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Introducing learning analytics

Source: PSE Feb/Mar 17

Learning analytics make use of the data generated as we learn and teach in order to improve learning and teaching. Rebecca Ferguson, a senior lecturer from The Open University, identifies key areas for action to help your institution make use of analytics effectively.

Online engagement, assignments, attendance and exam results – learning and teaching generate increasing amounts of data. Learning analytics make use of these digital traces in order to improve learning and teaching. 

Around the world, analytics are putting data to good use. In America, Purdue University is using analytics to improve results and increase retention. University of Technology Sydney is developing tools that help students to study effectively and to reflect on what they are learning. The Open University, here in the UK, is developing new course designs, based on how students engage with study materials over time. 

Research and experience at The Open University has helped us to identify key areas for action when implementing learning analytics. 

Areas for action 

  • Leadership and governance
  • Collaboration and networking
  • Teaching and learning
  • Quality assurance
  • Capacity building
  • Infrastructure 

In terms of leadership and governance, the priority is to develop a vision for learning analytics that aligns with your existing strategies and plans. Perhaps your institution is currently focusing on raising student achievement, supporting disadvantaged learners, improving study skills, preparing learners for their future careers or other priority areas. Aim to use analytics to achieve these existing goals. 

With your goals in mind, develop a roadmap for learning analytics that takes into account different parts of the organisation. Learning analytics involve many teams. Some departments collect and store data, others are involved in exploring it and interpreting results, while others are responsible for putting insights into practice and checking that this work makes a positive difference. You need organisational structures that support the use of learning analytics and help everyone to implement the necessary changes. 

With so many departments involved, collaboration and networking are essential. It is also important to know who is leading the process. Your learning analytics lead should be senior enough to make and apply high-level decisions that affect the organisation as a whole. 

Many stakeholders are involved, but teaching and learning are at the heart of learning analytics. Your analytics should help your learners to attain their goals and need to be aligned with how teaching and learning take place in your institution. Whether your focus is on collaboration, constructive learning, reflection or exam results, select the tools that are right for the job. In order to check that your analytics are making a difference, put quality assurance procedures in place. 

Use of data in education is a fast-growing area, where capacity building is important. Perhaps you need more leaders with experience in change management, more IT specialists with expertise in getting systems to talk to each other, more educators who are confident about using the information they are given, and more learners who are able to understand data visualisations. Identify the skills that are needed and plan to build capacity over time. 

Capacity building also involves developing infrastructure. Where will your data be stored, and how can it be used and analysed without compromising individual privacy? With so many data sources available, interoperability is important. Different systems need the technical capacity to talk to each other and to understand each other. 

There is no need to work on your learning analytics action plan alone. Educational organisations all over the world are gearing up for analytics. Many are willing to share their experience and work together to solve problems. In the UK, Jisc has a range of reports in this area. For a European perspective, look at the resources on the LACE website and, internationally, keep up to date with the events run by the Society for Learning Analytics Research.

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