The Future of Learning is in Reach

Analytics can help you shop, watch and eat smarter – but what will it do for education?

GUEST COLUMN | by John Baker

CREDIT D2L analytics arrowsIn many ways, one could argue, the future of learning is in reach. Education models have evolved to offer increased assessment options that can measure learning with more precision and provide immediate feedback; while traditional lecture formats can be replaced by more interactive, engaging and participatory forms of learning. In adopting these new methods, educators have also gained the ability to collect an enormous amount of student data, such as how long a video was watched, whether students took part in collaborative exercises, or which hurdles students had a tough time overcoming or summaries of questions that were asked.

Analytics are helping educators personalize learning experiences for individual learners in a way that we have never seen before, giving instructors an objective, data-driven view of student success.

This data, across courses and whole programs, is the game-changing element to the future of education. Think about how companies such as Amazon or Netflix use data – they use it as the basis for their personalized suggestions. The more data, the better their suggestions become. Wearable wellness technologies, such as the FitBit, compile data about your personal activity, food, weight and sleep, offering insight into how your body operates daily to produce actionable analysis on how you can improve your health.

In much the same way, educational data can be brought together by analysis and used to better personalize and improve the learning experience for all. In this case, however, instead of making sure you have a good movie for Saturday night, the analysis of educational data has the long-term potential to make a huge impact on society.

Better Understand and Reach Students

Analytics provides teachers with the critical ability to identify students struggling with the curriculum that need additional help, while also identifying learners that require supplemental materials to help them with enrichment to reach their full potential. Data analysis provides a clear link between students’ actions and outcomes – and using this data to better understand the link empowers educators to become better problem solvers.

Used properly, analytics can provide educators with insights into their students’ current and future performance and empower them with the ability to scale teaching methods to guide each student to improve and reach their full potential.

Think of it this way – there could be a myriad of reasons why a normally high-performing student starts to show signs of disengagement from working on a project with an online peer group. An analytics solution would alert the instructor in advance, giving them the opportunity to address and correct the issue before the behavior has too much of an impact on learning. Great teachers do this today in the classroom, but automating some of the work to get students back on track with the right intervention can free teachers to do more important activities to engage their students.

A longtime criticism of the traditional education system is that teachers spend most of their time with only a specific segment of the class – sometimes teaching to the top of the class or bottom – and this leaves other students without personalized attention to help them reach their full potential. My parents are both amazing teachers, but even they’d agree that personalizing education to the individual student with the traditional model is not possible.

Analytics can inform a teacher on performance that matters to improve their own teaching resources. For instance, if instructors review statistics and results data, they will see which questions on a quiz need to be fixed for the next time the quiz is offered, or which lessons are not engaging students and helping them achieve the learning required. If teachers look at engagement levels, interaction occurrences and learning outcomes, they’ll better understand which methods students best respond to.

This feedback loop is essential to teachers looking to refine or improve their approach.

Academy Online High School: Analytics that Work

One institution successfully employing analytics is Academy Online High School (AOHS), a Colorado school that teaches exclusively online and specializes in educating students who might never have finished high school otherwise. With a clear mandate from the state of Colorado that students at each grade level be prepared to enter the workforce or pursue higher education, in 2009 AOHS decided to use analytics technology to predict where each student might encounter problems.

The results were then customized to give the school an easy graphical indication of each student’s success or failings, compared against state standards. From there, teachers were able to trend learner performance, identifying potential learner problems before they occurred and enabling them to plan for remediation or intervention.

AOHS’ use of analytics technology allows its teachers to move beyond simple grade or point calculations and empowers them to work with and evaluate students in a more precise and meaningful way. In addition, students at AOHS have proven to be more vested in their own success when they understand what their learning goals are and can visually track their progress against those goals, throughout the semester.

In all, the program has seen tremendous success. Over the past year, AOHS has reduced its failure rate by 36% and several students and age groups are testing higher then their offline counterparts – proving that analytics is already having a positive effect on education and outcomes in Colorado for students who might never have finished high school. I get excited imagining the future as this rolls out to all students and not just the ones struggling.

Analytics are the Key to a Brighter Future

Analytics are helping educators personalize learning experiences for individual learners in a way that we have never seen before, giving instructors an objective, data-driven view of student success. Learner achievement has to and will remain a top priority for all educators.

With analytics’ ability to pinpoint areas for educational enrichment, encouragement or intervention – not just what book you might like to read next – each student now has his or her best chance to achieve their full potential.

John Baker is the President and CEO of D2L Corporation. John founded D2L in 1999, at the age of twenty-two, while attending the University of Waterloo as a Systems Design Engineering student. He graduated from the University of Waterloo with an Honors B.A.Sc. in Systems Design Engineering, with First Class Honors and an option in Management Sciences.


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