The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a dramatic shift in approaches to learning and the needs of learners. As universities adapt, learning analytics offer the potential to improve student engagement, retention and success in online, face-to-face and blended environments.
The pandemic saw many universities move rapidly online. TESQA data indicates that many students, while speaking positively of the efforts of the academics who supported them, found the disruption challenging. This was reflected in a drop in student satisfaction, with the 2020 QILT Student Experience Survey (SES) observing undergraduate student satisfaction levels of 68.4 per cent, down from a steady previous average of around 78 to 80 per cent.
However, universities that had been purposefully building their online capability, with a strong focus on the student experience, fared better.
“The QILT survey results don’t delineate between on-campus students who moved online due to the pandemic, and those already studying built-for-purpose online courses,” explains Sacha Nouwens, Executive Director of Student Experience and Insights at OES, a leading provider of learning analytics solutions to universities in Australia and around the world.
“Our founding partner Swinburne Online defied the national trend, with its 2020 SES rating remaining steady at 88 per cent for undergraduate students. Analytics is a key element of the suite of digital solutions we use to ensure the university’s students are engaged and supported.”
High student experience ratings influence key outcomes including student retention and progression. Sacha says learning analytics enable universities to uplift the student experience by informing course design as well as the delivery of more personalised, timely and impactful support.
“Whether students are learning online or on-campus, analytics allow universities to understand and deliver a truly engaging learning experience, complemented by the support students need, when they need it,” she says.
Turning insights into outcomes
According to Sacha, it’s how you collate, analyse and apply learning analytics that make the difference. For OES university partners, this means accessing the expertise of a highly skilled team of data analysts.
“We bring a sophisticated understanding of higher education data to every relationship, as well as a suite of bespoke tools and trackers that we customise to ensure each student cohort receives high impact support,” Sacha explains.
“We also conduct our own research, to test and validate the application of learning analytics and their ability to generate return on investment for universities.”
A recent OES pilot is a case in point.
“We wanted to further understand and confirm the impact of a data-driven approach on the experience of students studying online,” explains OES’s Executive Director Academic, Sue Kokonis.
OES collated, interrogated and analysed hundreds of data points to establish which metrics were the most likely indicators of student engagement.
“Using these metrics, we built a propensity model that identified which students were most at risk of dropping out or failing a unit,” says Sue.
A bespoke student engagement dashboard was designed and embedded into an existing Learning Management System. Academic and support staff were then empowered to identify and contact students to provide support for those most at risk.
“The results of this pilot were impressive and included a 9 per cent increase in pass rates and a 7 per cent increase in high-risk students progressing to their next study period,” Sue says. “The impact of harnessing learning analytics on student success is clear.”
Putting students first: how data can inform tailored support
To fully harness the power of learning analytics, high quality outbound student support is vital. OES offers Student Advisory Support and Success Coaching informed by data.
“We use human-centred design principles to inform all our work. In the analytics space, this means using data to learn about student needs, then designing support to truly meet those needs,” Sue says.
OES’s tertiary qualified student support teams use evidence-based interventions to increase student engagement and retention.
“OES’s experience has been that a human-centered, quality-driven approach to online learning builds genuine connections and satisfaction among students,” Sue says.
For Swinburne Online, OES combined approximately 5,000 data points per student before analysing this data to establish how to identify and support students at risk of dropping out.
“We then developed customised student engagement trackers and designed intervention guides for both teachers and our outbound support teams, giving them the knowledge and tools to take the right type of action at the right time to support students.”
The proactive support that Swinburne Online Learning Advisors provided to students made a tangible difference. As one undergraduate student reflected, “It felt like I mattered and that I had support in my studies.”
A proven approach to uplifting your analytics capabilities
“At OES, we’ve been designing and developing analytics techniques, tools and solutions for more than a decade for our university partners,” Sacha explains.
“We are now making these services available as a standalone solution for other universities. This includes partnering with universities to provide bespoke learning analytics projects, designed to achieve their unique student engagement, retention and progression goals. We have a highly experienced team with an understanding of the behaviours, preferences, needs and motivations of students.”
For Sacha, Sue and their colleagues at OES, the future of student success is inextricably linked to the way universities capture, understand and act on data insights to deliver support.
“COVID-19 has amplified student expectations and demonstrated that all students expect just in time, personalised support,” Sue says. “Looking beyond the pandemic, universities that cleverly and proactively use learning analytics to enhance the student experience will be the ones that thrive.”
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