Collecting data in education used to mean tirelessly connecting the dots between homework assignments, quiz and test scores, and classroom activities. The advent of online analytics has changed that. Technology-enabled learning tools have the ability to capture much of the baseline learning data necessary to identify students who are struggling, where they are struggling, and whether or not the coursework itself could be better tailored to optimize learning.
While much of the focus on this optimization is (rightly) centered on the students and the learning experience, the data can also enhance teaching practices.
Most educators are probably familiar with learning data, or practice data. These metrics help track student progress and comprehension, isolate problematic curriculum components, and identify when the problem lies within the design of the course.
But how can this learning data be effectively applied in the classroom? First, educators must embrace the data and its insights about the students: what motivates them, stumps them, and engages them. Once the learning styles of each individual student and the class as a whole are evaluated, educators can make adjustments or take corrective action to increase meaningful student engagement.
Embrace the data
Skeptics might point out that educators aren’t expected to be data scientists, but most software now delivers data in well-designed and useful graphics that can be interpreted by non-specialists.
And some educators may feel their teaching practices are a craft that can’t benefit from data, but others are seeing that it can dramatically improve student success rates. That’s because data is more than just numbers, percentages, and pie charts; data tells a story — in this case, the story of each individual student’s journey toward specific learning outcomes.
Before real-time and targeted learning data were made possible by adaptive learning software, data was limited to after-the-fact summative assessments. Gathering enough insight to predict student outcomes could take weeks, maybe even half a semester, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for correction.
Now, learning data provides educators with indicators and predictors of outcomes based on a student’s current progress and engagement. This data identifies in real-time areas of a student’s strengths and weaknesses beyond what a quiz or exam will demonstrate. Instructors can follow along and insert themselves into the student’s story where help will be most effective, thereby changing the trajectory and ending.
Understand your audience and adjust
Learning data suggests ways to stop relying on teacher-centered approaches and start considering student-centred learning. In other words, instead of trying to get students to think the way the instructor wants them to think, the instructor can better understand how the student thinks and tailor messages accordingly — a critical practice that can be accomplished through learning data insights.
Sometimes learning data will point to the instructional design of course material, not student competency, as the root cause of an issue. Educators need to be just as prepared to address instructional issues as they are to address student competencies.
Less content, more engagement
Ultimately, this means more classroom time can be spent on engaging educational activities as opposed to content delivery. Learning data can tell instructors whether students have grasped foundational concepts of any given lesson, which ultimately opens up the educational experience to stimulate more than a student’s ability to absorb and assimilate information.
Instead of lectures and reading exercises, class time can be used for project-based learning and other opportunities for discussion and collaboration. Increased engagement almost guarantees an increase in positive student outcomes.
A necessity, not a luxury
Learning data is critical to outcomes-focused institutions aiming to improve degree productivity. With economic and demographic changes making it difficult to expand access to higher education through traditional formats, educators must use all of the tools available to influence and improve student access and performance. Data that tells a story about learning patterns allows for a more honed approach to instruction, and more meaningful student engagement.
When embraced and used as part of a well-developed set of teaching practices, learning data benefits educators as much as it benefits students — providing the information needed to improve student outcomes, engagement, and instructional design. These ongoing assessments and adjustments ensure an adaptable learning environment that more effectively meets the needs of each classroom’s diverse group of students.
J.G.C Wise is a contributor to the Acrobatiq blog specializing in higher education topics.