The US Department of Education just released a draft version of a brief titled Enhancing Teaching and Learning through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics.
One of the old promises of e-learning has been to use data generated in online learning systems to guide student learning, as well as to help instructors and designers, and managers to continually improve the online learning system. In practice most institutions do very little with the data they have, simply because they lack the skills to handle the data, or just don't know what to do with the data. After all, you can only make data work for you when you know which questions you'd like to see answered.
Technology to deal with big data has been developing rapidly lately, and the DoE thinks we might be at a tipping point, so it released this timely brief.
The report starts off with some familiar scenarios, think Netflix applied to education, before making an interesting, and useful distinction between educational data mining and learning analytics:
Educational data mining (EDM) develops methods and applies techniques from statistics, machine learning, and data mining to analyze data collected during teaching and learning. EDM tests learning theories and informs educational practice.
Learning analytics applies techniques from information science, sociology, psychology, statistics, machine learning, and data mining to analyze data collected during education administration and services, teaching and learning. Learning analytics creates applications that directly influence educational practice.
The Journal of Educational Data Mining started in 2009. In 2011 both the International Educational Data Mining Society and the Society for Learning Analytics Research were founded. New societies and journals usually mark the birth of new academic fields.
There is much more good information in the 57 pages report and it will be interesting to see how the response to the brief develops.