“Learning Analytics” in the Flemish higher education system

Position Paper | Year 2018
“Learning Analytics” in the Flemish higher education system
Class of Technical Sciences

Learning Analytics (LA) is an emerging educational technology. It aims for the collection and analysis of data from students and their context and for using this data to improve learning. It is not surprising that LA is a hot topic: it builds on educational data, which become more and more available due to the growth of online and blended learning. LA seems to have potential to impact Flemish higher education. In which areas can this impact however be realized? And, can LA meet the high expectations, as Willem Elsschot  already wrote in 1910 "Between dream and reality, laws stand in the way, and practical objections" ?

Within Flemish higher education there are three major application domains for LA: the research into educational learning processes, the optimization and personalization of the learning environment, and student advising. In these three applications, LA will touch many domains ranging from educational science to machine learning. The effective realization of LA therefore requires a radically interdisciplinary collaboration between educationalists, cognitive and motivational psychologists, specialists in the specific learning domains, technologists, data scientists, privacy experts, and ethicists. In addition, LA has to bridge the gap between research and practice: both researchers and practitioners (teachers, student advisors, and students) must join the discussion from the beginning of the development of LA initiatives.

LA relies on the available data on learning behaviours. A latent danger is that LA leads to an overfocus on factual data. Every user, researcher, and policymaker must therefore ensure that LA is used to reinforce a personal approach and insights into learning, and is not used to reduce personal contact and room for individual circumstances. Every institution that wants to use LA should work out a guiding policy text, with attention for privacy, legal, and ethical aspects of LA, framed within a more general educational vision.

Flemish higher education can draw inspiration from international examples. The specific context of the own institution and Flemish higher education in general, should however not be forgotten. The local context has a great influence on many aspects of LA, such as the available data (e.g. swipe cards and measurement of attendance), the educational context (e.g. free access to higher education or selection), the goals of LA (e.g. retention or rapid reorientation), national and institution-specific regulations and teaching and advising practices (e.g. whether or not each student has a personal and professional student advisor).

The realization of LA requires not only an investment in technical infrastructure, but also the elaboration of ethical frameworks, the monitoring of the legal aspects, and the support and training of all those involved. LA, and by extension educational technology, is of interest to every Flemish higher education institution. The common context in which these institutions operate creates similar challenges and opportunities. Under the motto "together we are strong", institutions should therefore set up the necessary structures to realize cooperation, exchange of experiences, and a guiding framework. International examples show that national cooperation organizations on educational technology give an impulse to both the concrete application of and research on LA. The establishment of a Flemish or Belgian cooperation organization on educational technology or the connection with an existing organization is therefore recommended.

In short, LA is a domain with great potential but also many challenges!

Available documents


  • Tinne De Laet


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