We know that pursuing a master’s degree can be overwhelming, particularly for students who work full-time and are already balancing professional and personal commitments. We also know that every student has a unique reason that drives him or her to return to school and complete their degree.
Last fall, we held a scholarship competition and asked our students to tell us their story — their why — behind their decision to enroll in a graduate program. This series will profile our scholarship winners.
Graduate Professional Studies: I’m here with Tara Holderith, a student in our Master of Science in Instructional Design and Technology program. Congratulations on winning our first “What’s Your Why” scholarship! Tell us where you’re from.
Tara Holderith: Thank you! I’m from Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania.
GPS: How many courses have you taken with GPS so far?
TH: I’ve taken four courses. My first term was this past summer, and I took Principles of Online Instructional Design and Professional Communications. In the fall, I took Learning Analytics, which was a new course, and Advanced Instructional Design. This term I also enrolled in two courses.
GPS: Could you tell us about your day job?
TH: I’ve been teaching for 18 years. I am currently a sixth grade mathematics teacher in New Jersey.
GPS: What was the main driver in helping you decide to go back to school to get your graduate degree?
TH: I had both professional and personal reasons. Last winter, our school principal approached me and started a conversation about pedagogy and instructional design. He realized my passion and challenged me to go back to school. At first I was like “with what time?” But after careful consideration and some research, the rest is history.
GPS: What do you hope to gain professionally with this degree?
TH: Professionally, I want to gain more cutting-edge skillsets. My passion is designing innovative pedagogy according to best practices, so I’m hoping to develop even more skills in addition to those I have already learned in just four classes here at GPS.
GPS: Glad to hear! What do you hope to gain personally out of the program?
TH: I’ve come to the program to be a lifelong learner and learning for learning’s sake. I already have a master’s degree so getting another one isn’t going to directly benefit me financially. However, in terms of my personal growth and my desire to continue learning, this was the perfect opportunity for me and it was directly aligning with what I was looking for.
GPS: Awesome! Why do you think you will be successful in graduate school?
TH: I was just having this conversation with one of my supervisors and I said that when it comes to work ethic, there is no limit with me. Time is never an issue because I will do whatever it takes to complete the workload. I do have three children so it has cost me sleep on different occasions, but because I love educating and bettering myself it is really no bother to me.
GPS: Can you think of an example of any course assignment that you have directly utilized in a current or previous role at work?
TH: I was thinking about this question recently, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are so many different assignments that have actually been relevant. As a mother of three working full-time, time is very limited so I’ve been combining a lot of my work duties with my school responsibilities. I’ve found there is a lot of alignment, which has enabled me to give 100 percent to both my job and school.
GPS: Now a couple of fun questions. What do you like to do outside of work and school?
TH: Two of my children are USA swimmers so I spend a lot of time at swim meets. When I’m not doing that, I enjoy reading anything I can get my hands on, and I like to exercise and hike.
GPS: Are you a swimmer too?
TH: I was, but I always say that even though I am not a swimmer now, chlorine still seems to be my perfume and colleagues have even said that they can smell it on me.
GPS: Anything else you would like to add?
TH: Just that I’m extremely grateful to be part of this program. It has been such an opportunity for me and like I said before, I’m doing it because I love learning and so far it has been exactly what I expected plus more. I’ve developed a great cohort of classmates already and I really enjoy the diversity in terms of our professional experience.
Data is increasing with the use of learning technologies, and data is being produced at virtually every learning footprint. The next step in the process is to take the data and analyze the connections to improve the entire learning experience.
Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of data about the learners and their contexts for the purpose of understanding and optimizing learning and the environment in which it occurs. 
Learning analytics has been around for some time. Its origin can be traced to business intelligence and to predicting consumer behavior. Learning analytics in education has emerged in the last few
decades, and it follows similar analysis and predictive relationships. Learning analytics is growing to keep pace with deciphering patterns from huge data sets to further support and personalize the learning experience.
My interest in learning analytics stems from my research on learning style preferences. The hypothesis was that, if you could determine a user’s learning style preference, then you could optimally display content in a form to best suit the way a learner could interpret it; you could support their success. At that time, most analysis had to be completed prior to the learning, and then you could track users accordingly. Real-time data analysis was in its infancy. The vision then was that, in the future, this could be done via machine learning, with data analysis and dynamically serving up content in a format that learners best understood. Today, those capabilities exist in some learning management systems in the form of learning analytics and adaptive learning.
