The New Media Consortium’s 2011 K-12 Horizon Report identified Learning Analytics as a tool likely to impact on schools within a three to five year period. Learning analytics brings tools widely used in marketing and the high-end security industries to bear on educational and student data. Learning patterns can be identified from data collected across very large populations (“big data”), along with knowledge and skills prerequisite to particular tasks or concepts. By matching local data to the increasingly comprehensive patterns, teachers can be increasingly specific in their diagnosis of particular student and cohort learning needs, then design programs and experiences to meet that need.
This work promises a more rounded and formative toolset than standardised tests can provide. One significant player in this emerging technology is the University of Wollongong’s SNAPP (Social Networks Adapting Pedagogical Practice) software. The goal is to capture information ‘on the fly’ , as far as possible from the daily learning activities of students (in the same way that a social networking site or online retailer captures preferences and patterns from online activity of individual consumers or users), ‘intelligently’ identify patterns which are then used to predict need and provide services.
There is even potential for this work to be linked to research emerging from neuroscience to allow us to benefit from what is now known about brain chemistry.
Is the profession ready for this? Are there courses available to help teachers become proficient in sophisticated diagnostic techniques and specific program responses? Do we understand the ethical and integrity issues learning analytics brings to the fore?
Are schools, systems and governments ready for learning analytics? Do they have a handle on the reliability, validity, privacy and security issues that need to be managed? A number of Australian schooling jurisdictions provide online assessment tools, and the Australian Government is funding work under the National Assessment Program. Learning analytics would put these into a much richer context – but make higher management demands.
Widespread use of learning analytics would open up opportunities for greater specialisation within the teaching profession. Diagnostics, programming, learning design and case management would open up as specialisations.
In the Australian context we should be trying to ensure that learning analytics is used to reduce rather than widen the equity gap. Such tools give power to data systems and the user – potentially placing more responsibility with the teacher and the school. In countries like Norway and Sweden, that have both a consistent, highly educated teaching force and homogeneity in student performance across socio-economic groups, learning analytics can be absorbed and push the country forward. There are very significant dangers for a country that does not have these two conditions.