his LearnDash team were a huge help with landing consulting projects for our first few years.
  • November 2014: We hired our first contractor so we could start taking on more development-heavy projects.
  • March 2016: We hired our first 2 employees and released Uncanny Toolkit for LearnDash, our first (and still most popular) plugin.
  • July 2016: We released our first premium plugin: Uncanny Toolkit Pro. It remains our most popular paid plugin and is the #1 premium add-on for LearnDash. From July 2016 through September 2017, we released 4 more LearnDash plugins: Tin Canny, then Uncanny Codes, Uncanny Continuing Education Credits, and finally Uncanny Groups.
  • September 2018: We released Uncanny Automator, our first non-LearnDash plugin and our fastest-growing product. Automator was originally intended as another add-on for LearnDash that could be used to personalize learning journeys.
  • November 2020: We joined the WPBeginner Growth Fund and expanded our network of partners.
  • Summer 2021: We finally exited LearnDash consulting to focus exclusively on plugin development and support.

Uncanny Owl Today

Uncanny Owl in 2023 looks nothing like in did in 2013, and that’s a good thing. It’s no longer just the 2 of us; we’re now up to 16 people—Ryan, Ken, Kimberly, David, Ajay, Saad, Curt, Dani, Agus, Manal, Joseph, Huma, Brendan, Nastia, Parthavi and Muneeb. Most of the team is in Canada (many of whom are pictured below at a recent lunch), but we also have staff in the Philippines, Greece, Pakistan and India.

Ken and I are extraordinarily grateful to our team for making Uncanny Owl what it is today. We recognize how fortunate we are to have a great team and we treasure the capabilities, camaraderie and talent that everyone brings to the table every day.

Here are some cool accomplishments that were made possible thanks to our team:

  • Getting over 1 million downloads of our free plugins
  • Helping Automator users run over 40 million recipes
  • Maintaining a 4.9/5.0 average rating of our plugins on WordPress.org
  • Having over 60,000 websites trust us to help run their businesses

We appreciate the support of all of our users over the past 10 years and we hope the work we do has helped your company in some way. If you have your own Uncanny Owl experiences to share, we encourage you to post in the comments below!

Customize Your Uncanny Groups + LearnDash Course Reports

Add your own columns and data to Uncanny Groups and LearnDash course reports and empower your Group Leaders with the tools they need.

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As an e-learning educator or administrator, you know how important it is to have accurate and detailed course reports. And while LearnDash has some built-in reporting tools, oftentimes, you need additional information. Custom data fields such as a user’s job title, age, department/organization or even last login date can be invaluable for administrators, instructors and LearnDash Group Leaders.

So, if you’ve been looking for a way to add more columns and custom data to your Uncanny Groups and LearnDash course reports, then you’ve found the right page. In this article, we’ll show you a few simple ways to customize your Uncanny Groups and LearnDash course reports. We’ll also show you how to make those reports visible right from your WordPress dashboard so that Group Leaders can access them.

Trust us, this will be the easiest course you take all day.

Custom Columns in CSV Files for Administrators

For WordPress and LearnDash administrators, one of the simplest reporting tools available are LearnDash’s native CSV reports. These reports provide administrators with the ability to export basic information on users’ course and quiz data to CSV files where they can perform in-depth analysis and keep track of their KPIs. As useful as these native CSV reports are, however, they don’t always contain the information that you’re looking for.

Enter Uncanny Toolkit Pro.

To customize your LearnDash user reports, follow these simple steps.

  1. Download Uncanny Toolkit Pro

As the leading add-on for LearnDash users, Uncanny Toolkit expands and improves upon the features and functionalities of your LMS website. If you’ve ever found yourself wishing that LearnDash could do “X” (such as report customization) or show you “Y” (such as unique metadata), Uncanny Toolkit is the add-on you need. With 30+ modules and first-in-class support, you’ll have total control over your ability to customize your LearnDash site and your users’ e-learning experience.

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To gain access to additional modules, such as the Enhanced LearnDash CSV Reports module that we’ll be using to improve LearnDash Reports, you’ll need the Pro version of Uncanny Toolkit. Click here to download Uncanny Toolkit Pro.

  1. Select the Enhanced LearnDash CSV Reports Module

After downloading Uncanny Toolkit Pro, from your WordPress dashboard, navigate to Uncanny Toolkit > Modules. Scroll down to Enhanced LearnDash CSV Reports and toggle the module “On”. The toggle switch will appear green when enabled.

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  1. Configure the Module Settings

To add columns to LearnDash user reports, click on Settings in the Enhanced LearnDash CSV Reports module. A pop-up window will appear where you can select from predefined columns such as Username, Language and Website.

