Computer screen with analytics

The potential and pitfalls of learning analytics as a tool for supporting student wellbeing

Samantha J Ahern


Learning Analytics is a growing field in UK Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) with many implementations focusing on Early Alert and Student Success, but is this putting the cart before the horse? In the 2017 #StepChange report Universities UK suggested that learning analytics should be aligned to student wellbeing. With reported increases in incidents of student mental ill-health and extra demands being placed on student support services as a consequence this seems an appropriate application of this technology. However, there are a number of concerns related to student privacy and the interpretation and presentation of the analytics. Also, who will be designing and performing interventions? At a time when there is growing concerns around the wellbeing of staff, should we be adding a further burden? Do we risk being eaten by the analytics crocodile? It is clear that to utilise learning analytics in this way poses a number of challenges, but in the information age, when this data is available to us is it moral or legal to remain the caterpillar, knowing nothing of who our students are? With Institute for Public Policy Research stating that “…a majority of HEIs should take measures to ensure that the nature of course content and delivery does not result in academic rigour being sought at the expense of students’ mental health and wellbeing.” we should be doing all we can to adequately and pro-actively support our students.


learning analytics, student well-being

Full Text:



Anderson, D. S. (2015). Wellness issues for higher education: A guide for student affairs and higher education professionals. Routledge. Retrieved from:

Bennett, L. (2018). Students’ learning responses to receiving dashboard data. Research Report, January 2018. Retrieved from:

Bhopal, K. (2018). White privilege : the myth of a post-racial society. Bristol, Policy Press.

Byrd, D. R., & McKinney, K. J. (2012). Individual, Interpersonal, and Institutional Level Factors Associated with the Mental Health of College Students. Journal of American College Health, 60, pp. 185-193.

Comment, N. H. (2018). Are universities in loco parentis? The good old days or the bad old days? Retrieved from:

Coughlan, S. (2018). Student suicide increase warning. Retrieved from:

De Choudhury, M., Gamon, M., Counts, S., & Horvitz, E. (2013). Predicting Depression via Social Media. In Emre Kiciman, N. B. Ellison, B. Hogan, P. Resnick & I. Soboroff (eds.), Proceedings of the Seventh International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (pp. 128-137). Palo Alto, California, The AAAI Press. Retrieved from:

Eubanks, V. (2018). Automating inequality: how high-tech tools profile, police, and punish the poor. New York, St. Martin’s Press.

Equality Challenge Unit (n.d.). Degree attainment gaps. Retrieved from:

Hughes, G., Panjwani, M., Tulcidas, P., & Byrom, N. (2018). Student Mental Health: The Role and Experiences of Academics. Student Minds. Retrieved from:

IPPR (2017). Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities. Retrieved from:

JISC (2015). Code of practice for learning analytics. Retrieved from:

JISC (2017). Consent and the GDPR: what approaches are universities taking? | Effective Learning Analytics. Retrieved from:

JISC (n.d.). Effective learning analytics. Retrieved from:

O’Keeffe, P. (2013). A Sense of Belonging: Improving Student Retention. College Student Journal, 47(4), 605–613.

O’Neil, C. (2016). Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Crown.

Prinsloo, P., & Slade, S. (2017). An elephant in the learning analytics room: the obligation to act. In A. Wise, P.H. Winne, G. Lynch, X. Ochoa (eds.), LAK '17 Proceedings of the Seventh International Learning Analytics & Knowledge Conference (pp. 45-55). Vancouver: ACM Press.

Rice, K. G., Leever, B. A., Christopher, J., & Porter, J. D. (2006). Perfectionism, Stress, and Social (Dis)Connection: A Short-Term Study of Hopelessness, Depression, and Academic Adjustment among Honors Students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(4), 524–534.

Sclater, N. (2017). Learning Analytics Explained. New York: Routledge.

SHEILA. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from

Siemens, G., & Gasevic, D. (2012). Guest editorial-Learning and knowledge analytics. Educational Technology & Society, 15(3), 1–2.

Smita Jamdar. (2018, February 28). Been in a meeting. Tell me Sam Gyimah didn’t really say that Universities should be in loco parentis. Please. [Tweet]. Retrieved from:

Sonderlund, A. L., & Smith, J. R. (2017). Evaluation and effectiveness of ALA interventions: A systematic review. Retrieved from

Students’ Union UCL (n.d.). New Tier 4 visa compliance regulations: 83% feel discriminated against as a UCL international student. Retrieved from:

The University of Edinburgh (2017). Learning Analytics Principles and Purposes. Retrieved from:

Thomas, L. (2012). What Works? Student retention & success. Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: final report from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme. Retrieved from:

Times Higher Education (n.d.). Academics ‘face higher mental health risk’ than other professions | THE News. Retrieved from:

Universities UK (n.d.). #stepchange. Mental Health in Higher Education. Retrieved from:

QAA (n.d.) What Students Think of Their Higher Education. Retrieved from:

WONKHE (2018). As much freedom as is good for them - looking back at in loco parentis. Retrieved from:



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2018 Samantha J Ahern

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
We use both functional and performance cookies to improve visitor experience. Continue browsing if you are happy to accept cookies. Please see our Privacy Policy for more information.