How Smart Is Your Data?

  • 4 Min Read

“Data is inherently dumb.”
That’s what Gartner said last year, “it doesn’t do anything unless you know how to use it [and] how to act on it…”

We are surrounded by data – from wearable technology, to GPS location tracking, to accessing a wealth of knowledge on a whim through your smartphone. With all the recommendations, curations, and suggestions available to us now –  even our data has data. Many organizations are aware of the importance of data collection and analysis, but how many stop and ask themselves: how smart is our data?


We live in a world where even our data has data.

The challenge facing educators today is not how to access more data, but how to go from more to smarter data. How do we navigate through a sea of information to give it meaning and context? I want to highlight one powerful way educators can make practical use of their data – through predictive analytics.

Here’s how it can help get you smarter with your data:

Predict Future Behavior

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. It’s why we ask so many questions in a job interview about the candidate’s past. We’re creating a data set about that person’s past behavior. But what if instead of 20 minutes of conversation, we had 20 million data points and the ability to analyze and identify patterns in an instant?

This is what predictive analytics is all about. Even if you’re not familiar with this concept, I’m sure you’re familiar with popular tools that use predictive analytics, such as the auto-complete feature in Google or personalized recommendations from Netflix. When we bring big data together with machine learning, we have the power to change the field of education by empowering instructors with a new way to transform the learning experience.

Predict At-Risk Students

Making predictions about those who might be at risk works by comparing their current activity within a course, to large sets of modeled data of past performance in similar courses. This can work across many types of data, from course access, to assessments, to analyzing social interactions of students.

An important development for all forward-looking educators is how predictive analytics can be combined with machine learning. Technologies such as course recommendation and adaptive learning can help instructors make a real difference in the classroom.


Adaptive learning uses past student behavior to tailor future learning activities: from connecting the student to external resources, to recommending something as simple as talking with a peer or taking a break. Built on the foundation of pedagogical expertise of the instructor, adaptive learning enables the learning experience to adapt to the student, instead of demanding the student adapt to the learning experience.


Personalize the Learning Experience

Enabling smarter decisions about selecting courses has a tremendous impact on personalizing learning for students and educators. Course recommendations provides new support for course selection, a high-stakes decision that’s critical for student success. Selecting courses normally happens just 6-8 times over an entire degree, and possibly fewer times for professional development. When we don’t make the most of these opportunities, we risk education costing more energy, time, and money. We also risk lower retention and completion.

Moving from semester-based analysis to individual moments, adaptive learning provides the opportunity for greater personalization of the learning experience in real-time. This is when the student can benefit most from feedback on their learning activities. Smarter data coupled with a shift from mass production to mass personalization by delivering the right data, at the right time, in the right place.

Achieve Better Outcomes through Smarter Data

Predictive analytics enables better informed, evidence-based decisions that can deliver better outcomes for student retention, completion, and ultimately student success. Through the new capabilities for data-driven and evidence-based decision making, predictive analytics empowers instructors and students with better, smarter data, bringing new levels of rigor and consistency to drive student success.

And that’s how you can get smarter about data.

If this has left you wondering how smart your data is, download the full Learning Analytics Blueprint guide to help you and your organization get started on turning all of that data into useful knowledge to deliver positive and measurable results.


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