Learning analytics: the good, the bad and the ugly

How beneficial, realistic and ethical are learning analytics?

Learning Analytics is defined 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. (Definition from the 1st International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge).

We’ll be discussing how beneficial, realistic and ethical such practices are, drawing on personal experiences and insights from the readings below.

Please read the key text and whichever of the positives and complexity readings take your fancy.

Questions to consider:

Do you agree with the definition of learning analytics given above?

  • Does it reflect learning analytics as you use/experience them?
  • Is it an appropriate framework for the key and further readings?

What are the main effects of learning analytics on

  • Students?
  • Teachers?
  • Institutions?
  • The field of e-learning?

Key text

Gašević, D., Dawson, S., Siemens, G. 2015. Let’s not forget: Learning analytics are about learning. TechTrends, vol 59, no. 1, pp. 64-71., 10.1007/s11528-014-0822-x


In 2019, Jisc published a review of UK and international learning analytics practice in Higher Education. It begins by setting the tone through a very positive executive summary. Learning Analytics in Higher Education Executive Summary, pp. 4-11

For a closer look at one institution, the Open University has a useful page on Learning Analytics and Learning Design (with a list of further readings that may be of interest, but that we don’t plan on covering this time!)

A large amount of the work extolling learning analytics is produced by those with a clear stake in its use. For a typical example, read Why universities should embrace learning analytics by the managing director of Kortext.


Writing from South Africa, Paul Prinsloo has explored some dangerous assumptions behind learning analytics in Decolonising the collection, analyses and use of student data: A tentative exploration/proposal.

For a more general theoretical discussion of ethics around learning analytics, there is also James E Willis III Learning Analytics and Ethics: A Framework beyond Utilitarianism.

In A Data Protection Framework for Learning Analytics, Andrew Cormack discusses issues of informed consent in learning analytics and presents a data protection framework that is especially relevant given GDPR.

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