What are Learning Analytics?

Learning analytics is an educational application of “big data,” a science that was originally used by businesses to analyze commercial activities, identify spending trends, and predict consumer behavior. The rise of the Internet drove research into big data and metrics as well as the proliferation of web tracking tools, enabling companies to build vast reserves of information they could study and apply to their marketing campaigns. Education is embarking on a similar pursuit into data science with the aim of improving student retention and providing a high quality, personalized experience for learners. Learning analytics research uses data analysis to inform decisions made on every tier of the educational system. Whereas analysts in business use consumer data to target potential customers and personalize advertising, learning analytics leverages student data to build better pedagogies, target at-risk student populations, and assess whether programs designed to improve retention have been effective and should be sustained — outcomes for legislators and administrators that have profound impact. For educators and researchers, learning analytics has been crucial to gaining insights about student interaction with online texts and courseware. Students are beginning to experience the benefits of learning analytics as they engage with mobile and online platforms that track data to create responsive, personalized learning experiences.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Based on last year's Horizon.au report, LA was ranked number one. Unfortunately, not much progress has been made, especially towards the empirical evidence of LA frameworks. However, LA is very meaningful for all involved stakeholders in the higher education sector http://www.ifenthaler.info/?p=494 - dirk dirk Feb 10, 2014
  • As a means to improving the learnign outcomes (retention, predict at-risk factors early, and provide a personalised experience for users). Provided that it remains learning centred, not on marketing or for profit purposes then the benefits of such metric data will be immense, especially if shared corss-organisationally. - jason.maddern jason.maddern Feb 18, 2014
  • Learning analytics is an interesting example of something that at one level is very simple, but at another, raises a wealth of challenging questions for institutions that help drive a range of positive outcomes. The idea that you can look at a summary of performance in order to see in real time the performance of students and courses raises a number of questions - if you know a student is at risk of failing what should we do about it? What can we do? What if we discover entire groups of students are doing poorly? How do we get data that is more meaningful than grades early enough to do something with it? How do we get data from multiple systems in one coherent form that a non-specialist can use to perform a useful analysis? etc...
    Beyond this, there is the importance that analytics plays in helping institutions proactively respond to the threat of performance indicators as tools for externally conducted coercion and political accountability. - stephen.marshall stephen.marshall Feb 20, 2014
  • I disagree that not much is being progressed about LA. From my own institution's perspective we have just rolled out LA tools for both staff and students in our latest Moodle upgrade (2.6). As others have commented this is an extremely important approach/tool in terms of students at risk and for retention strategies; however there are challenging questions as mentioned above that need to be dealt with and most importantly from an institutional perspective when students are identified as at risk, they need to be followed up with appropriate support - margaret.hicks margaret.hicks Feb 20, 2014
  • A technology that can help with a range of applications around improving the student experience. - sherman.young sherman.young Feb 22, 2014
  • Has potential but has a long way to go before it can be used to meaningfully advance individual learning. Its still largely an 'institutional tool' to track retention progress etc. rather than at the individual learning level. - maree.gosper maree.gosper Feb 22, 2014
  • Learning analytics has the potential to be an incredibly useful resource at the institutional level, as well as at the individual academic and student level. I'm seeing a lot of institutions developing their own tools (mainly targeting tools for the institution, not the individual, at this stage) but not much collaboration between these projects. Maybe this is going on and I'm just not aware of it - but I'd love to see these institutions sharing their developments and working together to make something that is powerful for all users and stakeholders. Something that students can use to see if they're 'at risk' and guides them to resources that might help them, as well as something that triggers alerts for academics and institutions. - jwilliams jwilliams Feb 24, 2014

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Openness of algorithms. I assume that LA requires a philosophy of openness for all involved stakeholders - dirk dirk Feb 10, 2014 - jwilliams jwilliams Feb 24, 2014
  • Agree with above regarding algorithm openness. Also security and personal information issues, along with the analytical data being used to drive tailored personal learning environments - jason.maddern jason.maddern Feb 18, 2014
  • Privacy and ethical aspects, especially when these tools cross over into other contexts such as MOOCs or commercial partnerships.- stephen.marshall stephen.marshall Feb 20, 2014 - jwilliams jwilliams Feb 24, 2014
  • This is such a new and emerging field that we don't have evidence based research on the experience impact of students or staff using LA - margaret.hicks margaret.hicks Feb 20, 2014
  • Learner dashboards - robyn.jay robyn.jay Feb 20, 2014
  • But data by itself never tells us the entire picture. And we have to be very careful that once we have metrics in place, that don't become perverse incentives in their own right. See
    http://www.wired.com/business/2014/01/quants-dont-know-everything/ - sherman.young sherman.young Feb 22, 2014
  • We already know within our own institutions what would help all students, not just those at risk - better infrastructure, smaller classes, better learning designs, feedback etc. We need to look at the relative advantage of putting resources into these thing compared to the provision of dashboards that at best are rather crude indicators of success and risk in a complex environment. - maree.gosper maree.gosper Feb 22, 2014
  • This area needs to be much further teased out and to come up with different nomenclature for the different aspects analytics: learner vs learning focused, teacher vs teaching focused, self improvement/reflection, wellness, retention, dashboards for what?- helen.carter helen.carter Feb 25, 2014

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?

  • LA can have a major impact on the overall learning experience with regard to personalised and adaptive environments as well as customised interventions. - dirk dirk Feb 10, 2014
  • LA can have a major impact on the quality of learning environments as well as the design and development of future learning environments. - dirk dirk Feb 10, 2014
  • Again - improved student experience and learning outcomes, and data driven personalised learnign environments/support - jason.maddern jason.maddern Feb 18, 2014
  • I see it as part of the ongoing push for a more managed system, with a greater focus on accountability and evidence. - stephen.marshall stephen.marshall Feb 20, 2014
  • Agree with the comments already made - an incredible impact on the overall learning experience for students and also on teaching and learning approaches - margaret.hicks margaret.hicks Feb 20, 2014
  • We have to get more sophisticated analytics tools that can be easily used by teachers to monitor their individual strategies. SNA tools are a good example but not widely used. - maree.gosper maree.gosper Feb 22, 2014

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • Lots of people working in this space. Here at QUT we have a QUT Analytics project which has already had some promising outcomes. We are also strengthening our use of analytics in our student success and retention program. UTS are doing work in this area as are Uni SA. - s2.vaughan s2.vaughan Feb 18, 2014
  • SOLAR, we have a project at Victoria that is helping drive a wealth of internal change with regard to systems integration and reporting. - stephen.marshall stephen.marshall Feb 20, 2014
  • The work that Associate Professor Shane Dawson is doing at both the University of South Australia and also in response to a number of OLT grants. Here is a link to a recent commissioned report on Learning Analytics http://solaresearch.org/Policy_Strategy_Analytics.pdf - margaret.hicks margaret.hicks Feb 20, 2014
  • University of Wollongong project, contact Dr Jennifer Heath, Director Business Analysis & Learning Analytics, called Learning Analytics – the Student Perspective. Survey conducted online over a 28-day period between 6th November 2013 and 3rd December 2013. The survey was made available to the cohorts of five first year subjects, one from each faculty. The survey received ethics approval from the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of Wollongong (Ethics No. HE13/342). There were 326 valid responses. The survey investigated: student preference for Learning Analytics system functionality; student preferences for intervention strategies; and student perceptions of privacy. Already some interesting findings regarding what students value. - helen.carter helen.carter Feb 25, 2014

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