What is Learning Analytics?

Learning analytics is education’s approach to “big data,” a science that was originally leveraged 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 leverage in 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?

In terms of "right here/right now" technology the bringing together of MIS or SIS systems with static data on student profile/characteristics and LMSs with active learning data open up a lot of interesting possibilities in terms, e.g., of investigating the student experience, student progress and understanding and the effectiveness of our teaching approaches and interventions. It becomes esp important perhaps in the online environment where we can't "see" our students in the conventional sense. - Gearoid.OSuilleabhain Gearoid.OSuilleabhain Feb 12, 2015
In the "nearly there/piloting" stage there is the idea not only that we can determine what learning trajectories our students are on (and identify "at risk" students) but introduce adaptive learning analytics which incorporate an intervention engine to automatically introduce interventions.- Gearoid.OSuilleabhain Gearoid.OSuilleabhain Feb 13, 2015

  • I think the real value in data or learning analytics is that access to information in real time provides significant opportunities for students and authorised staff to take action or change behaviour. If students can access their personal dashboard and see, for example, how they are performing against their peers or students the previous year, and see other useful information relating to the curriculum and what's coming up, it could be a huge motivator. For student support staff, this could provide a really exciting opportunity to engage, in a timely way, with students, and provide 'just in time' supports when required, not just at prescribed stages. This could also provide 'workflow' type reminders to keep students on track .. etc. I believe this has huge potential, especially if integrated with student relationship management functionality. - rosemary.cooper rosemary.cooper Feb 15, 2015
  • I wholeheartedly agree with Rose the potential to improve the learning experience for students is enormous, the key in my opinion is to pass the data back to the students rather than just looking at it at an institution level - mark.glynn mark.glynn Feb 22, 2015
  • The relevance of this technology is the potential to transform educational management processes: programme design; programme review; quality assurance; these mission critical activities can be transformed from the existing approach of periodic quality assurance into a continuous improvement cycle- Phelim.Murnion Phelim.Murnion Feb 18, 2015

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

  • For one there is the way in which analytics has the potential to transform our education and training systems utterly in good and bad ways. Greater transparency but also greater accounability with educators and educationalists having a bit stakehold in the direction it goes in and use it is put to. Whatever about what is technically possible or pedagogically actionable, however, there are a number of ethical and legal issues arising - Gearoid.OSuilleabhain Gearoid.OSuilleabhain I believe these ethical / legal issues must be fully explored and understood to protect our students - deirdre.butler deirdre.butler Feb 14, 2015
  • I agree that there are potentially significant ethical and data protection issues and these would have to be explored however, students share a significant amount of personal data with the world via social media and I wonder whether, in the coming years, there will be a re-awakening to the importance of data security? From an HEI's perspective, we already have a significant amount of data but it is not always available in a timely or integrated nature to be of immediate use. We treat such data in accordance with data protection legislation and I would assume that we would continue to maintain high levels of data security and quality in any solutions we implement. - rosemary.cooper rosemary.cooper Feb 15, 2015
  • The missing aspect is the factors involved is transformative technologies such as analytics. Whereas 'standard' learning technologies (almost all the others) impact at the operational loevel of the individual (learner/lecturer/classroom), analytics impacts at the decision making level: teams; boards; managers ... This means that the management of this technology is more complicated. By management I mean design, implementation, maintenance, improvement. Integrating learning analytics with existing management processes and transforming those processes from a bureaucratic towards a data driven decision making paradigm is likely to be an enormous challenge, for researchers and practitioners.- Phelim.Murnion Phelim.Murnion Feb 18, 2015

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on third-level education in Ireland?

  • I think there are several stakeholders who could be impacted by this technology, and cognisant of data protection requirements, these would include applicants, students, graduates, HEI staff, funding agencies, employers. HEI staff may be assigned a newly developed role in student data analysis to monitor 'exceptions' or key indicators and then ensure that the relevant staff follow up (via SRM-type solution) with students. For example, the first six weeks of a student's academic career are crucial in helping students make connections, learn about systems, academic culture, and integrate. Key indicators may provide evidence that a student has not engaged, such as failure to access IT systems. When compared with peers, this may be an indicator of non-presence and could be followed up immediately to see whether additional help or guidance can be provided. For an HEI, early follow-up provides an opportunity to guide or mentor students when they need it, and ensures that a student gets the personal support in timely way. This could have a significant impact on retention. With regard to student engagement with a particular module or programme, indicators such as attendance or performance could be monitored by module, programme, or year, thus providing academic staff with crucial information which can be fed back into teaching and assessment activities. There are many more potential impacts and I think that in these days of diminished resources, we have to act 'smarter' and really understand what is going on in our organisations and be agile enough to respond, in a considered way. - rosemary.cooper rosemary.cooper Feb 15, 2015 Agree. We already have access to much of the data that would have a significant impact on student support and retention. A key challenge has been to co-ordinate the gathering and monitoring of this data so that it can be used as part of an early-warning system for students who may be in difficulties. If having access to this data is to have an impact then institutions will need to proactively monitor it and then act on the key indicators for students. - Gerry.Gallagher Gerry.Gallagher Feb 15, 2015
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • There exist a number of commercial solutions (Blackboard offers a solution) and, for some time, we've long heard of Purdue's Course signals project (not sure if there is a commercial spin out). I believe there is a project ongoing in the EI learnovate centre also (http://www.learnovatecentre.org/business-intelligence-and-learning-analytics-the-challenges-impact-and-benefits/) - Gearoid.OSuilleabhain Gearoid.OSuilleabhain Feb 13, 2015
  • I have heard, anecdotally, that learning analytics is being researched by several Masters students in Ireland however I have not seen any outputs yet. - rosemary.cooper rosemary.cooper Feb 15, 2015We have a learning analytics project in DCU with several elements to it; we measure students engagement with the VLE, their performance in thier continuous assessments relative to their classmates, their use of the library and how often they access the college wifi - mark.glynn mark.glynn Feb 22, 2015
  • There is a research team (involving TCD, WIT and some others) working on learning technologies and at least part of their work involves analytics. The project/organisation is Learnovate. - Phelim.Murnion Phelim.Murnion Feb 18, 2015

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