Analytics leading education (r)evolution

Yes, it’s a cheesy title, we know.

By: Jeremy Hetebry & Ariel van Oudtshoorn

Education loves data. We love class distributions, and standardised test results (if not the process). We like ranking our marks books, and running reports on behavioural/pastoral care notes. We love year-on-year improvement, and when class averages go up. We like to ‘see’ what’s really going on, and we really like supporting our students.

In the age of school and learning management software, schools leave enormous data trails. And while ‘big data’ might have a somewhat dubious reputation when we consider ‘big corporate’[i], there is an inexorable movement towards harnessing its power. Forbes noted that the proportion of surveyed organisations to adopt big data strategies had jumped from 15% in 2015 to 53% in 2017[ii]. For the education sector, the majority of respondents still stated “we may use big data in the future”. [iii]

When we consider the amount of data that schools have available, Niall Sclater and others also consider the ethical considerations of non-action[iv]. What is the cost to individual students out there where a school has data that could suggest effective intervention that may keep them in school or improve their outcomes, but the school does not act? John Hattie, coming from a different angle, implores teachers to “know thy impact”[v] and look deeper to understand how their teaching is actually affecting their students’ learning. Learning analytics, looking deeper than the superficial beauty of data, is the means by which schools can get to the heart of the matter.

Using data collected from learning management systems, we can identify more than achievement; we can quantify progress. We can in a single dashboard view compare a students’ standardised test results with their reported results, with their effort and participation markers. We can provide data to quickly identify out-of-trend behaviour, allowing intervention at an earlier stage. Questions can be asked of the data over time, identifying (even quantifying) the effectiveness of intervention strategies. We can provide real tools that allow amazing people in schools to do really amazing work.

Far from disempowering teachers and turning students into unidentified numbers running through cogs wheels, learning analytics and educational data (done properly) allows schools to see their students more clearly. Learning analytics provides opportunities for engagement, and a personalisation of the learning experience that can drastically benefit the students and teaching staff alike.

For most schools using SIS/SMS software and an LMS, the data is there now. The difference can be made now. We just need to start asking the right questions. Are you ready to start asking powerful questions?


[i] Court Stroud, ‘Camridge Analytica: The Turning Point In the Crisis About Big Data’, Forbes, April 2018, accessed 18/07/2019

[ii] Louis Colombus, ‘53% of companies are adopting big data analytics’, Forbes, Dec 2018, accessed 17/07/2019 <>.

[iii] Colombus.

[iv] Cristina Wagner, ‘Ethical Concerns with Learning Analytics: What You Should Be Aware of’, E-Learn, Jan 2018, pp. 14-19, accessed 17/07/2019 <>.

[v] John Hattie, ‘Feedback for learning’, Educational Leadership, Vol. 70 Iss. 1, 2012, pp. 18-23.

About the authors

Jeremy Hetebry

Jeremy is a serious maths tragic with more than 25-years’ experience across a variety of school roles. Sadly, Jeremy’s extensive educational experience and suite of professional passions fails to ameliorate his dedicated passion for the Freo Dockers.

Ariel van Oudtshoorn

Ariel enjoys using her academic background in history to research educational phenomena, as well as parenting, music, food, gardening, knitting, language, and most forms of pedantry.