Learning Analytics Context

The use of data to inform decision-making in education and training is not new but the scope and scale of its potential impact for teaching and learning has increased by orders of magnitude over the last few years. We are now at a stage where data can be automatically harvested at previously unimagined levels of granularity and variety. Analysis of this data has the potential to provide evidence-based insights into learner abilities and patterns of behaviour which in turn can provide crucial insights to guide curriculum design and delivery to improve outcomes for all learners, and so contribute to national and European economic and social well-being.

Imperatives: Educational Development, Skills and Prosperity

All modern societies and governments recognise the need to continually develop the way learning, education and training are organised and delivered both to support a better quality of life and as the foundation of individual, national, and regional prosperity. In 2013, global competition and large scale economic difficulties either force change or require change to maintain levels of health, wealth, and happiness. It is probably no co-incidence that learning analytics and educational data mining, as for data analytics generally, are the subject of interest and excitement at this time; the promise of using data to be more efficient and effective is clear to many people. It may also provide a sound basis for doing things differently, re-inventing parts of our approach to education and training rather than incrementally improving what we do now.

This background gives LACE partners purpose; they are driven to meet these challenges and bring this motivation to LACE.Our work is divided according to the distinct needs of three domains of application: schools, workplace, and universities.

Education ministries and their agencies are driven to find more effective and more economical systems of school education. Their challenge is made even harder because the school system must anticipate national needs for well-educated and skilled citizens, many of whom will have jobs that we cannot yet imagine. Learning analytics and EDM offer a valuable source of policy evidence but may also help us to teach and assess 21st Century skills (Voogt, J. et al., 2010. 21st Century Skills Discussion Paper (pdf), University of Twente).

Equally, Europe’s economic strength is underpinned by manufacturing, agriculture and financial services and it is manufacturing that is where we focus attention, in particular on smart manufacturing, which many analysts see as being the means for Europe to reclaim some of the global manufacturing productivity that has recently moved out of Europe. In the US alone, smart production is forecasted to grow by 4.5 percent annually, and manufacturers should create 20,000 jobs a month, for a total of more than 1.5 million by 2020. Currently, more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs are going unfilled because workers don’t have the right skills and EDM scenarios and best practices may greatly improve the up skilling target (source Ideas Lab by General Electrics). To get manufacturing smarter, new educational practices and solutions need to be trialled, shared and adopted at a much faster pace than in the past and driven by data derived from the workplace and from the learning activities.

European universities find themselves in difficult operating conditions in 2013 and are being forced into new ways of operating and new business models by a combination of the economic situation, government policy and globalisation. Although the picture varies across the EU, university management and staff are struggling to act in the face of: new regulatory approaches, competition from the private sector, a changing relationship with the student influenced by fees and diminished employment opportunities, reduced budgets, a feeling of threat from the latest wave of e-learning in the form of the MOOC, and increased perception that university education is failing to deliver the kind of graduates necessary for long term viability of European economies. It is imperative that universities innovate in what they offer and how they deliver it and learning analytics and EDM offers both new opportunities and a means to shorten the time to understand the effect of change.