Currently, most learning management systems are able to track a student’s footprint throughout a course. It can document when a user logs in and logs out, and they can determine the type of content they viewed and for how long. They can also alert students to assignments, assessments and most course requirements, including their status within each course. Some learning systems have dashboards that indicate the students’ progress compared to their expectations and compared to their cohorts’ performance.
In my opinion, most learning management systems are good at data reporting, but they fall short in data analysis and in relationships. The challenge is to harness the data and to make reasonable connections, so that meaningful, positive and proactive interventions can be made; ultimately, we hope to improve the instructional process and student success.
Learning analytics has relevance and usefulness across various groups, including instructors, students, instructional designers and institutions.
Instructors can use learner analytics to gain insight into student progress:
Analytics can also be used as an early warning system for at-risk students; they can trigger appropriate messaging.
Students can use learner analytics to gain insight into their progress:
As computer technologies develop and more learning components are online, it is essential for learning specialists to evaluate the impact of each emerging technology and to investigate the strengths, weaknesses and appropriate applications for the learners. Sometimes, this is in the form of a retrospective analysis, but increasingly this analysis can be done closer to the time of the event for more agile course adjustments.
Learning analytics can also be used for continuous improvement of the learning design, such as increasing learner engagement, expanding knowledge retention and improving course and program
Learning analytics can be applied at the institutional level for reporting usage trends. In the future, courses could have personality profiles based on course metadata. These items could include tags, such as “projects-based learning,” “discussions,” “hybrid” and “synchronous.” Each metadata tag could also have an associated strength. Each student would also have his or her own evolving learning personality profile.
This data matching would be similar to how Amazon recommends products based on a customer’s purchasing history and behavior. To optimize student success, the recommendation engine architecture could suggest courses that best match the profiles and that mesh with individual learning styles.
It would be short sighted to think that the landscape of learning analytics is only within the confines of an online learning management system. It is increasingly apparent that the majority of learning
occurs outside of the learning management system; it is only the tip of the iceberg. Learning also occurs informally, such as through social media, experiences and discussions. Learning analytics should be inclusive, capturing all learning opportunities. The Experience API (xAPI) has been developed as a mechanism to record and track all types of learning experiences. Ultimately, inclusion of this learning data will broaden analysis and connections. However, in my experience in piloting the xAPI, it is more elusive than reality. It will take time for the experiential footprints to be folded into the mix of the learning data.
Learning analytics is not a one-time, one-size-fits-all approach. It is dynamic, as the parts of the system change and grow. Learning analytics is an emerging field that can benefit many; it has the potential of being a significant factor in improving the overall learning experience in educational institutions or in corporate training.
 Society for Learning Analytics Research, 2011.
 Low, G. (1995). A study of the effects of learning style preference on achievement in a medical computer simulation (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from UMI Dissertation Database (Accession No. ALMA BOSU1 21625699380001161)
Not subscribed to our blog?
By Ariel Garber
Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies hosted the Analytics 360 Symposium on Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at Brandeis University. The symposium took a look at using analytics to guide strategic, operational and tactical decisions specifically in the areas of education, healthcare and business.
The sessions covered a wide range perspectives within the analytics field, from The Open Data Analytics Initiative, to 10 Steps to Tracking Engagement and Influence Online, to A Holistic Approach to Being Data Science Driven.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Robert Carver, award-winning Professor of Business Administration at Stonehill College as well as Adjunct Professor at the International
Business School at Brandeis University.Other sessions included The Application of Analytics in the Student’s Academic Lifecycle session led by Leanne Bateman, Faculty Chair for Strategic Analytics at Brandeis University and Principal Consultant for Beacon Strategy Group, a Boston-based management firm specializing in project management services.
Other speakers, including professors, leading executives, and researchers, focused on topics such as publicity, e-learning, and big data. Alan Girelli spoke on The Open Data Analytics Initiative, with a comparative discussion of Learning Analytics (a link to his presentation is available here). Girelli is the Director of the Center for Innovation and Excellence in eLearning (CIEE) and has taught online, on-ground, and blended writing and instructional design courses at the graduate and undergraduate level for UMass Boston, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and ITT Technologies.
We want to extend a big thank you to our panelists, Rob Carver, Leanne Bateman, David Dietrich, Shlomi Dinoor, Alan Girelli, Haijing Hao, and John McDougall. The event was sponsored by Basho, Soft10, Brandeis International Business School, EMC and E-Learning Innovation.
