Helping Students Learn, Finish, and Tell Their Stories Through the Utilization of Learner Analytics

On July 21-23, UMUC held the Learner Analytics Summit, a convening of select universities, community colleges, national organizations, state and national departments of education, private firms focused on data analytics work in education, and foundations. 

The interesting title of Mark Milliron’s opening keynote presentation was “The Art & Science of Student Success: Using Design Thinking and Advanced Analytics to Help Students Learn Well and Finish Strong.” But before Milliron gave the details of how to accomplish this worthy endeavor, he first explained how design thinking and advanced analytics are already being successfully utilized in corporate America, showing examples of how major companies such as Disney, Dominos Pizza, and Ford Motor Company have discovered the keys to unlocking enormous amounts of “big data” that technology has now allowed them to collect to ultimately put an infrastructure in place that gets “the right data to the right people, right away,” Milliron said emphatically. And, what’s even more vital, especially when it comes to student success, is that all this data that institutions have learned how to accumulate and analyze should ultimately be used to “help students, not us,” he added.

Using Real-Time Data
Unfortunately, that has yet to become the norm. Milliron and the company he has co-founded, Civitas Learning, are out to change that. Civitas is an Austin, Texas-based company that uses a cloud-based predictive analytics platform to bring insights to decision makers in education. The company is currently working with a select group of 30 “pioneering” institutions, including UMUC, that are starting to figure out how to use data and analytics to help guide their efforts toward helping students succeed in real time, rather than in some distant future when it has become too late for the institution to make a significant difference in a student’s educational pathway.

“Let’s be clear about the velocity of our data work in the world of education,” Milliron explained. “How long does it take us to take a student’s data and put it into a position where it can actually help that student make a better choice? That is what students are asking for. Can you use my data to help me instead of my data helping you some two years down the road?”

Milliron claimed that by bringing data insight and action together, quicker, institutions can move away from a kind of “analysis-paralysis” mode, where they are too busy using learner analytic data in response to boards of directors and accrediting agencies, and, instead, putting good learner analytic data into the hands of faculty, advisors and the students themselves. “We have to move from accountability analytics to action analytics, and all the energy right now is around accountability analytics,” he added.

Increasing Digital Footprints that Tell Stories
Part of this strategy includes the realization that technology and software, in general, have created a deeper pool of digital footprints generated via such things as course management systems, student information systems, and customer relationship management tools.

“Our students are only going to use more and more tools that generate digital footprints,” Milliron explained. “If we can hold those digital footprints together, they can tell a coherent story of how students go to our institutions. Then you can get really smart about tipping points and about stumbling areas, things that are really working, things that are not working, and you can try and test. You can design applications that go right to the faculty, right to the advisors and right to the students to create a virtual cycle that makes your inside analytics better.”

In his concluding remarks, Milliron noted that “our students want us to hear them, to see them, to understand their stories. Analytics at its worst is another distraction. Analytics at its best allows us to make the human moments precious.”

George Lorenzo is editor and publisher of The SOURCE on Community College Issues, Trends & Strategies and president of Lorenzo Associates, Inc., a content development service for higher education (

One response to “Helping Students Learn, Finish, and Tell Their Stories Through the Utilization of Learner Analytics

  1. Pingback: When does outside become inside? | Innovate Learning·

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