Employing data to improve online learning

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-web-seo-analytics-concept-flat-design-modern-vector-illustration-website-data-analysis-using-modern-electronic-mobile-image35512084EDUCAUSE’s Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative defines learning analytics as “the use of data and models to predict student progress and performance, and the ability to act on that information.” Many institutions of higher education are focusing on the data that is now available from online education.
MindEdge collects significant amounts of “click-by-click” student data from its learning resources and simulations. When it comes to employing this data as part of MindEdge’s continuous improvement approach to online learning resources, we consider the Four P’s. They are:

  • Principles
  • Progress
  • Performance
  • Pivot Points

The principles involved are simple: first, to consider the data in context; second, to analyze the data without preconceptions; and finally, to revise or adjust the learning resource based on those insights garnered from the analysis and then carefully assess the impact, positive or negative, of those changes.
We look first at student progress. How smoothly are students proceeding through the learning resource? What do completion rates look like? Are there modules or assignments where students spend longer periods of time? How does the rate of progress compare with the past? Are assignments being completed on time?
The next point of focus is performance. How are students doing on quizzes or tests? How does their performance compare with the past? Are students completing graded assignments?
Then we analyze the data looking for pivot points. Where do students encounter difficulty? Are there specific places in the learning resource where progress stalls or performance falters? Are there key trends apparent? What revisions or adjustments may be helpful at these pivot points?
We see learning analytics as a way to help in:

  • Intervening when students encounter barriers or struggle through alerting instructors to take action;
  • Personalizing the learning resource by developing adaptive learning based on the data analysis;
  • Predicting student outcomes based on past performance data;
  • Revising the learning resource to provide additional scaffolding where appropriate.

MindEdge has developed an extensive data dashboard to allow real-time monitoring of student progress and performance. Allowing instructors to review this data, and empowering them to act on it when necessary, is a key step in the process of improving student outcomes.
One sometimes overlooked aspect of learning analytics is the role of the student in monitoring their own progress and performance and “self-correcting” when they fall behind. MindEdge seeks to offer students access to this data in an easy-to-read and understand format within the learning resource—especially within adaptive learning segments—so that they feel in control of their own “learning destiny.”

Copyright © 2014 MindEdge, Inc.

Blended learning: the best of both worlds

As soon as you become involved in online training or education, you’re likely to encounter the term “blended learning.” The term does mean different things to different people. One of the broadest definitions comes from the World Bank Institute:

Blended learning: A learning approach that includes the use of appropriate combinations of information technologies–videoconferencing, audioconferencing, Internet, CD-ROM, and other media, combined with appropriate learning technologies, on-site facilitated activities, and strong learner support systems.

In its e-learning handbook, the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) defines blending learning as “the use of two or more distinct methods of training.” ASTD says that this includes combinations such as blending:

  • classroom instruction with on-line instruction
  • on-line instruction with access to a coach or faculty member
  • simulations with structured courses
  • on-the-job training with brown bag informal sessions
  • managerial coaching with e-learning activities

These definitions make it clear that with its many possible variations blended learning provides a powerful and flexible means for reaching and engaging learners. Educators and trainers know from experience that some students learn best by listening to a lecture, some by reading a textbook, some by viewing video, others by hands-on experiences and so on, and so on.
Educator Elliott Masie has argued “that we are, as a species, blended learners.” Masie adds: “Good instructors have always combined great storytelling (an audio process), with print and whiteboard words and graphics (a reading process), with takeaway tools or even homework.”
Trying to plan a training program that supports varied modes of learning can prove challenging. Traditional classroom-based learning may meet the needs of many auditory and visual learners but it can be difficult to facilitate training that enables students to “learn by doing.”
The benefits of adding online learning
Blended learning with online components allows the introduction of narrative learning through interactive exercises, games, and simulations. Online learning has proven to be an inexpensive and effective tool to create an environment that enables learners to think through real-world scenarios and solve problems; it can encourage participants to really “learn by doing.”
Further, online learning offers opportunities for extending face-to-face instruction through discussion boards, video chats, or virtual chat. It can encourage greater learner participation as well. Many instructors have found students who are silent in the classroom become active contributors when engaged in online discussions.
A growing number of schools, corporations, and training organizations are turning to blended learning options. They see blended learning as offering the best of both worlds—the personal touch of face-to-face instruction with the convenience, cost-effectiveness, and variety of online learning. And they recognize that this combination of learning methods can greatly benefit learners.

Research and writing: Caitlin Powers