Brandeis University’s Graduate Professional Studies division (GPS) will launch a fully-online graduate certificate program in Learning Analytics in September 2015, the university announced today.
Designed to be completed in 1.5 years or less, the program is for professionals with strong backgrounds in education, instructional design, or institutional research. Cross-disciplinary in nature, the certificate will provide students with the foundational tool sets and theory of business intelligence and data analysis. These skillsets are necessary for evaluating the effectiveness of courses, programs and instruction, and prepare students to fill a highly in-demand skills gap in a burgeoning job market.
“As the learning analytics field continues to evolve, it is more important than ever before to use the technology and data we have available to us to understand and, ultimately, enhance the learning experience,” said Brian Salerno, director of Online Learning and Instructional Design at Brandeis GPS.
The five-course, 15-credit certificate program draws heavily from two existing Brandeis GPS master’s degrees: Instructional Design and Technology and Strategic Analytics. Applicants are expected to possess a post-graduate degree in a related field as well as three years of relevant work experience.
In addition to the new Learning Analytics certificate, Brandeis GPS offers eight fully online part-time master’s degrees, including Strategic Analytics, Bioinformatics, Health and Medical Informatics, Instructional Design & Technology, and Software Engineering. All Brandeis GPS programs are asynchronous, providing students with a flexible and convenient approach to completing their degree.
Students interested in applying to the Learning Analytics certificate program should complete their application by Aug. 11, 2015. Students also have the opportunity to take a course prior to applying for admission. Registration for the summer 2015 term opened on April 14, with courses beginning May 20. For more information about Brandeis GPS, please visit www.brandeis.edu/gps.
by Ariel Garber
The development of learning analytics will help shape a new model for teaching and learning, creating a system that provides insight and information to support student success. The field of learning analytics, defined by EDUCAUSE, is “deciphering trends and patterns from educational big data, or huge sets of student-related data, to further the advancement of a personalized, supportive system of higher education.” Learning analytics evaluates student behavior in order to determine learning efficiency, creating conversations with students about learning strategies and how well they feel learning has occurred. Technology allows us to study learning experiences through the capture and analysis of learning and performance data.
“Analytics provides a new model for college and university leaders to improve teaching, learning, organizational efficiency, and decision making and, as a consequence, serve as a foundation for systemic change,” said George Siemens and Phil Long in their article about learning analytics.
A key feature of learning analytics is its learning-centric focus, analyzing student performance outside of the classroom in order to gain a new understanding of the efficiency of students, teachers and the curriculum. Beyond basic retention and completion, learning analytics produces students with both inquiry and analysis focus and critical and creative thinking skills.
The implementation of learning analytics requires restructuring academic institutions, to include re-evaluating the flow of data between departments, increasing personal student support, reshaping course design, delivery and more. These changes will be felt by the faculty, students and the institution as a whole. Collaborative and creative leadership is essential in fostering an academic environment that can support and utilize learning analytics.
The Online Instructional Design & Technology program at Brandeis GPS offers foundational skills through the study of instructional design principles, educational technology, and adult learning theories. Students gain the experience needed to solve a variety of instructional challenges and, ultimately, create and deliver high-quality online programs and interactive courseware.
In large part because of the continuous growth in online programs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics data demonstrates that jobs in instructional design and technology have grown 20.8% since 2004, and project above average growth as high as 20% for instructional design jobs between 2010 and 2020. In the next four years alone, the bureau projects over 36,000 new jobs will become available in instructional design and technology.
This reveals the growing forum for learning analytics and Strategic Analytics, also offered at Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies. Brandeis GPS is hosting an Analytics 360 Symposium on Wednesday, April 8, 2015 from 9am-4:30pm at Hassenfeld Conference Center of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
The day-long symposium will focus on promoting a discussion of the growing field of analytics and how organizations can leverage big data to make more strategic decisions. Panelists will engage in a conversation that places analytics in the context of big data, education, health, marketing and business.
Register here for the Analytics 360 Symposium on April 8, 2015 at Brandeis University. The cost for NERCOMP members is $135 and the cost for non-members is $265. Submit this form to learn more about special pricing available to members of the Brandeis community. For more information, email email@example.com or call 781-736-8786. You can also find us on Twitter using #GPSAnalytics.