Open Learning Analytics – progress towards the dream


In 2011, a number of prominent figures in learning analytics and educational data mining published a concept paper on the subject of Open Learning Analytics (PDF), which they described as a  “proposal to design, implement and evaluate an open platform to integrate heterogeneous learning analytics techniques.” This has the feel of a funding proposal vision, a grand vision of an idealised future state. I was, therefore a little wary of the possibility that the recent Open Learning Analytics Summit (“OLA Summit”) would find it hard to get any traction, given the absence of a large pot of money. The summit was, however, rather interesting.

The OLA Summit, which is described in a SoLAR press release, immediately followed the Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference and was attended by three members of the LACE project. A particular area of shared special interest between LACE and the OLA Summit is in open standards (interoperability) and data sharing.

One of the factors that contributed to the success of the event was the combined force of SoLAR, the Society for Learning Analytics Research, with the Apereo Foundation, which is an umbrella organisation for a number of open source software projects. Apereo has recently started a Learning Analytics Initiative, which has quite open-ended aims: “accelerate the operationalization of Learning Analytics software and frameworks, support the validation of analytics pilots across institutions, and to work together so as to avoid duplication”. This kind of soft-edged approach is appropriate for the current state of learning analytics; while institutions are still finding their way, a more hard-edged aim, such as building the learning analytics platform to rule the world, would be forced to anticipate rather than select requirements.

The combination of people from the SoLAR and Apereo communities, and an eclectic group of “others”, provided a balance of perspective; it is rare to find deep knowledge about both education and enterprise-grade IT in the same person. I think the extent to which the OLA Summit helped to integrate people from these communities is one of its key, if intangible, outcomes. This provides a (metaphorical) platform for future action. In the mean time, the various discussion groups intend to produce a number of relatively small scale outputs that further add to this platform, in a very bottom-up approach.

There is certainly a long way to go, and a widening of participation will be necessary, but a start has been made on developing a collaborative network from which various architectures, and conceptual and concrete assets will, I hope, emerge.


About Author

Adam works for Cetis, the Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards, at the University of Bolton, UK. He rather enjoys data wrangling and hacking about with R. He is currently a member of the UK Government Open Standards Board, and a member of the Information Standards Board for Education, Skills and Children’s Services. He is a strong advocate of open standards and open system architecture. Adam is leading the workpackage on interoperability and data sharing.


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