I’ve been having some interesting discussions in Banff this week with folks interested in ‘learning analytics’. I put it in quotes because I’m not convinced that it is a) a distinct field or b) one thing.
Ignoring issues of massive overlaps and shared values with other fields (such as data mining, collaborative filtering, adaptive hypermedia, natural language processing, learning design and evaluation and so on) which make it hard to distinguish at times, it seems to me that there are at least three subfields:
learner analytics: used by admins, policy makers, governments and so on to see what learners are doing with a view to taking some action at a pragmatic or policy level as a result. May also be used by teachers to monitor and understand learners and their needs. Rarely, but potentially, of use to learners.
teaching analytics: looking at the success or otherwise of teaching interventions – courses, assessments, teaching acts, content construction, learning design, etc, with a view to changing the teaching process to make it better. Pretty much exclusively the domain of those involved in the teaching process like teachers and instructional designers.
learning analytics: looking at how people are learning, including construction of artefacts, interactions with others, progression, etc, with a view to taking direct action to improve it, usually (but by no means necessarily) by and for the learner.
I care about learning analytics and see great practical value in teaching analytics. Analysing learning and teaching is almost entirely about helping people to learn and, while it may be poorly done, the intentions are almost all aimed at making learners’ lives better. Analysing learners involves some murkier areas: it may have many motivations, including potentially risky ones like implementing efficiencies, targeting for marketing, allocating resources and so on as well as clearly good things like identifying under-represented groups or at-risk learners. I suspect that it may become the most popular analytics domain in education but, because of the dangers, it demands more serious cross-disciplinary and ethically well-considered research than the others.