Onwards from Learning Analytics (OfLA)

At the time of writing, we are entering the final year of our latest Erasmus+ collaborative project. Onwards from Learning Analytics (OfLA) is a learning analytics project interested in supporting students at risk of leaving university early or failing to achieve their potential. We don’t take the view that students ought to be retained no matter what, but that, as far as possible, students don’t drop out because they simply didn’t know they were at risk, or had reached a point of no return.

OfLA therefore focuses on the chain of events that starts with having information about at risk students in a system and ends with a successful intervention. Ideally, this intervention would enable the student to change their trajectory away from dropping out, or make an informed decision about the course of action that they wish to take. Whilst these processes take place informally every day, learning analytics affords opportunities for new insights and greater systematisation than ever before.

We suggest that there are three potential points where this system might fail (see the leaky pipeline diagram below): the trigger/ alert, communication or the intervention.

OfLA leaky pipeline metaphor

OfLA Model showing the 3 stages required for a successful intervention: trigger/ alert, communication and intervention

Stage 1 – The Trigger/ Alert

Triggers obviously need to be accurate and identify those students most at risk of early departure, but accuracy is only the starting point. For the trigger to be useful, it needs to be actionable and timely. Waiting for the end of the year will generate alerts that will be close to 100% accurate, but almost unusable.

Our first Spring workshop on triggers/ alerts can be found on the OfLA project website. The session was hosted by Rianne Bouwmeester of UMC Utrecht, and Pete Crowson of Nottingham Trent University. The case studies used in the sessions are available in the OfLA project website.

Stage 2 – Communication

Once any system has alerted the tutor or adviser that students might be at risk, communication becomes the next point where it’s possible to get the process wrong. Firstly, there’s the challenge of effectively transmitting the message to the student, but there’s also the challenge of breaking through into the student’s consciousness that motivates the student to act and doesn’t destroy their ego along the way. The message we receive is profoundly shaped by cognitive biases and heuristics and likely the background and life experience of the student.

Our second Spring workshop on communication can be found on the OfLA project website. The session was hosted by by Pieterjan Bonne and Veerle Vanoverberghe of Arteveldehogeschool and Sarah Lawther of Nottingham Trent University. The case studies used in the sessions are available in the OfLA project website.

Stage 3 – Intervention

The final stage where the process can fail to impact is the point of the intervention. In some respects the intervention can be the communication sent to the student, but we felt for the model to work, we needed a final stage, the problem solving conversation between the tutor, adviser, student mentor and the student. I’ve not written enough about the intervention stage on this blog. I need to correct that.

Our third Spring workshop on interventions can be found on the OfLA project website.The session will be hosted by Sarah Lawther of Nottingham Trent University and Pieterjan Bonne and Eva Vandemeulebroucke of Arteveldehogeschool. The case studies used in the sessions are available in the OfLA project website.

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