Learning analytics: how universities can turn data into actionable insights

Higher education institutions can utilise the data at their disposal to improve student retention and outcomes – but doing so in real time is key

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28 Apr 2023
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James Pickering, academic lead for learning analytics at the University of Leeds
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Data plays a prominent role in the performance of higher education institutions. At THE Digital Universities UK 2023, a panel of experts in the field of learning analytics explained how data and its analysis are helping with student support, boosting retention and continually improving the learning experience. The panel, which was titled “How data-informed decisions can enhance student engagement and boost retention”, was held in partnership with Solutionpath.

Students and universities are generating huge quantities of data, but questions about how this data is collected and made actionable persist. “We wanted to see if we could examine how students were exploring our digital tools and if we could pull information out of that which could help students as they made their way through their respective academic journeys,” said James Pickering, academic lead for learning analytics at the University of Leeds.

Instead of the traditional methods of looking at retrospective reports, Pickering wanted to analyse the data around student engagement in real time. This allows for timely intervention so that students don’t appear as a non-continuation statistic further down the line.

“The key for us was creating a system that would nudge the relevant individuals into action,” said Andy Ramsden, director of technology-enhanced learning, teaching and learning analytics at the University of Law

“Not only is it important to derive insights at the personal level, but also gaining the ability to understand what’s going on at the cohort level,” said Rachel Maxwell, community manager at learner analytics and engagement specialist Solutionpath.

Data-informed decision-making is having a notable impact in terms of developing student understanding for many institutions. “We have a diverse student population and a diverse range of programmes,” Pickering said. “A better baseline of data is still needed here following the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s exciting to make those data-informed nudges where we can, of course, but it is still a work in progress.”

“Today, we are having conversations around learning analytics, which will stand us in good stead going forward,” Ramsden said. “There is an expectation that we’ll emerge in a year or so with a clearer set of principles here.”

Concerns around data quality can be an inhibitor, but as long as universities are having conversations in this area, they have an opportunity to clear these up and strengthen student relations in the long term.

“It’s important to not be evangelical about this,” Pickering said. “There are limitations to any data set, but it’s vital to accept the data for what it is and how it can help universities to have more informed conversations to support their students.”

Find out more about the topic in Solutionpath's latest white paper, or visit the website.

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