It has become common for business to rely on the accumulation of large amounts of data and the application of analytics to predict our behavior. Credit ratings, for example, are based on statistical correlations between certain characteristics and behaviors of borrowers and the likelihood that they will repay loans. Most institutions of higher education, however, are only using analytics in a limited way, such as to make admissions decisions and identify struggling students when they are about to drop out.

The ability to apply predictive analytics more broadly within higher education is one of the areas that we believe has much greater potential than that, and it is being explored through Precision Education at National University, a research-based initiative that is identifying new ways to leverage technology, open education resources and predictive analytics to adapt to student needs while guiding them to successful completion of their academic and career goals.

Predictive Analytics as a Navigation Tool
In an earlier blog post I mentioned how GPS navigation systems can be a helpful analogy to explain the level of functionality and user experience we are striving to achieve with Precision Education. These systems, as in the case of Google Maps, show you how to get to where you’re going and how long the trip will take, given current travel conditions; if traffic backs up on that route, it offers a quicker alternative. If you choose to go another way because it’s more scenic, the software adjusts to make sure you still reach your destination. (See Can Google Maps Navigation be the Future of Higher Education?)
Let’s peer under the hood a bit further and explore what that means in terms of predictive analytics creating a highly-customized education experience for students through the effective use of data.

Predictive Analytics Powered by Collective Knowledge
Imagine the knowledge we can gather on the learning patterns of students who use our system over time. Their pathways give us better insight on how to better serve students who might be like them in regards to their curriculum knowledge baseline, how they learn, their desired educational pathways, and much more. With that kind of collective knowledge, we can consider an individual student’s preparation, preferences, and performance to offer them a variety of educational pathways that will get them where they want to go, based on data gathered from the experiences of thousands of peers. This ability to offer an adaptable learning system that is sensitive to both student needs and smart enough to suggest the most applicable pathways puts students in the driver’s seat of their own educational journeys – and it is what we are striving to do through Precision Education.

For example, in a traditional course, a student who fails a quiz finds out what they didn’t understand but the class moves on and the student has to try to catch up. By contrast, the Precision Education learning system will suggest alternative ways – through learning objects, such as a video or other resources — to learn the material and students don’t move on until they can show they’ve mastered it. After students complete each learning activity, they give it a rating. The results of the assessments and ratings are fed back into the system, helping it become smarter. Learning objects that don’t lead to success will be dropped. Those that do will be recommended more prominently to match up with students who share a similar learning style or background.

Predictive Analytics: From Learning to Career Counseling
It’s important to keep in mind that the learning platform is only one component of the overall Precision Education system. We also will be using data to customize advising, career counseling, and other components. It’s also important to remember that, as with Google Maps, students will still be in the driver’s seat and professional judgement will still be invaluable. Precision Education doesn’t eliminate the human factor; it is a tool that helps both instructors and students make informed choices.

Blog post written by Dr. David Andrews, President of National University. Precision Education at National University is a research-based initiative that is exploring new ways to leverage technology, open education resources, and predictive data analytics to adapt to student needs and guide them to successful completion of their academic and career goals. Learn more at: https://www.nu.edu/precision