New Learning Analytics master’s program empowers people to use big data to improve education outcomes

A new online MS in Educational Psychology, Learning Analytics option, offered through the UW–Madison Department of Educational Psychology, will help graduates improve teaching, learning, and educational policy by harnessing the power of big data to tackle a broad range of challenges.

Graduates of the program will be equipped to help improve individual student learning, raise graduation rates and address equity gaps for students underrepresented based on race, poverty and gender.

“The Master’s in Learning Analytics speaks to the UW–Madison School of Education’s commitment to improving learning outcomes, especially in underserved populations,” says Julia Rutledge, the program’s director. “Learning analytics is a powerful tool in bridging achievement gaps, and we look forward to giving educators the tools they need to solve the most pressing challenges in education today.”

Program Director Julia Rutledge on a video call

Learning analytics is part of the rapidly growing field of data science, using statistical, computational and ethnographic tools to understand and improve learning.

“We want to train people to use numbers in a way that’s sensitive to the real-world issues of teaching and learning, to questions of equity and meaning,” says David Williamson Shaffer, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and the faculty director of the new program. “Fundamentally, we’re not just creating number-crunchers. We’re teaching educators how to use powerful new tools to make a meaningful difference in students’ lives.”

The Learning Analytics program adds to UW–Madison’s growing portfolio of data science degree programs. The learning analytics industry is projected to grow more than 10 percent annually, and job postings for trained analysts increased 170 percent in 2018 alone. UW–Madison faculty in learning analytics comprise practitioners and leading researchers in the field, and their courses focus on the skills and understanding students need to prepare for careers in this fast-growing field.

“There is a match between our faculty’s expertise and market need,” Rutledge says, “and the program’s interactive curriculum will enable our graduates to make an impact.”

The program is 100 percent online and follows a cohort-based model, helping students build a strong and supportive learning community, hone their skills, and learn from each other’s experiences. Students are encouraged to apply from a variety of professional backgrounds, and the program is tailored to address students with diverse interests by giving students the opportunity to engage with data sets personally and professionally meaningful to them. Cohorts begin in summer and cover 30 credits, allowing students to complete the entire master’s program in just 24 months.

“Learning analytics is a rapidly expanding area of inquiry in which new types of data science questions are emerging,” says Brian Yandell, director of UW–Madison’s American Family Insurance Data Science Institute. “What can we learn from these new data streams, which go far beyond keyboard clicks, about how students learn new concepts and skills? No doubt focusing a degree program in this area will spark new types of inherently interdisciplinary data science research.”

Program coursework provides training in the foundations of collecting, organizing, interpreting and communicating data in and about learning environments. The curriculum blends research and theory in learning analytics with practical applications, including instructional design, data visualization and data communication. Students apply their skills in a real-world setting of their choice in a final capstone course, rounding out a portfolio of work on real educational data that demonstrates their career readiness.

“Numbers are powerful, and if you have them on your side, you speak with a louder voice,” says Shaffer. “The people doing analytics will have a growing influence on policy and practice over time. This program gives the best of both worlds: Cutting edge understanding about learning analytics, designed for people who use these ideas to make education better.”

Applications are now open for the first cohort that begins the summer of 2021. To learn more about the program visit the learning analytics program page, email the program’s enrollment coach, Pat Walsh, at pjwalsh@wisc.edu or sign up for a Learning Analytics MS program overview webinar.