Learning design and learning analytics

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Rebecca Ferguson
23 October 2012

Exploring the synergy between learning design and learning analytics.

Learning design consists of a cycle of activities: ‘challenge definition, conceptualisation, elaboration, enactment, evaluation and reflection, and back to remodelling’ (Craft & Mor, 2012). The tools that support the first stages of this cycle are not necessarily aligned with the later stages – a design narrative of a carefully designed learning activity may reveal significant flaws but lack a clear way of re‐connecting with the original design tools (Learning Design Grid, 2012).

Learning analytics offer a way of connecting different stages of the cycle. These analytics involve ‘the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs’ (Siemens et al., 2011). They can be employed at each stage of the design cycle.

In order to demonstrate potential correspondences between learning design and learning analytics, I draw on work on EnquiryBlogger, a blogging tool based on Wordpress, which was developed to support the Authentic Enquiry design for enquiry‐based learning (Ferguson, Buckingham Shum, & Deakin Crick, 2011). There is not a perfect match here between design and analytics – the project was developed in a different context – but the links between the two suggest what could be achieved in the future.

Authentic Enquiry is a theoretically and empirically grounded design for personalised, authentic enquiry. It is an eight‐stage process that starts from a topic of interest to the learner and progresses through observation, question, uncovering narratives, mapping, connecting with existing knowledge, interfacing with curriculum requirements to final assessment. This design that has been used successfully in settings from primary to postgraduate level on four continents (Deakin Crick, 2009). It is used in conjunction with the Learning Power framework, which focuses on students’ current learning dispositions (Buckingham Shum & Deakin Crick 2012).

EnquiryBlogger adds three learner plugins to a Wordpress blog, giving visual feedback on progress against the eight core activities of the Authentic Enquiry design, how many times blog posts have been categorized by a learner using the seven dimensions of Learning Power, and a visual ‘mood graph’ showing the peaks and troughs of how the learner feels about their work. The plugins are also used to navigate quickly to related posts, by clicking on coloured dots. For teachers and mentors, there are three dashboard widgets displaying all learners’ plugins in their group.

The Learning Design Cycle

The initial challenge here was to develop a design for personal enquiry that could be employed in a variety of educational settings. Drawing on previous research, the design was conceptualized as an eight‐step learning journey. These steps made up an iterative process, so they were represented within EnquiryBlogger as an Enquiry Spiral. Mouse-over text above each step elaborated for pupils what was involved at each stage, while more detailed teacher notes elaborated on the process for teachers.

Learners recorded each day in their EnquiryBlogs how they were enacting their Authentic Enquiry. By the use of tags, they recorded their progress on the eight‐step learning journey and how they felt this reflected their learning dispositions. They were also able to record their feelings on a Mood Graph. Their enactment of the learning design was thus closely tied to reflection on their progress, and these reflections were represented visually by widgets sited beside their EnquiryBlogs. The teacher’s dashboard view provided opportunities to initiate reflective discussion with individual pupils and with the class as a whole, as well as supporting reflection by the teacher.

This example shows that learning analytics can be interwoven with learning design. In this case, dashboards and widgets provide a focused view of data within the students’ blogs, and this view supports implementation and refinement of the learning design. Future possibilities for the combination of learning design and learning analytics include use of data about student activity to generate recommendations to learners and teachers, to represent progress, to identify possible study partners, to flag which problems have not been addressed and which tools have not been used, and to support both reflection and evaluation.

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