Years ago, one of the most brilliant thinkers I know (@hetanshah) recommended a book “An intimate history of humanity“, the scholar Theodore Zeldin. In a very elegant way it explores how different tribes (separated by class, gender, location etc.) can lack the imagination needed to really talk to one another. It’s my default thinking space when I worry about miscommunication in the workplace, although I’m sure I could just as easily fall back on “the farmer and the cowman”, “jets and sharks” etc.
Learning analytics is in a slightly odd place. The sector has realised that just knowing that a student is at risk of failing is, of course, not the same as actually changing that student’s trajectory. Change comes from a position of knowledge, but just knowing is insufficient for change. There’s a further interesting dimension picked out by a great piece written by Matt Crosslin that I feel is definitely worth looking at What do you want from Learning Analytics?. Matt raises the challenge that perhaps learning technologists are rediscovering knowledge that we already know, and may be doing so in such a partial and unusable manner.
When I read this article I was reminded of a (very polite) rebuke I received during a workshop for a delegation of Dutch academics. I had proudly explained that there was a strong correlation between time on task and academic success (using the stats similar to those in this presentation). The Dutch academic responded to my observation “Yes, but we’ve known this for 300 years, what’s so special about this?”.
As the name implies, Learning needs to be at the heart of LA. Matt suggests that technologists need to become better at learning, that’s almost certainly true, but there are other ways of ensuring that happens. I would suggest that LA needs a partnership approach between technologists, pedagogic experts and the end users.