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What is Learning Analytics?

What is Learning Analytics?

Learning analytics is the interrelation of learning and data analytics. The field of data science concerns itself with the collection, analysis, and reporting of data of students. It utilizes this numerical data and turns it into comprehensive trends and strategical suggestions.

Data science has become ever so relevant in the contemporary world. Hence, it is no surprise that content creators and L&D experts are turning towards it for better student-learning perception.

The concept may be seen as recent, however, the practice is fairly old. Researchers and educationists since the beginning have been using learners' data to improve their teaching strategies. Albeit, the term learning analytics was first coined in 2011 at the 1st International Conference on Learning and Analytics.

Additionally, the branch of study is also an academic field and a commercial marketplace. This dual nature enables L&D experts to properly apply research findings for yielding profitable outcomes. They make use of computational analysis techniques to form training strategies compliant with company requirements.  

Its applications

For lay readers, the subject at hand can appear complicated and consequently, irrelevant. Here are some uses of applying some analytical approach to learning to educate lay content creators on its salience.

  • Supports learner development by equipping with essential skills
  • Provides individual feedback to learners
  • Fosters key life-skill dispensation amongst learners i.e. collaboration, critical thinking, and creative skills.
  • Increases student awareness and perceptive ability
  • Improves learning and teaching quality by suggesting relevant pedagogical strategies.
  • Tracks performance of training programs

Benefits of Learning Analytics

You must be wondering, why opt for analytics for learners' growth. Since the field requires expert guidance and prior user knowledge, one can pull back from using it. To help you understand why you should opt for it, below is a brief list of advantages of using data-savvy learning strategies.

  • Helps develop effective learner training programs: The primary purpose of learning analytics is to provide better insights to content creators and organizations. With the help of data collection tools, companies can learn about their existing practices and trends and figure out ways for improving them.
  • Improves employee engagement: Indeed, when content developers have a better understanding of learning practices, they end up creating suitable programs. Consequently, employees and learners get a more personalized training experience. Hence, they report higher content engagement and show workplace loyalty.
  • Eliminates skill gaps: The diagnostic ability of analytics, enables program managers to detect any existing skill gaps amongst their employees. By removing these gaps, companies can develop consistent practices.
  • Suggests effective ways for resource distribution: Since organizations have limited resources and time, it is vital to find efficient training strategies. By having data insights, companies can come up with efficient ways of resource utilization.

Furthermore, learning analytics also help in the building of cutting-edge learning pathways. It does so by evaluating learning environments and learner performance. The overview then gives reliable recommendations for the improvement of learning programs.

Learning analytics methodologies

There are four major methods for data analysis relevant to learning strategies. Here is a concise and easy-to-follow overview.

learning analytics methods
Image courtesy Co-learning lounge

Descriptive analytics

As one can tell from the name, descriptive analytics is a statistical method that isolates patterns within historical data. It uses data from a specific timeframe and studies it. By viewing how learners interact with their learning environments, it reports on learners' behavior, performance, and efficiency.

Some of the ways descriptive analytics operate are in the form of student feedback collected over time - from enrolment to graduation.

Despite its effective ability to read historical learning practices within companies, it cannot predict the future performance of employees.

Diagnostic analytics

Where the lack of descriptive analytics ends, is where diagnostic analytics come in. It is primarily concerned with identifying the causal relationships prevalent in the data. Additionally, it interprets the historical data by using approaches such as data mining, drill-down, and data discovery. Furthermore, it isolates outliers and highlights issue areas for improvement.

The functions of diagnostic analytics involve the analysis of data for the identification of performance indicators within the companies. Moreover, it looks at equity access reporting to devise effective strategies for students.

Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics is about understanding the future. It uses machine learning to predict future learning and practice trends. Moreover, organizations can learn about future risks and opportunities.

With the help of statistical models such as neural networks, regression techniques, and decision trees, companies can analyze learner data. Furthermore, the development of staff dashboards can assist in predicting student participation and course performance and pinpointing areas in need of improvement.

Perceptive analytics

The primary purpose of perceptive analytics is to provide advice and recommendations on possible outcomes. In this sense, it is an extension of predictive analytics. However, due to the complexity of use, perceptive analytics is less widely used.

Program managers and creators can use these analytics to make necessary changes in their courses. By making these slight tweaks, companies can experience major benefits.

Ethics in learning analytics

Data handling is a tricky domain. Recently, there has been a rise in reports regarding data mismanagement. Such a lapse in ethical data practice can negatively impact results and also risk losing learner trust.

Here are some issue areas in data handling:

  • Management, security, and privacy of the stored data
  • Data taken from unnamed sources
  • Source registration of acquired data
  • Accuracy and reliability of data sources
  • Completeness of data
  • Responsibility for data handling practices

For a thorough understanding of ethics and data handling practices, head over to the International Council for Open and Distance Education's report from 2019. It provides a useful guideline for companies on how to operate ethically.

Conclusions

In this article, we looked at the definition of learning analytics, its salience, applications, and methodologies. One can make the inference that data is the building block of modern life. Everything seems to run on data, from education, business, politics, and much more. To think of it as empty numbers would be a misrepresentation. Due to its flexible nature, data is now in use in diverse fields.

Similarly, its use in education technology was inevitable. Since learning analytics helps in the detection of gaps and promotes improved learning, it has become a fairly popular field.

However, without the necessary guidance, one can find trouble navigating it. This is why make sure to take on seasoned professionals and program managers to head your learning and training content development. Moreover, a good way of dealing with the application of analytics is to begin by creating a draft plan. This draft plan will inform you about your needs and goals with which you can map out the required data and interpretive strategies.

To give you a better clue, here are some points that you can keep in mind when addressing the challenges of learning analytics:

  • Understanding the problem for which you are using learning analytics. 
  • Understanding what you need - every organization has different learning and working environment and hence different needs. 
  • The target audience for the learning programs - who will be handling the data.
  • Take your time to develop the training programs - multiple iterations for the program
  • Create a system to handle big data 
  • Make sure to align expectations with technical capabilities.
  • Security

If you are interested to learn further about this topic, here is a good resource: Handbook of Learning Analytics for the conclusion, an e-book by The Society for Learning Analytics Research.

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