eLearning Analytics 101 Part I: What is it?
Posted by cahlan on 29 Jul 2010 under For Your Knowledge
Under the Hood
Image from www.currybet.net
Let’s say you own a small grocery store. You want to find out more about your customers
that frequent and shop at your location. So, you begin trying to measure certain behaviors
that you think will give you more information about who buys items and who doesn’t.
You might impose a quick survey on customers that enter your store, or you could follow
someone around as they make shopping choices. You could write down what they pick
up, how long they examine a can of green beans, and how often they decide against
buying something. How much more effort would that require on your part? Would the
data and analysis be worth the cost?
Now let’s switch gears: you are a classroom teacher. You want to find out more about
how your students are studying and learning the material. You want to find out what
makes a successful student in your class. So, similarly, you could develop some intensive
research methods to understand student behaviors that lead to success. You could sit
behind a student and watch them read material. You could follow them home and see
how long they study their textbooks. You could record how long it takes them to read a
chapter. You could give them surveys throughout the class to see how confident they are
in the material they’ve learned.
Of course, neither of these situations are practical and might sound silly. Neither a
grocery store owner nor a classroom teacher have the resources to carry out these
methods, the time to execute them, or the ability to measure and observe at a basic level
more than one student at a time.
Now let’s switch gears once more. You’re invested in online learning. You want to
understand how learners are using your course. You want to find out how successful
students achieved their success. You want to find out what works and what doesn’t. What
if you could take this information, analyze it, and make meaningful changes to your
course to positively affect learning outcomes for your students?
You can. I’m not talking about a new LMS (Learning Management System) that enslaves
your organization or another authoring tool that requires a steeper learning curve. What
I’m talking about, essentially, is putting your ear to the ground and listening. I’m talking
about opening the hood to all of the data that is already available to you and bringing it
together in a meaningful, actionable way. I’m talking about eLearning Analytics.
What is eLearning Analytics?
Image from www.users.csbsju.edu
eLearning Analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of internet
data for purposes of understanding and optimizing online learning content. I’ll admit I’m
plagiarizing a little with that statement—it comes from Wikipedia’s entry on Web
analytics. Truth is, no history or definition of eLearning Analytics would be complete
without at least a summarized look at the history of Web analytics.
Let me sum up Web analytics’ history as quickly as I can: much like the grocery store
owner, people who began selling things on the internet wanted to know more about their
customers. They saw that money could be made, but they had no idea as to the potential
revenue they were missing out on. How many people get confused while checking out
and quit? How many people can’t find what they want? How many people simply aren’t
interested in what you’re selling? So folks decided to start looking under the hood.
As a citizen of the internet, whether you browse or “surf,” you are revealing quite a bit
about yourself. Not necessarily personal information (that’s another topic), but simple
things like who your internet service provider is, what browser you use, your connection
speed, things of that nature. People started to aggregate these bite sized pieces of
information over time, so you ended up with a log or history of requests for web pages
made by people’s computers.
Then folks started to realize that you can calculate a lot based on those logs. They saw
that you could estimate how long someone spent on a page, how long their overall visit to
your site lasted, and much much more. Eventually, people started manipulating and
analyzing all of this information and acting on it. They thought, “Well, if we can make
the experience better, maybe we can sell more stuff.” They were right. Companies that
effectively used this technology started seeing results. Other companies then said “Hey,
maybe we can help others do this.” The Web analytics industry was born.
Why eLearning Analytics?
You might be wondering, “So others can make more money by analyzing and optimizing
their online shopping carts. So what? What’s that got to do with education?”
I hope that the answer to what this has to do with education is already apparent to you.
What if, instead of using Web analytics to measure and report and solve for revenue, we
used it to solve for educational outcomes? For learning objectives? For increased
performance? For better learning experiences? What if we could understand, even at a
basic level, how learners are using our online courses, how effective the content is, and
even how learners feel after they were finished?
With eLearning Analytics, you can.
In the next article, we’ll dive a little deeper. How do we gather the data? What do we
look for? What is important?
If you’ve been looking for this sort of thing for a long time and can’t wait any longer, I’d
love to talk to you more about what my company offers. However, this series of articles
is meant to be purely educational. I think this topic is important enough that it doesn’t
need to be hidden behind a sales pitch. I think if we do this right, we change online
learning. We break out of page turning, boring, almost completely ineffective online
courses. We stop jumping through hoops and we start to see what online learning really