Learning analytics is a relatively new field that is a marriage of two disciplines: business analytics and the science of learning. It requires a deep understanding of both fields and a commitment to working with—and learning from—all stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, parents, students, community members, and government agencies.
For me, deciding to pursue a Master of Education in Learning Analytics meant seeing my career come full circle. Before this, I pictured my professional journey more like a meandering board game, with twists and turns and cards that sent me back to “Go.” But this dual-discipline field has allowed me to combine all of my past experiences into a coherent purpose.
In college, I pursued a double major in political science and journalism, hoping for a career in public affairs or lobbying—back when lobbying, or my naïve sense of it, meant helping educate legislators about an organization’s important interests. I used my writing skills as an instructional designer for a big corporation instead, first as a freelancer and then for an internet startup that succumbed to the dot-com bust in 2001.
After working in the crazy world of an internet startup, I decided to scale back, spend more time with my young family, and work in the computer lab at a nearby elementary school. Before long, I was replacing motherboards on fruit-colored iMacs and helping teachers integrate technology into their curriculum.
None of it seemed to make logical career sense until I moved from working in the computer lab to managing the database for our school district’s student information system. Suddenly, a world of data was at my fingertips and I realized the enormous potential it held for moving students and schools in the right direction. Learning analytics has enabled me to combine my skills as an instructional designer, an advocate and communicator, and a technology professional.
One of the driving forces behind the growth in the learning analytics field is that educational institutions are now facing the challenge of limited resources and increased accountability, which are propelling creativity and discovery. The analytics programs that were once reserved for big businesses are now being widely used in higher education and K-12 institutions to measure student growth, inform curriculum decisions, and identify students at risk for failing a course or program.
Having an analytics program in place is not a magical solution to educational challenges, such as student retention and achievement, however. To build a successful learning analytics program at an educational institution, it’s important to engage and inform school leaders, listen to the needs of teachers and students, and educate users on how to consume and act on the data that’s presented. Teachers and administrators will only be committed to data-driven decision making if they can see its value and are educated about how to turn insights gleaned from data into action.
As I’ve worked in the field of learning analytics and learned more about it through my master’s program, I see how it has the potential to help educators decide where limited resources are best spent, to increase their accountability to parents and other stakeholders, to make their results more transparent, to inform their instruction, and to put more power into students’ hands for creating and improving their own learning.