Preparing for Big Data and Learning Analytics

I’m looking forward to the next Unbundling Education conference on Big Data and Learning Analytics.

Big data and Analytics in Higher Ed & Training & Future of Higher Ed, Training & Work – is Tuesday 29 Oct 2013

Conference details to come here

For years Enterprise has enjoyed the benefits of dashboard analytics in Customer Relationship Management Systems with SAP and Salesforce dashboards feeding business intelligence to the decision makers. These tools have refined our strategies and have provided triggers for better engaging customers with a greater intelligence in communication.

Enterprise education has enjoyed this. I am looking forward to these analytics and business intelligence technologies to be applied in the public education arena in the coming years.

At the previous conference, the head of Open Universities mentioned that its been hard to find a good Learning Analytics developer. If you’re reading this post – spoiler alert – I’ll be talking about good fishing grounds for good Learning Analytics developers. Hope it helps you with your search.

May good supply be with your workforce demands. (Yes – that sentence does sound better when we say it like Obi Wan)

Reviewing Weaknesses in Digital Education Ecosystems

For the past month, I’ve been reviewing the weaknesses of current eLearning ecosystems with peers from outside of Education. My main conversation partners are Workplace Systems architects. It is their discipline that I find best informs where digital education ecosystems need to head.

In a future post, I’ll write why Workplace Systems architects are the most important people to help Education Systems pivot into the mobile space.

I’ve been discussing with them new designs to help eLearning systems take advantage of new technologies and approaches. But before we apply new designs, we have to review what is fragile, broken and outdated in the Educational digital ecosystem.

SCORM is Old School

The legacy learning analytics standard “SCORM” is “long in the tooth”. It’s old. It’s 2004 old. Learning analytics needs more robust and expressive objects to support current and future digital education systems.

Looking for the New School

What I am looking forward to is API first designs for eLearning education systems that can support learning objects traveling through loosely coupled modularised education networks.

Yes, that’s technologist speak for “I just want us to all get along together. You understand me, I understand you, even though we’re from different backgrounds and places. We can teach and learn together”.

There’s a reason why Miss Universe always asks for “World Peace”.

It’s nice when people get along together. For me, it’s nice when disparate digital education systems get along together.

But for that to happen – we need better standards for how these systems talk together. APIs are how systems “talk” to each other. The learning objects are the “words”.

Watch this Space in the “Tin Can API”

In this space, I’m watching “Tin Can API” and “The Experience API”. It looks like Future SCORM. But better.

The best on-boarding for understanding Tin Can API is written by Mark Aberdour from “Open Thoughts” here…

Tin Can API

Here’s my response…

“Hi Mark,

I really appreciated your article about Tin Can API. Thank you!

I was recently reading the SCORM docs and was hoping that things had advanced since 2004. Of course DoD has been quietly working away in the background. ADL is exactly what I’ve been looking for – thanks for the lead.

A bit of background: In 2003, I worked for The Learning Group as a front end eLearning interactive developer. We were all frantically preparing for the rise of SCORM :) I was front end interactive so it was easy for me, just send the tracking cookies over. For my server side buddies, they had the hard work cut out for them as they were working on a compliance dashboard management system called LearningPath. It had to be SCORM compliant ready. Fun fun :)

I finished up at The Learning Group at the end of that year and since then have worked on different parts of the digital ecosystem, content management systems and mainly in mobile development for education and publishing in the last few years.

When doing mobile dev, the most important other person I need to work with is an API designer. If the API design is good – then we can scale production around that API. So, with systems architecture – we have to have an API first design.

The common example is how Twitter focuses on API first design, and then there can be numerous client apps built around bespoke to whatever platform and organisation is required. This kind of API first design approach is what I am looking forward to seeing in eLearning ecosystems.

For my current season of work, I have to step back from hands on development and switch back to eLearning architecture and advisory for education mobility. So when I reviewed the SCORM standard – it is as you say “doesn’t cut the mustard anymore”. It is very helpful, but it is a technology frozen in 2004 time, as if eLearning was exactly the same from when I left The Learning Group. Current systems need more complex learning objects.

One of my favorite highlights over the past decade is the adoption of JSON.

I enjoy waving good bye to SOAP and XMLRPC whenever possible.

To the Titans in the Moodle community – when JSON api has better support – the mobile dev community will rejoice and we will see a lot more moodle apps because the JSON api will allow pivoting legacy LMS systems into the app space.

My previous R&D for Moodle on iPad last year still needed to use the XMLRPC standard. Mobile devs love JSON.

XMLRPC is still nice. But JSON – there’s the love!

API first design has to be a priority for future eLearning systems if we are going to have a helpful separation of concerns, loosely decoupled modularised systems and a separation of content from presentation that allows scalable device agnostic production around the content accessed via APIs.

Basically all the patterns that our CS lecturers said that we should be doing but on the ecosystem level. I love what ADL is doing with its Training and Learning Architecture. It is moving us in the direction we need to go.

I think you are right when you say that descriptive objects are not the be all and end all. We have to track description against goal completion. While outside of eLearning, I worked with these guys who were creating a campaign analytics system focused on email campaigns but also tracking across the digital relationship.

The design patterns in email campaign analytics and the technology behind it is easily pivoted into learning analytics. For donor campaign management to feed business intelligence decisions, we need to track activity, but goal completion and progress too.

In a group of 100000 emails, we can easily track the segment of high value donors (e.g. 5000 of 100000), progress (e.g. 4 out of 10 in staged progress) but also loyalty and engagement (e.g. keep coming back, spending a lot of time and also sharing). You can see that the technology and pattern for education is the same – it’s just a different genre.

Learning analytics enables educators not just to see those that are scoring high, but also where people are stuck in progress but also whether there is high engagement with a particular topic and whether they are talking about it with their peers.

The main advantages that email analytics developers have is that they already have the systems (NodeJS architecture, api first designs and analytics) in place and the newer dashboard technologies like HighChartsJS to pivot into this space. Even the flash dashboards have been slower to come across. SAP were strong with flash dashboards, but they needed HTML5 friendly solutions for iPads sooner. Highcharts has been a winner since they could be more agile and pivot faster.

Envoy Relate

is the analytics system that

Brown Box

created. I’d be watching API first designers, SaaS developers, Scalable architecture designers and Analytics developers like Brown Box to pivot into the Learning Analytics space.

There’s an upcoming conference looking at Big data and learning analytics in Australia. The last conference was brilliant on Unbundling Education services.

Details should be posted here…

29 October 2013
Big Data & Analytics & Future of Higher Ed, Training & Work
Integrating Australia with Asia conference # 7

Conference details

If you need more info Pradeep Khanna organises the event.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the eLearning community there.

Thanks again,

Further reading:

Helpful Article by Saga Briggs, Open Colleges, on ‘Big Data in Education: Big Potential or Big Mistake?’.