How To Prepare Your School For Learning Analytics

Thanks to excitement over new technologies and their implications in student success, “learning analytics” has become a prominent buzzword in the education sector. Learning analytics done right certainly can be a powerful tool for institutions to boost retention and can help prove schools are worthy of federal funding in the future. Before it can be implemented, however, there are necessary steps that must be taken. Just because schools possess software that collects student data doesn’t mean they can flip a switch and suddenly be leveraging learning analytics. It‘s an initiative that schools need to prepare for and build towards doing.

But First, What Is Learning Analytics?

Learning analytics, simply defined, is the application of analytics to enhance or improve student success. While that’s the quick and easy definition, implementing a learning analytics plan is a bit more complicated. There are the obvious components, collecting the data and analyzing it. But in addition to those are interpretation, reporting, prediction, and action. These will all have varying applications depending on the objectives of the institution, but getting to the point where you can leverage learning analytics includes much more than collecting and analyzing student data.

Defining Institutional Goals

Before institutions can start creating a learning analytics initiative, they must decide what they want to learn from their data. Schools can gather data to understand student outcomes and/or understand the effectiveness of institutional policies and operations. In either case, it’s important for schools to define what they want to learn before setting up their learning analytics processes so that staff members are focused on analyzing the data that actually aligns with the goals of the institution.

Standardization is Key

The most important step schools must take is ensuring standardization across their campuses. In order to track accurate data about student outcomes, schools must enforce standardization at all levels, including departmental policies and instructor behavior. Many higher education institutions grant instructors autonomy over their courses, meaning that the varying styles of teaching would make it nearly impossible to compare learning data. In science experiments you want to control for as many variables as you can. To leverage learning analytics, schools have to take the same approach and reduce the inconsistencies for the data to tell a useful story. With standard practices in place, students will, in theory, go through the same education process regardless of program. Add standard policies into the mix that dictate how data is collected and which information is collected, and school staff will be able to compare accurate student data and derive relevant insights. 

Proprietary schools are well positioned to implement learning analytics in the future because as an industry, they tend to write standard practice for how courses run, from attendance tracking to content delivery to technology use. In addition, proprietary schools don’t have as much variety in instructors’ teaching styles and are able to make changes faster than non-profits are. 

Allocating Necessary Resources

In addition to campus-wide standardization, schools must invest in the tools and software that make analytics possible, like a good SIS for program data and a real-time data collection system like CourseKey. Schools can’t rely on manually entered data to leverage learning analytics because it will undoubtedly contain bias and leave room for human error. Using technology is imperative to collect accurate, rich data to generate more conclusive predictions. For example, monitoring attendance data collected manually merely shows that a student was absent or present and assumes they were in class for the duration of the class period. Collecting attendance data through technology, however, sheds much more light on student behavior, including the exact time they checked in and out (down to the second), which device they used to do so, and more. Empowered with more insightful data, schools can identify behavioral trends such as when exactly the top performers in class check in. 

In addition to investing in the technology required for effective learning analytics, schools must hire or reassign employees to monitor the data and report relevant insight and decide where and how to store and manage the data before and after it has been analyzed.

Preparing For Learning Analytics

As the education sector modernizes and new technologies become commonplace in the classroom, implementing learning analytics will be a realistic possibility for postsecondary institutions in the near future. To prepare for learning analytics, schools need to start laying the groundwork now to ensure that policies are updated to include data collection. They must additionally see that those policies are consistently followed by staff and instructors to ensure the data collected accurately reflects student behavior and outcomes. Once standardization is achieved, schools can begin to apply learning analytics to improve student performance, increase retention, and decrease the average time students take to graduate. Until then, they must identify which steps needs to be taken in preparation for implementing effective learning analytics!

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