Learning Analytics

What is Learning Analytics?

An often used definition for Learning Analytics is from the First International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge in 2011: 

Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs. LAK11

This definition is a useful reference for several reasons. It highlights the practices associated with learning analytics – the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data. It points out this data is about learners but also about context. And it offers motivation - to understand and optimize learning and the environments in which it occurs. Learning analytics offers additional ways to observe, reflect, and improve how we learn and teach, and the environment we create for each.

Another interesting thing about this definition is that it is relatively recent. Analysis of educational data is not particularly new. However the recent date of this first LAK conference marks an inflection point in the scale and detail of learning data access afforded largely by the growth of online Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as Canvas, in education. 

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Who benefits from Learning Analytics?

By leveraging learning analytics, students, faculty, and administrators can improve learning and course outcomes, and develop more engaged and effective teaching and learning techniques. Learning analytics provides feedback to individual students and faculty, but can also surface trends across schools or other scopes of interest, for example within specific programs, subject disciplines, class sizes, or other contexts.

Consequently, learning analytics can speak to and benefit multiple audiences:

  • Students: offering feedback on their own work and course contexts
  • Faculty: offering engagement trends and course material effectiveness in the classes they teach
  • Faculty-Administrators: offering perspective on activities and outcomes in programs, departments, and curricula they direct
  • School Administrators: offering perspective on trends and impacts supporting decisions of broader oversight and investment
  • Instructional Designers and Support Staff: providing perspective on the impact and effectiveness of on-line course design choices

Analytics questions, insights, and perspective from each audience help inform and guide the fashioning and offering of integrated analytics to each of these analytics audiences.

Where is Learning Analytics available? Canvas

Northwestern’s LMS, Canvas, is a major source of online learning data. Instructure understands the value of direct analytics feedback to students and faculty and so provides various analytics dashboards directly in Canvas. These dashboards show general activity and participation metrics as well as feedback on performance. Below are a couple of examples of Canvas analytics available to instructors for each class: 

Canvas Learning Analytics

Canvas Learning Analytics

These provide some of the most direct metrics on student activity and performance. Instructure continues to enhance their analytics dashboard based on customer feedback and underlying data affordance. 

Where is Learning Analytics available? Northwestern Innovations


Northwestern Innovations with Learning Analytics

To support and encourage analytics innovation Canvas data is available directly to institutions through three methods:

  1. An Application Programming Interface (API)
  2. A data warehouse called Canvas Data
  3. A real-time data feed (currently in beta-test)

Northwestern has been using these data access methods in collaborations with faculty, faculty administrators, and students to explore questions specific to their analytics questions and interests. These collaborations provide useful insights which are shared, but also often result in new Canvas analytics and visualization tools, available for use by others in their own courses at Northwestern. 

Some of these projects and available tools are described on the Northwestern Innovations page.

Consortial Efforts

Northwestern isn’t the only institution exploring Learning Analytics. This topic frequently emerges as a major interest in consortial planning for learning technology. These institutional collaborations also provide rich opportunities to share insights, best practices, and useful tools – all of which sharpen our techniques, elevate our perspectives, and reduce the effort required to provide these capabilities. 

Stories Posted in Learning Analytics