Is your school ready for an LMS? – The Data Design Continuum (DDC)


Article 9 in a series


“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” – W. Edwards Deming

The online educational equivalent of this is

“Without data, you’re just another teacher guessing each student’s level of engagement.”

Recent times have spurred on the amount of online and hybrid education. Yet, how much insight do you have into the online component of each student’s education?

Comparison with face-to-face teaching

Teaching in the classroom is dynamic and provides the teacher with many ways to know each student, their areas of success and understanding, and their areas of concern. Some are:

Attendance – Simply turning up to class increases the probability of success.

Engagement – Being involved and taking part in activities.

Class activities and interaction – Conversation (and more) in class with the teacher and peers.

Homework – How regularly homework is done, how complete it is and how ‘correct’ it is.

There are more, and good teachers use all the in-class cues to tailor their teaching and support for each student. Do we have the equivalent in the world of online education?

Comparison with some other web-based services

Other web-based services have systems to understand the individual. For example, online streaming video services know:

  • Our viewing preferences
  • Where and when we pause a movie
  • the time of day we use their service,
  • whether a particular show is viewed completely or rejected,
  • at what point that rejection decision is made…
  • and much more.

Shouldn’t we also know how well a student is engaging with the online component of their courses? Education is much more important for student growth than online entertainment.

Online Education

I will assume that educational organisations use some type of Online Learning Environment (OLE), whether it is an ‘LMS’ (for want of a better term) or some other centralised system, possibly with a variety of other online resources that integrate with this central system.

Let’s consider some of the data possibilities, and then look at how these affect our ability to better assist, guide and support our students.

Level 1 – Minimalist

Data available: In this stage, the teacher knows that a student has logged onto the system and knows the time and date of that login. That is it, and unfortunately, this is the level of functionality of some systems.

Impact on education: This allows the teacher to note which students access the system regularly, which students access it rarely and which don’t access the system at all. However, it doesn’t provide any insight into the activity of the student, such as which learning activity was accessed.

It is a ‘blunt instrument’.

 Level 2 – Minimalist +

Data available: This builds on Level 1 by also providing information about some other components of the course. A common example is quiz results. In many systems, quizzes can be easily added at some point or points in a topic.

Impact on education: This provides more insight as it allows a teacher to gain some idea of the student’s knowledge of a topic as well as knowing whether a student has engaged with that section of the course. It can be very useful if the course materials have high-quality formative quizzes scattered throughout. This can provide insights that can open conversations with a student, allowing positive feedback or early intervention if difficulties are noted.

Level 3 – Passive duration

Data available: This stage notes the logon as well as the logoff time for each student. The system does not ‘know’ whether any activity occurs while connected to the system. Thus, a student could be actively working through learning materials, or they could also have logged on and then walked away to do some unrelated activity. Thus, it is a ‘passive’ indicator. It has limited use.

Impact on education: Information provided at this level should be used with caution as there is no way to know if the student has been actively engaged with the learning materials.

 Level 4 – Active duration

Data available: This stage provides both logon and logoff times and takes this much further by noting activity within the course materials. It notes mouse movement, interactions and movement between sections of the course. It does not simply record time spent with a browser window open but with no activity.

External systems are available to note activity if your Online Learning Environment does not have this capability.

Impact on education: This level provides an understanding of student activity, and thus provides the opportunity for meaningful individual conversations – positive feedback for engaged students and proactive intervention for disengaged students (and much more).

While we all know that activity does not automatically mean success, it is still a very important indicator.

This level is particularly insightful when combined with extensive use of formative quizzes. (Level 2 – Minimalist +)

 Level 5 – Partial granular

Data available: This level contains more than just quizzes at various points in the course material; it contains a range of interactive activities (IA) that provide data when accessed.

(A list of possible interactive activities is available in a companion article “Is your school ready for an LMS? – The Course Design Continuum (CDC)”)

The teacher can then be aware of each student’s progress through the course materials by noting access to each interactive activity.

Impact on education: Level 5 allows excellent insight into student activity, engagement and progress when combined with the best components of the previous levels. A teacher can initiate many support, remedial and encouragement activities by having a rich overview of each student’s progress. In the process, when well designed and implemented, the course becomes more engaging and educationally relevant for students.

Level 6 – Full granular

Data available: This level leverages modern technology, namely xAPI. It allows an insight into many, many data points during and within an activity. It can note student progress at all stages and within almost all components of the online materials.

The xAPI website states:

“xAPI is an eLearning specification that makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a person has within online and offline training activities.”

“Many eLearning standards can only capture digital experiences. xAPI enables you to track experiences that happen in many different environments and systems.”

It does require an LRS (Learning Record Store) and dashboards that provide an overview and insights. Thus, it may be unsuitable for small educational organisations.

Impact on education: This level has the potential to provide granular individual student engagement data. If implemented well, it allows a teacher to personalise student feedback, support and encouragement.


The Paradox

Some believe that technology depersonalises education. Yet, when rich individual data sets are available, technology can provide great insights so that a teacher can make learning and their interactions with students very personal. Education can be targeted more specifically to each individual.

In the process, student satisfaction and success levels can be enhanced – the goal of all educators.

Location of data and privacy

Of course, the privacy of data is essential. Access to student data should be limited to only those teachers and administrators who need it. Students need to be aware of what data is collected.

Privacy policies need to be appropriate and explicit.

Servers housing data should be secured and on-premise or in a trusted, secure location.


What can the data be used for?

The next article in this series will discuss some ways to use this data.


Quiz and Interactive icons – Quiz icons created by Freepik – Flaticon

Logon icon – Login icons created by srip – Flaticon

Logout icon – Logout icons created by apien – Flaticon

Data icon – Data collection icons created by Flat Icons – Flaticon

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Peter West
Peter West currently leads a Learning Technologies Team that explores new learning technologies for a leading VET organisation. Previously he was Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College on the Gold Coast, Australia. He has been leading learning organisations in all aspects of technology-enhanced learning for over twenty years. He can be contacted at and

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