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Big Data, Learning Analytics and Distance Education


By Terry Anderson, professor in Distance Education, Athabasca University.

As an educational technologist, I seem always infatuated with the latest tools, even as I grow increasingly alert to what is lost as well as what is gained from their use.

Learning analytics joins the family of mostly commercial applications based on “big data”. These tools promises — perhaps too optimistically — to replace metaphors of information overload, info glut and obesity with the more optimistic sense that, although “big” we can effectively gather and interpret the torrent of digital information traces left by distance teachers and learners.

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About the Question
Are Big Data & Analytics shaping a smarter society?

Every day we generate a huge amount of big data, but we need to resort to analytics to make abstract information meaningful and get valuable knowledge from it. In education, learning platforms let us easily gather an immense quantity of data regarding students’ behaviour, interactions, preferences and opinions. When properly analysed — through learning analytics — all these data might provide useful insight on how to make learning processes more adaptive, attractive and efficient.

Are these techniques allowing us to provide better support to our students? Are we taking advantage of big data and analytics to help shape the citizens of the future?

Big Data and Simheuristics