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If you scroll down, you’ll also see that Toolkit Pro lets you add user and course metadata as columns when you enter the meta key. These fields are particularly useful when you want to include custom metadata. For example, we have created the custom metadata department, job title, age and last login to better understand our user engagement and performance.

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Having entered the meta key into the Usermeta Key fields, we were able to add those keys as columns in our exported CSV reports.

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If you don’t know how to create and retrieve custom metadata on WordPress, jump down to the section Create Custom Metadata for WordPress.

We’ve seen how, with the Toolkit Pro add-on for LearnDash, you can drastically improve your LearnDash course reports. But CSV files don’t suit everyone’s workflows. Not to mention, Group Leaders and other instructors without administrator access to the back-end of your WordPress website won’t be able to retrieve their own LearnDash course reports.

If you’re using the Uncanny Groups for LearnDash add-on, however, you can add columns to reports on the front-end of your WordPress website for Group Leaders and instructors to access. Furthermore, you’ll be able to export the reports to Excel if that format suits your workflows better than CSV files.

Custom Columns for Uncanny Groups Course Reports

If you’ve been using the Uncanny Groups for LearnDash add-on then you already know about all of the amazing features such as front-end management and reporting tools for Group Leaders. However, sometimes, your Group Leaders will need more information than what the default reports contain.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to add custom columns and data to your Uncanny Groups course reports. Follow these steps to help your Group Leaders drill down into their course and user data. We’ll also show you how easy it is to export course reports to Excel so that Group Leaders can track their KPIs and customize their analytics.

  1. Add Column Titles

First, you’ll need to add the titles of your custom columns to your Uncanny Groups course reports. To do this, you’ll need to add some code to the functions.php file of your child theme. The code snippet to add column titles to Uncanny Groups course reports is:


In the code snippet above, $columns[‘custom_key’] = ‘My custom column’ is where you can input the column title that you want. For example, we would like to add the column title Last Login so our code snippet would look like this:

Of course, you’d rarely only want to add only one column to your Uncanny Groups course reports. If you’d like to add multiple columns, simply include additional lines as follows:

  1. Add Column Values

Now that you’ve added the column titles to your Uncanny Groups course reports, it’s time to add the values. To input the values of your custom columns into your Uncanny Groups course reports, add the following code snippet to the functions.php file of your child theme:

In the code snippet above, $user_data[‘custom_value’] = get_user_meta( $user_id, ‘custom_value’, true ); is the line that will retrieve the user’s metadata that you want included in your Uncanny Groups report. In our example, with the meta values for all of our corresponding column titles, the code snippet would look like this:

Note: The snippet $user_data[‘learndash-last-login’] = get_user_meta( $user_id, ‘learndash-last-login’, true ); will return a timestamp value. If you want your course report to return the learndash-last-login value as the date format from your WordPress settings, you can use this code snippet:

  1. Export Uncanny Groups Reports to Excel

Navigate to the page(s) where you have your Uncanny Groups course reports. Note, you can include Uncanny Groups course reports on any page with the shortcode: [uo_groups_course_report]. As you can see in the image below, our custom columns along with the corresponding metadata have been added to our course report.

uncanny-groups-reports-custom-columns

To export the report to Excel, simply click Excel export in the upper right-hand corner.

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That’s all it takes!

Create Custom Metadata for Your LearnDash Reports

By default, WordPress stores a lot of data about your users. But it’s not always the data that you’re looking for. Throughout this article, we’ve been using custom WordPress metadata that suit our specific needs and workflows. Perhaps you’re already doing this on your site, like capturing “job title” or “department” in registration forms from your favorite form plugin, or a plugin like Advanced Custom Fields that adds extra data to users and posts. But, for greater control and management over your user and content records, you might need some additional help.

One popular solution for creating and manipulating custom WordPress metadata is our Uncanny Automator plugin. With Automator, you can craft recipes to create and alter unique metadata that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. For example, we could help our Group Leaders by putting some key analytics right at their fingertips.

uncanny-automator-custom-user-metadata

The recipe pictured above is the same one that we used to create some of the unique user metadata that you saw throughout this article. Whenever a user registers with our WPForms registration form, Automator creates the user meta organization and job_title along with the three unique key/value pairs quiz_100, quiz_85 and quiz_60 to track the number of quizzes a user passes with a given percentage score. We can then use subsequent recipes to alter that metadata, saving our Group Leaders hours of administrative work.

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With these recipes and the ability to add custom columns to Uncanny Groups course reports, Group Leaders can easily keep track of their learners’ progress.

If you want to learn how to create your own WordPress metadata with Automator, then download the plugin and read a brief tutorial on mastering WordPress metadata.