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.

About the National Institute for Online Learning

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Last week MindEdge Online added two courses on online learning from the National Institute of Online Learning (NIOL). It was a milestone for the Institute, which seeks to improve the quality and effectiveness of online learning, especially for adult learners, by promoting best practices and innovation in the field.

We founded NIOL last year for several reasons. First, we thought that MindEdge Learning had knowledge and expertise of value that we believed would be helpful for those involved in online education. MindEdge has developed effective online courses and simulations used by hundreds of thousands of students in higher education and the private sector. The Institute seemed to be an appropriate vehicle in that transfer of learning.

Second, in working with partners and new entrants to the field, we encountered somewhat of a gap between theory and practice—some of those tasked with designing and creating online courses did not have prior grounding in learning theory or much exposure to the technology involved. We think the Institute can help in educating those who want a deeper background in online learning.

Third, we wanted a place where those interested in educating adults would be able to find resources. While the recent emphasis on MOOCs and undergraduate online education is promising, we thought that the challenges of designing and creating online courses and simulations for adults continues to deserve focused attention.

For those reasons, and others, we decided it was time for NIOL. What can you expect from the Institute in the near future? NIOL will be focused on training, education, consulting, and advocacy.

The Institute will offer additional courses focused on various aspects of online learning, including instructional design, course development, and key technologies. By the end of 2013, learners will have the opportunity to earn NIOL’s Online Learning Fundamentals Certificate, awarded for the successful completion of the Institute’s twelve introductory courses.

NIOL will also release occasional white papers focused on relevant learning topics (including narrative and adaptive learning) and will host webinars on best practices in course and simulation design and on technology issues.

The Institute will also be establishing an advisory board of academics, practitioners, educators, and others interested in online learning to help us keep NIOL abreast of the latest developments in the field.

You can learn more about the Institute at the NIOL website, or you can contact me directly at MindEdge Learning (info@mindedge.com) with any questions or suggestions.


Jefferson Flanders, an author and educator, is president of MindEdge. He has taught at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, Babson College, and Boston University.
Copyright © 2013 Jefferson Flanders