Last updated: 03.10.14

New study aims to enhance e-learning through better use of data

The techniques involved in the design of an e-learning course could be enhanced significantly by a new US research project that aims to unlock the power of data mining.

Carnegie Mellon University has announced that it will be allying with MIT, Stanford University and the University of Memphis on an early implementation project to create a large, distributed infrastructure called LearnSphere, which will securely store data on how students learn.

The five-year project is worth $5 million (£3.13 million) and will access more than 550 datasets generated from interactive tutoring systems, educational games and massive open online courses, in order to gain insight into how students behave and perform when engaging with e-learning programmes of this sort.

A graphical interface will enable users to combine data sources and analytical tools, helping to automate the discovery process. The team will investigate how to recognise when students get off track or might drop out during sessions, before designing effective interventions to improve engagement and retention.

The insights gleaned from this project will allow course developers and instructors to improve teaching and learning through more data-driven course design, while also offering deeper universal insights into the way people learn.

This will also facilitate the creation of training courses that are more personally tailored to the learning style of individuals.

Project leader Ken Koedinger, professor of human-computer interaction and psychology, said: "We've seen the power that data has to improve performance in many fields, from medicine to movie recommendations. Gathering more of this data also promises to give us a deeper understanding of the learning process."

He added: "We're trying to create a culture in which scientists will not only be cited for their research findings, but also for their datasets."

This comes after MIT recently published a report suggesting that e-learning can be just as effective and valuable as classroom-based lessons, further underlining the growing importance of these new approaches to teaching.