The 1st Workshop on Philosophy of Learning Analytics (POLA) at the 11th International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK21). Online April 12/13, 2021

Workshop overview

This workshop aims to bring members of the LA community together to share and discuss ideas around the philosophical foundations of the field. The hope is to begin construction of a philosophical framework to provide a strong foundation to help strengthen learning analytics as a relevant and impactful field.

This 3 hour online workshop is the first step towards the development of a philosophical approach to help practitioners collaborate, interrogate, and develop this foundation. This is a sharing and collaborative workshop targeted at two kinds of people:

  • those that have an a priori contribution to make towards a philosophical framework of learning analytics; and
  • those who have a more general interest in the topic, and would like to engage with the ideas proposed by others.

Participants are invited to submit an extended abstract for review in advance of the workshop (see the call below). There will be brief presentations of these papers followed by collaborative activities to create robust, but intellectually stimulating and constructive conversations.

The workshop is designed to meet the following objectives:

  • Initiate a conversation around developing a philosophical framework for learning analytics
  • Provide a forum of friendly critique for existing ideas
  • Present the discussion of ideas in a form that can be disseminated to the wider community

In order to meet objective 3, we intend that an output of the workshop will be a synthetic publication harvesting participants’ input.


  • Contributors present key ideas lightning talk style (4-5 mins each). Other participants write PMI (Plus/Minus/Interesting) short reactions on post-it notes which are grouped.
  • Group break-out around key philosophical ideas presented - ‘birds of a feather’ style. Groups engage in dialogue around (a) the potential role of the idea in LA, (b) the value to ALL LA stakeholders, (c) how the idea might advance or secure the field moving forward.
  • Bring ideas together from all groups and begin writing synthesis paper. Break out in smaller groups as necessary.


Pablo Munguia
Associate Professor and Associate Director, Student Learning Support Service, Flinders University, Australia. Contact:
Andrew Gibson
Lecturer in Information Science, Queenland Univeristy of Technology (QUT), Australia. Contact:

Call for Extended Abstracts

Potential participants are encouraged to submit for review an extended abstract of aprox. 600 words + references. Authors should focus on answering the question:

What philosophical ideas should be considered as a foundation for the field of learning analytics and how might practitioners in the field engage with them?

The deadline for submission of contributions is 9 February 2021. Please email your contribution to one of the facilitators.


Learning analytics is maturing as a discipline. Yet as practitioners from diverse backgrounds bring their varying skill sets, they also bring their own disciplinary based philosophies to the field, which at times can introduce confusion or even dissonance. We argue that there is a need to initiate a conversation about how learning analytics should be philosophically grounded and argue for a philosophical framework for the field. We believe a workshop that facilitates this discussion is timely given the questions posed for the 11th Annual Learning Analytics and Knowledge conference.

We can assume that all learning analytics practitioners share the same ultimate passion and goal, to find qualitative and quantitative ways to improve the learning experience for learners. However, the pathways we take are highly diverse, which can result in resistance when trying to bridge discourse between disciplines. We suggest that learning analytics as a transdisciplinary field would benefit from building on a philosophical construct to allow improved collaboration and uptake by academics and institutions.

The lack of a philosophical framework for learning analytics has significant ramifications which may prevent the field from maturing. For example, it causes confusion when trying to explain what is and is not in scope for the field. Further, the absence of a philosophical framework slows the field down when attempting to test, experiment and scale up ideas and methods. We are still debating at length the ethics surrounding the discipline (e.g., Corrin et al., 2019, Ferguson 2019, Kitto and Knight 2019, West et al. 2020), which a philosophical framework would help resolve. Selwyn’s (2020) provocations express the need to dig deep and assess whether the current direction of learning analytics is indeed what we want for the field. More importantly, Selwyn questions what is actually needed in society and what is missing from our background disciplines when moving into this transdisciplinary space. Finally, such a philosophical framework would allow for the creation of momentum, as the field is reaching a critical turning point: it is needs to move beyond a few practitioners working in isolation or practicing in few classrooms to institutional or national plans to adopt and follow ethical use of learner data for pedagogical purposes. This last point is being made frequently (e.g., Ferguson 2012, Selwyn 2020 West et al. 2020), and while a recent survey showed that institutions are willing (Tsai and Gasevic 2017), when attempting to put in place these methods, we often fail (Ferguson 2012, Buerck 2014, Munguia et al. 2020).


Buerck, J. P. (2014). A Resource-Constrained Approach to Implementing Analytics in an Institution of Higher Education: An Experience Report. Journal of Learning Analytics, 1(1), 129-139.

Corrin, L., Kennedy, G., French, S., Buckingham Shum S., Kitto, K., Pardo, A., West, D., Mirriahi, N., & Colvin, C. (2019). The Ethics of Learning Analytics in Australian Higher Education. A Discussion Paper.

Ferguson, R. (2012). Learning analytics: Drivers, developments and challenges. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 4, 304–317.

Ferguson, R. (2019). Ethical Challenges for Learning Analytics. Journal of Learning Analytics, 6(3), 25–30.

Kitto, K. and Knight, S. 2019. Practical ethics for building learning analytics. Br J Educ Technol, 50: 2855-2870. doi:10.1111/bjet.12868

Munguia, P., Brennan, A., Taylor, S., & Lee, D. (2020). A learning analytics journey: Bridging the gap between technology services and academic need. The Internet and Higher Education. 46: 100744.

Selwyn, Neil. “Re-Imagining ‘Learning Analytics’ … a Case for Starting Again?” The Internet and Higher Education 46 (July 2020): 100745.

Tsai, Y. S., & Gašević, D. (2017). Learning analytics in higher education—challenges and policies: A review of eight learning analytics policies. Proceedings of the 7th International Learning Analytics & Knowledge Conference (pp. 233–242).

West, D., Luzeckyj, A., Toohey, D., Vanderlelie, J., & Searle, B. 2020. Do academics and university administrators really know better? The ethics of positioning student perspectives in learning analytics. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 60-70.