Data and the age of student-centred learning

Not so long ago, knowing how well a student was doing in school was limited to when the report card came in. Fitted to a bell curve and measured against other students, an A+ or an F could determine whether a student was praised or grounded and often regarded as a measure of how well they studied rather than their ability to learn. 

These days it is recognised that students learn in different ways. Some need more  than others, some have aptitudes in one subject but not another, some instinctively understand multiplication but struggle with subtraction, some are visual learners and some need further enrichment. Depending on schooling level, they may also have different goals. 

Recognising individual students as a concept, however, is different than knowing what each student needs or how they are progressing, let alone having the tools and time required to scale learning to the individual level. With data analytics and connected schooling, that’s all about to change – the era of student-centric learning is here.

The changing face of education

Like many facets of life, education during COVID-19 underwent a tectonic shift. For many students, ‘school’ meant missed video calls, lost passwords, frazzled parents and bad wifi connections. 

Face-to-face learning is now back for most, but pleasingly, Australian teachers and educational authorities are continuing pandemic-stoked digital transformation by embracing data-driven technologies – in aid of supporting students, boosting educational outcomes and ensuring globally competitiveness in an increasingly global world.

Day-to-day learning experiences can be improved with a student-centric approach – and data is providing the means to deliver it. Centralised, data-driven analytics systems are helping educators, parents, pastoral staff, and students track student performance and adjust learning practices – in the present, where they still have the power to change outcomes.

Any parent who has been to a teacher-parent night knows that while teachers have great knowledge of their child’s progress in a class, they are often required to see multiple teachers (physical education, art, music, science etc) to get a holistic view of how their child is doing overall. Such is the hurdle with data. Schools often have a great deal of it, but it is held disparately, sometimes informally, and is not always used analytically to drive learning outcomes. 

This means that not only is information not being pulled (or easily pulled) to show individual, class or school-based trends, but the data cannot be used to do even more, such as in using AI and machine learning for predictive modelling and better decision-making. 

Schools who amalgamate their data (while surfacing and cleaning it) will have access to far greater insights (and a far greater asset). And assessment data is only the beginning – a range of innovative teaching technologies become attainable with solid data foundations, from artificial intelligence and augmented or virtual reality to IoT, social media and the metaverse.

Connecting learning experiences

Edtech, such as data-driven platforms (like PwC’s own Connected Schools Solution which leverages Microsoft’s K-12 Education Transformation Framework and is built around cloud-based platforms including Microsoft Dynamics 365, Azure, M365, and the Power Platform)1 provide fully integrated, cloud-based end-to-end school management solutions that can provide teachers (parents, students, carers) with instant access to data about their student’s performance down to the individual subject level – helping them identify which students are struggling and which are excelling.

Rather than waiting for end-of-term assessments, continuous visibility of student achievement is helping teachers to develop new learning opportunities, or to engage students with peer mentors, while they can still make a difference.

Relying on retrospective analyses of student performance may help policymaking, but it misses the chance to help individual students while they are still learning. Instead, new ways that analytics can help teachers identify potential areas for improvement – and engage with each student with tailored interventions while they can still make a difference – need to be found.

The accumulation of data about student performance is not only valuable as a monitoring and intervention tool, but has predictive value in an educational climate where many administrators focus on top-level metrics like Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) examination scores.

By tracking performance over time and benchmarking it against previous data at the individual, class and school level, analytics platforms empower schools to predict a student’s future success – and help those students choose subjects that will increase their academic success, better positioning them for a meaningful and rewarding future career.2

Doing more with data

More sophisticated digital solutions will cover not just student assessment, but other aspects of the school ecosystem, ranging from foundation technologies to digital teaching and learning tools, to platforms for school management. PwC’s solution, for example, includes student, course, event, fund, asset, vendor and partner management capabilities as well as tools for administering HR, school finance, and commerce operations such as uniform shops.

Having analytics and insights accessible for various school stakeholders and delivered through digital portals tailored for different stakeholders means that everyone benefits. Parents know when and how to help their children, students can access greater learning opportunities or collaborate with peers, teachers and administrators are freed to spend time where they can drive the most value.

The ultimate lesson

The education sector has only just begun to learn how digitalisation can help student learning and broader school outcomes. Getting a data foundation in order is the first (sometimes daunting) step, but it is an important and impactful one, allowing for greater visibility over student learning, understanding, retention and aptitude. Combined with a school-based analytics platform, data can provide the knowledge required to change a student’s life. 

It’s a lesson worth learning. 

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