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 academic and research libraries?

  • For academic libraries in institutions where there are efforts being made to capture learning analytics for at least some courses (often large enrollment, introductory STEM courses) they are examining how libraries can demonstrate a contribution to student learning. This is challenging for at least two reasons: first, often those large enrollment courses in intro STEM disciplines use a primarily textbook and quiz/exam approach; they often do not require or encourage students to use outside or supplemental information resources for the course, thereby sidelining one aspect of the library. Second, there are privacy concerns from many libraries about capturing and using data about individual student's reading or other library activities in order to include them in any analysis of student success. A small number of academic libraries are working with partners in their institution (undergraduate education, etc.) to contribute data to studies of student success employing learning analytics. I think this may increase as libraries work closely with data analysts in their institutions to minimize the amount of personal information that is captured and kept for the long term.- JoanLippincott JoanLippincott Apr 4, 2015 Joan, I think you have touched on so many of the big issues for libraries related to learning analytics, thank you. I agree that one of the big challenges for libraries right now is "demonstrate a contribution to student learning" as you say. So much funding and decision making is tied to demonstrated impact and assessment, which honestly a lot of libraries don't do very well. We can show how many people enter the library and how much stuff is used, but we are many times still falling short of answering the "so what?" question. I also think this needs to be a real conversation about privacy and what data we can and cannot use, which is a huge topic in libraries that's not talked about much. - lcshedd lcshedd Apr 13, 2015 I agree with both commenters here--excellent points. - janice.welburn janice.welburn Apr 20, 2015 I agree with the privacy issues. These are tricky things to work out. - jdupuis jdupuis Apr 26, 2015
  • Libraries could use data if linked to library resources to determine which resources students use (and thus by implication find useful) at different points in a semester. Are background sources really used early on? How much in advance of deadline do students do the readings? Do they return to prior readings later in the semester? Could we license for fewer than population of class use if most reserves items are only used by 50% of students? - lisahinchliffe lisahinchliffe Apr 11, 2015
  • Agree with above comments. Learning analytics and the correlation of student learning (retention, graduation, etc) to library resources and services is also part of a focus towards more evidence-based and outcome-based library services, including collection development and budgeting practices. Analytics that help institutions asses the correlation can include analysis of library resources (total number and %) that are cited within reading lists; Worth also mentioning the role of libraries' Learning Commons and their impact on student learning (e.g. University of Tennessee at Knoxville studied this) - oren oren Apr 13, 2015
  • Learning analytics systems generally have "success markers" and "risk factors" for users (advisors, counselors, faculty members) to see when checking on individual students. If types of library use could be included as success markers, particularly as we collect more information about which library interactions make a difference to student achievement and retention, then more students could be advised to make use of library services. I do agree with comments above about privacy concerns, but there is so much we can gain from learning analytics, it's worth figuring out the privacy issues. - melissa.bowles-terry melissa.bowles-terry Apr 14, 2015 yes, working past the privacy issues are huge but would be so useful. Just this morning I simply wanted to differentiate between users and unique users and we can't do that since once something is discharged from a user account all records related to that user are lost. I didn't even need to know that Jane Smith was the user, just that Jane and John and whoever else had all used that resource. When that's the starting point, we have a long way to go. We are still on Voyager as our ILS, so I'd like to know what the new gen systems record, such as Alma for example. - lcshedd lcshedd Apr 15, 2015
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Privacy issues - for use of information resources, whether e-textbooks or library resources, are students told that their reading is being monitored, who is actually collecting the data (local campus or publisher), how long will the data be retained, how personally identifiable will it be, etc. - JoanLippincott JoanLippincott Apr 4, 2015- lcshedd lcshedd Apr 13, 2015- aarontay aarontay Apr 19, 2015 - Sandy.hirsh Sandy.hirsh Apr 19, 2015 - jdupuis jdupuis Apr 26, 2015
  • Empowering students - how can students be given access to data to empower them to see trends, implications, etc. and make their own choices about how they might want to shift study behaviors, etc. Also, students should have access to data re their teachers - do their teachers ever open the postings they make in the discussion boards? Did they actually download and grade their work? - lisahinchliffe lisahinchliffe Apr 11, 2015 I agree! - melissa.bowles-terry melissa.bowles-terry Apr 14, 2015 - Sandy.hirsh Sandy.hirsh Apr 19, 2015~ - JoanLippincott JoanLippincott Apr 20, 2015
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on academic and research libraries?

  • Libraries may be able to better demonstrate their contribution to student success through the use of learning analytics. I think this is most likely to happen when libraries partner with other campus offices to combine data from various sources.- JoanLippincott JoanLippincott Apr 4, 2015- lcshedd lcshedd Apr 13, 2015 - melissa.bowles-terry melissa.bowles-terry Apr 14, 2015- aarontay aarontay Apr 19, 2015 - jdupuis jdupuis Apr 26, 2015
  • - jan.howden jan.howden Apr 12, 2015At the moment the focus of learning analytics is very much on the review of impact. I would like to see how we have more close to real time responses to data and how we share this information in the learning communities. This community use is key to enabling collaborative or vicarious learning.
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.