Online Resource for Learning Analytics

ORLA (Online Resource for Learning Analytics) is the National Forum’s open-access, online library of guides and manuals, covering key topics relating to learning analytics. It comprises over 30 resources that were developed in partnership with over 60 experts from across the Irish higher education sector.

ORLA is designed to provide key supports and information both to teaching staff who wish to use learner data as a resource to support their teaching practice and to institutional leaders who wish to design and drive effective, informed institutional strategies for data use. The resources in ORLA are structured for these two cohorts, but access to the full suite of resources is also available.

ORLA also includes a range of case studies, showing how Irish teaching staff are currently availing of learner data to enhance their own pedagogy.

About Learning Analytics

Learning Analytics (LA) is a methodology that applies the principles of data analytics to student learning. Its aim is to provide accurate and actionable insights into the learning process through the exploration, modelling and aggregation of relevant data sources and to provide an evidence base for optimising the conditions in which learning can flourish.

Data from a vast array of sources can be used in LA research. These include everything from Student Information Systems, library usage, attendance data, participation in online forums and wifi logs to eye movement and facial recognition data. The most widely-used source of data, however, is student interactions with the virtual learning environment or VLE.

VLEs are online platforms, such as Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai etc., that house a potentially enormous range of learning resources that those who teach can make available to their students. Most frequently, they are used as repositories where students can access lecture notes, reading lists, previous exam papers etc. They have grown in ubiquity over the past twenty years or so to the point that they have become a mainstay of international HE.

LA researchers have mined an enormous volume of useable data from a range of sources. By providing information on what resources students have accessed, when and how they have accessed them and how long they have spent using them, a clear picture of student learning behaviour can be developed. This information can give those who teach an invaluable insight into which resources their students are using and how active they are. It can also give students a much better picture of how engaged they are with the course material relative to their peers. Most valuably, this information can be provided in real time, giving both those who teach and students the opportunity to take timely, informed action if required.

By comparing this information to students’ grades, researchers can identify how quantitively effective each style of learning behaviour is and which patterns of activity are most likely to engender deep learning and have a successful outcome for the student. Conversely, they can also identify patterns that are likely to have an unsuccessful outcome such as failing assessments or even withdrawing from the course prematurely. Knowing which students are less likely to be successful enables timely interventions that can empower students to change their academic trajectory before they suffer any negative consequences.

As pastoral tools, LA platforms can also be used to identify students with sudden changes in engagement that can be indicative of a wide range of issues that may not be academic in nature. By identifying students that may be facing personal, emotional, medical, social or financial challenges, LA can help support staff to proactively intervene and provide relevant, targeted supports to students with the greatest need.

However, it is noteworthy that, for all of the benefits LA can confer, it is just a tool for answering questions and providing insights. In order to have a positive and quantifiable impact for those who teach and  for students, it must be grounded in a broader, effective strategy that is based upon taking effective actions. LA, for example, cannot improve student retention. When used effectively, however, it can be an essential and invaluable asset for supporting an effective and informed retention strategy.

Checklist for developing an institutional strategy

Below is a checklist of questions that institutions should be able to answer in order to develop an effective long-term analytics strategy. Clicking on each question will bring you a related resource/resources that will help you to determine the best answer for your institution, staff and students. Institutions are advised to address each of these questions in order:

Learning analytics resources for those who teach