Analytics and Adaptive Learning Paths


many paths by Meredith James, on Flickr
What class(es) should I take next? Which instructors am I likely to learn more from? Common questions that students face each semester. Every institution has formal and informal channels that get used, whether they are institution sanctioned academic advisors and student opinion surveys or back channel methods, like “underground” surveys, sites like ratemyprofessors and e-mail and casual conversation.

These approaches, however, are either suspect in their depth and accuracy (ratemyprofessors.com, surveys) or costly to scale (academic advisors). Two recent mergers, Desire to Learn’s acquisition of Degree Compass and IAC’s (OK Cupid and Match.com) purchase of Tutor.com, bring interesting possibilities to this space, as the concept of adaptive learning is no longer strictly in the domain of content, but now extends to the instructor and course path that a learner takes as they pursue mastery.

Degree Compass (modeled after Netflix and Pandora) takes your existing transcript information, along with historical data and the transcripts of hundreds of your peers and predicts how well you’ll do in a course.  The developers claim that it is more than just a tool to aid grade inflation, as there are several data points that they use in their algorithm, and several recommendations made to the student, not just expected grade. D2L’s purchase will likely see the addition of this recommendation engine its your LMS. While fantastic at a large institution with substantial course offerings, I wonder how valuable this functionality is when the course offerings are smaller. As a student, I want not only the best statistics class that my institution offers, I want the best statistics class that caters to my strengths and weaknesses as a learner. With the rise of MOOCs, sites like Udemy and Skillshare and efforts of the Mozilla foundation to bring a unifying voice to  micro-credentialing (badges),  students have more learning opportunities, with different teachers, content and approaches, available to them than ever before. As demand grows for education that is designed for the individual learner, large institutions will have a tough time developing highly personalized content.  To this end, I find the IAC and Tutor combination a little more intriguing. Fewer details exist on IAC’s plans for Tutor, but the New York Times suggests that IAC will be bringing their analytics expertise to Tutor, perhaps to aid in instructor selection (identify my ideal instructor match based on my learning profile), perhaps to give tutors/instructors better diagnostic tools (how should I approach teaching this student?), perhaps even extending to a point of taking the learner profile and creating a personalized learning skill tree (What combination of experiences should I employ to allow me to reach a particular level of mastery or understanding?).

Both platforms and their acquisition suggest that adaptable learning paths, and not just content, through deep data analysis will be an interesting space to watch as educational technology continues to evolve. A world where every student has access to not only high quality learning, as the big MOOC players promise, but personalized high quality learning.

MOOC Intervention

Knowledge will make you free

I have a problem.

You know the old saying about your eyes being larger than your stomach? My thirst for new knowledge is larger than the capacity of my brain. This has become apparent to me as I recently took stock of the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) I’ve signed up for. I’m enrolled in 5 courses that are currently running, and a couple more that are supposed to start in the next few weeks, and those are just the courses that I’m taking through Coursera.org . When you add a course Udacity, the edtech startup MOOC that I’ve been guiltily ignoring, the two I just signed up for via Stanford’s venturelab and a course at edX, there’s no way that on top of the four seven week classes (2 at a time) that I’m taking this fall as part of my MBA curriculum that I’ll make it through all of them (or any). One could say, and I’d agree with them, that I’ve bit off more than I can chew, but when you’re in this free store of information, it’s hard to say no.

Despite my addiction and the strong likelihood that I falter along the way, I’m trying to stay on top of my quizzes, my assignments, my peer grading and videos/readings. The time I’ve spent in these courses has been been both fascinating and frustrating. There are some truly adventurous and engaging faculty (Finance complete with Star Wars/Lord of the Rings references anyone?) looking to share their expertise and knowledge and a global population that is eager to learn, connect and collaborate. At the same time, as you try to manage a discussion board with thousands of participants, it’s easy to feel that you are just part of a herd being shepherded from course to course. All of the players in this space are students as well, learning as they go, and adjusting on the fly.  As I try to deal with this overload over the coming months, I’ll capture MOOC moments to celebrate as well as challenges I encounter, and encourage you, dear reader, to weigh in with your own thoughts.