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. Learning analytics may not mean a lot to course writers and instructional designers yet and even less to online learners, but it may be a significant step toward personalising learning for large numbers of people. The 2014 Horizon Report speaks of how data is being used to personalise our experience of websites and learning. Similar to the way that companies such as Google, Amazon and others use data about us and our online behaviour to adapt the way in which they present information to us, with the intention of selling us something, online education providers are beginning to use data to customise how they present learning content to individuals.

An example given in the Horizon report is Pearson Learning Studio, which is tracking data from millions of learners and aims to make the results available to educational leaders and policy makers. They believe that with a better knowledge of how people learn, more effective learning paths may be developed. Improved knowledge could lead to better understanding of critical thinking and memory of concepts over time. Data projects can also help to determine the reasons for the loss of students and/or student retention rates, over time. Analytics may help to improve online pedagogies.

Not only can educators and policy makers use analytics to better understand and serve learners, learners themselves can use the available analytics in learning management systems, such as provided by the Khan Academy. Learners can monitor their own progress through daily activity reports, class goal reports, student reports, etc. Renaissance Learning is a company that has been in the news recently when it raised a $40 million investment from Google Capital. Renaissance started out with offering reading assessment tools and now provides a data-driven approach to learning to both teachers and learners, which enable teachers to use this data to help their students. The significance of the Google investment is summed up by Tom Vander Ark: "There are two implications of the big deal: personalized learning paths are rapidly becoming a reality and the big guys will play a key role in innovation".

Submitted on 4 March 2014. First published on

Personalising education with learning analytics