BryanFendleyThis is a guest post by Bryan Fendley, a Blackboard MVP and Catalyst Award Winner. He is the director of instructional technology and campus web services at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

If you want to get past the marketing hype about Blackboard Analytics for Learn, who do you go to? I could think of nobody better than the Senior Product Manager of Analytics at Blackboard Inc., Dan Rinzel.

What is Analytics for Learn?

For those that haven’t heard of Analytics for Learn, let’s start with the standard definition.

Analytics for Learn gives institutions the ability to take data from Blackboard Learn and combine it with data from a student information system or an enterprise resource planning system. Once this data is combined, custom reports and dashboards can be created for faculty, students, and administrators.

Think ofAnalytics for Learn as your new data warehouse. According to Dan Rinzel, Senior Product Manager of Analytics at Blackboard Inc, “It’s the elephant that never forgets.” This type of data warehousing is what makes comparing current course activity to past course activity possible. Analytics for Learn holds on to data, even if courses are archived or deleted. WithAnalytics for Learn ad hoc historical questions are now a reality, even if past courses are long gone.

Does Analytics for Learn have built in reports?

Analytics for Learn has them and its built in reports are just a starting point for most.Analytics for Learn makes data reportable. What you do with that data is up to you. According to Rinzel, some campuses are creating custom dashboards for advisors using Analytics for Learn. Others campuses are busy teaching faculty to mine their own data using a number of third-party visualization and analysis tools.

How does Analytics for Learn help solve learner issues?

Analytics for Learn collects data and reports on activity. Activity is then correlated with things such as engagement. Rinzel was careful to point out that measuring engagement can be complicated. “Engagement is multi-faceted and often determined by things that can’t be easily measured” says Rinzel.

Since Analytics for Learn basically only measures activity, we have to be careful how we determine attribution of activity. Data may help you determine which instructional practices are working best, but maybe not why. Good faculty and sound instructional design are in no danger of being displaced by analytics.

With all this new data, will institutions be able to act fast enough for a prescriptive change?

Education may need a cultural change before products like Analytics for Learn truly show their worth. Creating a data driven culture doesn’t happen as quickly as purchasing a product. However according to Rinzel, “Having data will start conversations that may not have previously existed.”

Will data every eliminate the HIPPO (highest paid persons opinion) in the room? Probably not and for good reason. Knowledge and professional intuition won’t be replaced by analytics any time soon. Analytics for Learn can’t solve problems on its own. Getting full value from Analytics for Learn is more about having processes in place and responding to trends.

How can you get the most from Analytics for Learn?

  1. Ensure faculty are using Blackboard to do more than post a syllabus and a final grade. You must have something meaningful to measure.
  1. Ensure your institution agrees on academic terms. Without agreement there will be a lack of clarity on what the data actually means.
  1. Determine who owns analytics on campus. This depends on who is going to take action with the data. This is usually either Information Technology, or Institutional Research. This can be a hard determination. Analytics for Learn is multifaceted and will touch many parts of campus. It’s not likely that any one office will have sole ownership of Analytics for Learn.
  1. Make a strong start by considering Blackboard strategic consulting services. Blackboard strategic consulting services can provide an organizational assessment, help with building dashboards, and help determining organizational variables such as: stake holders and demographics.
  1. Supporting Analytics for Learn on campus may be complicated. Different users will have different needs. For most campuses Analytics for Learn is either an IT function, part of the Business Intelligence Office, or Institutional Research.


If you have a culture where data helps make decisions, then Analytics for Learn is an obvious choice. If you’re  hoping for a product that can tell you how to solve campus retention or course design issues by pressing a button – keep looking. They don’t exist. But for now, Analytics for Learn may be as close as we get to taking the guess work out of educating the masses.

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