Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Academic views on the use of learning analytics to assist with student retention (#199)

Deborah West 1 , Henk Huijser 2 , Alf Lizzio 3 , Carol Miles 4 , Danny Toohey 5 , David Heath 6 , Bill Searle , Jurg Bronnimann 2
  1. Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, NT, Australia
  2. Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, Batchelor, NT, Australia
  3. Griffith University, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
  4. The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW, Australia
  5. Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA, Australia
  6. Charles Darwin University, Casuarina, NT, Australia


This paper presents the findings from a survey of approximately 400 academics from an OLT funded project titled Learning Analytics: Assisting Universities with Student Retention. The project’s primary goal was to explore how learning analytics might be used to promote student retention and success in the Australian context with a focus on identifying the challenges that need to be met. This paper itself aims to contribute to a dialogue between practitioners, researchers, managers/leaders and others about the views of academic staff and the implications of such views for strategies moving forward.

One commonly cited definition sees Learning Analytics as the “measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs” (LAK, 2011). Whilst efforts to investigate and improve learning and teaching are hardly new, an increased ability to capture data, integrate it and display it - all in real-time - is driving ongoing interest about how analytic methods might best be deployed in to improve learning.

Data was collected between September and November, 2014 via a purposive, snowball sample of academic staff with an interest in student retention and success (n = 394). Retention is a broad issue so the roles of participants varied, although 78% of respondents were directly involved in teaching students. Managers, researchers, learning support staff and academic developers were also prominent in the sample.

Among the key issues highlighted were:

·         A lack of differentiation between learning analytics, business intelligence and academic analytics and the accompanying issues associated with each

·         A desire to be more informed of institutional planning and strategy around learning analytics

·         A desire to see documented successful usage of learning analytics

Addressing the Themes of the Conference

The overarching theme of the conference acknowledges the presence of a complex and uncertain future. In many ways this sums up Learning Analytics generally, and in the Australian and New Zealand context. This project has been carried out during a period when Higher Education institutions report that they are making key decisions about how they plan to use learning analytics and what investments they will make in relation to learning analytics. Findings from this project show that whilst frontline academic staff have a clear interest in learning analytics many are dissatisfied with the support and transparency offered by their institution and have yet to be exposed to tangible benefits that might be derived from using learning analytics.

This study shows that there is much work to be done if academic staff are to feel confident about their understanding of what learning analytics are about and how they might be used. There is even more work to be done if academic staff are to be included in the planning, application and evaluation of learning analytics initiatives aimed at improving student retention and success. Given that learning analytics is ultimately about evaluating and improving learning (especially using technology) this paper bears significant connection to the allocated conference sub-theme as well.