Are we still at the peak of the hype or sliding down into disillusionment? The current state of Learning Analytics

By Linda Corrin (Swinburne University of Technology), Hazel Jones (Griffith University) and Cassandra Colvin (Charles Sturt University)

It is common when new trends in educational technology come along for researchers and practitioners to chart and monitor their popularity along the Gartner Hype cycle. Learning analytics is no exception. But is the field still on the rise towards the peak of its hype? Or has it already begun its descent into the trough of disillusionment?

Since the concept of learning analytics emerged, roughly 10 years ago, many have tracked the evolution of research and thinking within the field. Some of these changes were addressed last year in our blog entry “Where is the field of learning analytics heading?” for ASCILITE. Another year has passed and, as the coordinators of the ASCILITE Learning Analytics Special Interest Group, we reflect again on the state of the field and its future directions.

This reflection has been prompted by our attendance at the recent Australasian Learning Analytics Summer Institute (ALASI), hosted by Monash University with support from ASCILITE, and the 2018 ASCILITE Conference.

Each year ALASI brings together learning analytics practitioners and researchers from across Australasia to explore current themes and developments in the field. A key element of ALASI is the interaction encouraged throughout the program which incorporates many workshops, panels, and other networking opportunities.

It was evident at ALASI that the field has moved beyond the earlier, broad discussions of learning analytics towards a more nuanced, critical approach to student engagement and the measurement of learning. We were reminded and invited to consider learning analytics within the context of learning design, as a fluid and negotiated process. Innovations, such as UTS’s Learning Analytics Design Cards (LA-DECK), were demonstrated as a way to engage different stakeholders in co-design conversations around how learning analytics can be provisioned for different learning systems. Discussions of the measurement of student learning demonstrated a move away from positivist framings towards a more multi-dimensional, evidence-based approach.

A strong focus on learning analytics at the ASCILITE conference was evident across a number of events which addressed key issues around learning design, ethics, and data literacy. The ASCILITE Learning Analytics SIG facilitated a well-attended workshop on the intersection of learning analytics and learning design where the complexity of defining learning design was debated, and the group explored how design had been considered in a series of case studies of learning analytics initiatives from different institutions. Several tensions around learning analytics, including the ability to predict student learning, ethics, the fact that data is contextual, and the need for support for teachers to interpret data and reflect on practice were discussed in a panel session by the editors and authors of the recent book Learning Analytics in the Classroom: Translating Learning Analytics Research for Teachers. ASCILITE members were also encouraged to share their areas of interest during a Getting to Know Your SIG session. The level of engagement and discussion at all of these sessions showed that delegates want to learn more about how learning analytics can help academics to improve their teaching practice, but concerns still exist about the ethics of using data, access to useful data, and deficits in the ability of staff to analyse and interpret the data.

Underlying the discussions and experiences at both these events was a narrative that, despite the excitement that has surrounded its advent and growth, evidence supporting the impact of learning analytics on learning and teaching outcomes is still in nascent stages. Questions continue to be raised by some about the value that learning analytics can bring, while others, still buoyed by its potential, are aware that the pursuit of impact will require a more circumspect and considered approach. This could be interpreted as indication that the field has entered a period of disillusionment. However, perhaps these trends are indicative of a broader shift in learning analytics understanding and application. It was evident at these events that a more critical approach is being taken to problematise learning and to find evidence of what analytics work across different and complex learning contexts. A move can be observed from the design of the content of learning analytics towards the design of which help institutions to tell more sophisticated stories with data. The integration of learning analytics into mainstream processes within institutions is increasing, but there is still a long way to go for the potential to be fully realised and for the field to start the ascent up the slope of enlightenment.

These ideas and more about how the field of learning analytics has developed and future directions and challenges will be addressed in our first Learning Analytics SIG webinar for 2019 presented by Dr Cassandra Colvin from Charles Sturt University.   In this webinar Cassandra will overview the field of learning analytics, chronicling its development to date, and, through a series of provocations, challenge us to (re-) consider its future possibilities, particularly in light of our own professional contexts and disciplinary knowledge.

The webinar will take place on Friday 12 April at 11am AEST and you can register for this event here.

The ASCILITE Learning Analytics SIG aims to facilitate conversations amongst ASCILITE members and the broader community about all these issues and more. In 2019 we will be continuing our webinar series with presentations by researchers from around the world on key learning analytics topics. We also encourage the sharing of ideas, questions and conversation in our LA-SIG Google Group or you can connect with LA-SIG Committee via email.

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