Student retention and learning analytics: A snapshot of Australian practices and a framework for advancement (LAEP Inventory)

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Rebecca Ferguson
11 February 2016

Synopsis

The Australian government commissioned this in-depth look at the current (2015) state of learning analytics practices in the country. Study 1 identified two ‘categories’ of implementation:

1.)    Universities focused on performance measurement and retention interventions

2.)    Universities focused more deeply on learning as a pursuit of understanding, who viewed retention as an important proxy for student engagement

This highlighted opposing views about the purpose of using learning analytics to support retention: as a tool for supporting university needs or as a tool for supporting the student academic and social experience. In this study, more universities belonged to Cluster 1 than Cluster 2. The report highlights that institutional learning analytics policies are more than technical readiness, as universities’ views on the benefits of learning analytics are also important drivers.

Study 2 highlighted important factors for success.

The report concludes that most Australian universities are in the early stages of adopting successful learning analytics practices. It stresses that learning analytics is a complex system, which requires the development of six key areas: academic content, conceptualisation of the purpose for learning analytics, leadership, university strategy, stakeholder feedback, technology and an understanding of the specific university context.

Classification

Inventory type:

candidate for mainstreaming

Keywords:

Implementation, performance measurement, retention

Context of Practice

Learning:

post-compulsory

Geographical:

national: Australia

Pedagogic:

Some universities considered student retention by analysing student data to determine interventions that support success in retention. In these cases, retention was viewed as a final goal and a marker of success. Other universities viewed retention as one factor that influences success. In these cases, retention was important as a support to the final goal of student learning. The report highlighted that university leaders’ conceptualisations of learning and the role of learning analytics helped shape the direction of its use.

Practical Matters

Tools used:

This report did not examine specific tools used by universities and instead focused on the ways in which tools are adopted.

Design and implementation:

The report gives the following suggestions and considerations for designing and implementing meaningful learning analytics programmes:

1.)    Senior institutional leaders’ commitment and strategic plan

2.)    Compatibility with existing university systems

3.)    A platform which can easily and ethically share data

4.)    Transparency of learning analytics operations and data

5.)    User-friendly tools to provide feedback

6.)    Coordination with educators to design appropriate learning analytics tools

7.)    Empowerment of students to develop agency in their learning

Maturity and Evidence of Utility

This report uses robust mixed methods to consider the current ‘state of the art’ of learning analytics in Australia. It also incorporates viewpoints of international experts. The report includes an in-depth description and full transparency of its methods. Although the report focuses on an Australian context, it is of interest to an international audience. This report looks more broadly at trends in the adoption of learning analytics across universities, which provides useful insights and tips for moving the field forward. However, a more in-depth analysis of specific institutional practices will be useful in the future.

Further Information

Report can be downloaded from: bit.ly/1NZKIRs

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