What are learning analytics, and what can we learn from them?

Learning analytics (LA) are certainly becoming a hot topic within the education sector. There are conferences, societies and journals where new developments in the LA field are discussed and developed. But what are LA, and how can academic libraries use them to learn more about our users?

The goal of LA is to use the data generated by the various systems on campus to improve the teaching and learning experience for students. It’s about bringing together the data from these disparate systems, e.g. the Learning Management System (LMS), the student administration system, to look for patterns and trends. Once these patterns and trends have been identified, they can be used to inform changes to teaching practices to assist students. Traditionally LA have been used by departments other than the library, as their systems can provide more information about a student’s progress and background. The LMS, for example, is a rich source of data on student behaviour during a semester. However, data from library systems can be combined with data from other systems on campus to make use of LA. For example, library staff at Curtin University combined the data from library systems and the campus student administration system to “explore if an association between library use and student retention is evident”. As they describe in their paper, they found that “[a]lthough student retention was associated with high levels of library use generally, it was the finding that use of electronic Library resources early in the semester appears to lead to an improved likelihood of remaining enrolled that is most useful.”

Another potential use of LA by academic libraries is to investigate whether embedding library content in the LMS can be linked to student performance. Increasingly librarians are collaborating with teaching staff to include library content directly in the LMS for individual units or subjects. It should be possible to examine the data produced by the LMS which shows how many times a link to library content is clicked on, and see if students who access library resources regularly achieve better results than those students who don’t use these resources.

I think there is great potential for libraries to use the data that our systems produce to try and learn more about our students, and try and improve their learning experience. It will not be an easy process, as there are institutional barriers which need to be overcome. I’ll discuss these in a future post.

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About Andrew

I'm a health librarian in Sydney, Australia, who also happens to be a geocacher.

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