Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs. A related field is educational data mining. For general audience introductions, see:
- The Educause Learning Initiative Briefing 
- The Educause Review on Learning analytics 
- And the UNESCO "Learning Analytics Policy Brief" (2012)
What is Learning Analytics?
The definition and aims of Learning Analytics are contested. One earlier definition discussed by the community suggested that "Learning analytics is the use of intelligent data, learner-produced data, and analysis models to discover information and social connections for predicting and advising people's learning." 
But this definition has been criticised:
- "I somewhat disagree with this definition - it serves well as an introductory concept if we use analytics as a support structure for existing education models. I think learning analytics - at an advanced and integrated implementation - can do away with pre-fab curriculum models". George Siemens, 2010.
- "In the descriptions of learning analytics we talk about using data to "predict success". I've struggled with that as I pore over our databases. I've come to realize there are different views/levels of success." Mike Sharkey 2010.
It has been pointed out that there is a broad awareness of analytics across educational institutions for various stakeholders, but that the way 'learning analytics' is defined and implemented may vary, including:
- for individual learners to reflect on their achievements and patterns of behaviour in relation to others;
- as predictors of students requiring extra support and attention;
- to help teachers and support staff plan supporting interventions with individuals and groups;
- for functional groups such as course team seeking to improve current courses or develop new curriculum offerings; and
- for institutional administrators taking decisions on matters such as marketing and recruitment or efficiency and effectiveness measures." 
In that briefing paper, Powell and MacNeil go on to point out that some motivations and implementations of analytics may come into conflict with others, for example highlighting potential conflict between analytics for individual learners and organisational stakeholders.
Differentiating Learning Analytics and Educational Data Mining
Differentiating the fields of educational data mining (EDM) and learning analytics (LA) has been a concern of several researchers. George Siemens takes the position that educational data mining encompasses both learning analytics and academic analytics, the former of which is aimed at governments, funding agencies, and administrators instead of learners and faculty. Baepler and Murdoch define academic analytics as an area that "...combines select institutional data, statistical analysis, and predictive modeling to create intelligence upon which learners, instructors, or administrators can change academic behavior". They go on to attempt to disambiguate educational data mining from academic analytics based on whether the process is hypothesis driven or not, though Brooks  questions whether this distinction exists in the literature. Brooks  instead proposes that the a better distinction between the EDM and LA communities is in the roots of where each community originated, with authorship at the EDM community being dominated by researchers coming from intelligent tutoring paradigms, and learning anaytics researchers being more focused on enterprise learning systems (e.g. learning content management systems).
Regardless of the differences between the LA and EDM communities, the two areas have significant overlap both in the objectives of investigators as well as in the methods and techniques that are used in the investigation.
The Context of Learning Analytics
(This section is adapted from the CC-By-SA  on the EdFutures.net wiki)
In “The State of Learning Analytics in 2012: A Review and Future Challenges” Rebecca Ferguson  tracks the progress of analytics for learning as a development through:
- The increasing interest in 'big data' for business intelligence
- The rise of online education focussed around Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), Content Management Systems (CMSs), and Management Information Systems (MIS) for education, which saw an increase in digital data regarding student background (often held in the MIS) and learning log data (from VLEs). This development afforded the opportunity to apply 'business intelligence' techniques to educational data
- Questions regarding the optimisation of systems to support learning particularly given the question regarding how we can know whether a student is engaged/understanding if we can’t see them?
- Increasing focus on evidencing progress and professional standards for accountability systems
- This focus led to a teacher stakehold in the analytics - given that they are associated with accountability systems
- Thus an increasing emphasis was placed on the pedagogic affordances of learning analytics
- This pressure is increased by the economic desire to improve engagement in online education for the deliverance of high quality - affordable - education.
History of The Techniques and Methods of Learning Analytics
In a discussion of the history of analytics, Cooper  highlights a number of communities from which learning analytics draws techniques, including:
- Statistics - which are a well established means to address hypothesis testing
- Business Intelligence - which has similarities with learning analytics, although it has historically been targeted at making the production of reports more efficient through enabling data access and summarising performance indicators.
- Web analytics - tools such as Google analytics report on web page visits and references to websites, brands and other keyterms across the internet. The more 'fine grain' of these techniques can be adopted in learning analytics for the exploration of student trajectories through learning resources (courses, materials, etc.).
- Operational research - aims at highlighting design optimisation for maximising objectives through the use of mathematical models and statistical methods. Such techniques are implicated in learning analytics which seek to create models of real world behaviour for practical application.
- Artificial intelligence and Data mining - Machine learning techniques built on data mining and AI methods are capable of detecting patterns in data. In learning analytics such techniques can be used for intelligent tutoring systems, classification of students in more dynamic ways than simple demographic factors, and resources such as 'suggested course' systems modelled on collaborative filtering techniques.
- Social Network Analysis - SNA analyses relationships between people by exploring implicit (e.g. interactions on forums) and explicit (e.g. 'friends' or 'followers') ties online and offline. SNA developed from the work of sociologists like Wellman and Watts, and mathematicians like Barabasi and Strogatz. The work of these individuals has provided us with a good sense of the patterns that networks exhibit (small world, power laws), the attributes of connections (in early 70's, Granovetter explored connections from a perspective of tie strength and impact on new information), and the social dimensions of networks (for example, geography still matters in a digital networked world). It is particularly used to explore clusters of networks, influence networks, engagement and disengagement, and has been deployed for these purposes in learning analytic contexts.
- Information visualization - visualisation is an important step in many analytics for sensemaking around the data provided - it is thus used across most techniques (including those above). "Popular appreciation of information visualisation is being shaped by the work of “data journalists” such as David McCandless and by common use of “info-graphics” in the news media. The earliest use of statistical graphics is generally attributed to William Playfair (1786) but it was probably the influential statistician John Tukey who first guided us to a more powerful use of visualisation in his book “Exploratory Data Analysis” in 1977 . Tukey emphasised the value of using visualisations to help in hypothesis forming prior to formal hypothesis testing. The most influential figure behind current practice is probably Edward Tufte, author of the classic book “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” in 1983." 
Methods for learning analytics include:
- Discourse Analytics Discourse analytics aims to capture meaningful data on student interactions which (unlike 'social network analytics') aims to explore the properties of the language used, as opposed to just the network of interactions, or forum-post counts, etc.
- Social Learning Analytics  which is aimed at exploring the role of social interaction in learning, the importance of learning networks, discourse used to sensemake, etc.
- Disposition Analytics  which seeks to capture data regarding student's dispositions to their own learning, and the relationship of these to their learning. For example, "curious" learners may be more inclined to ask questions - and this data can be captured and analysed for learning analytics.
- Impact of interaction
- Information visualization, typically in the form of so-called learning dashboards
Much of the software that is currently used for learning analytics duplicates functionality of web analytics software, but applies it to learner interactions with content. Social network analysis tools are commonly used to map social connections and discussions (see Social network analysis software). Some examples of learning analytics software tools:
- SNAPP - a learning analytics tool that visualizes the network of interactions resulting from discussion forum posts and replies.
- LOCO-Analyst - a context-aware learning tool for analytics of learning processes taking place in a web-based learning environment
- SAM - a Student Activity Monitor intended for Personal Learning Environments
- BEESTAR INSIGHT - a real-time system that automatically collects student engagement and attendance & provides analytics tools and dashboards for students, teachers & management
The ethics of data collection, analytics, reporting and accountability has been raised as a potential concern for Learning Analytics (e.g.), with concerns raised regarding:
- Data ownership
- Communications around the scope and role of Learning Analytics
- The necessary role of human feedback and error-correction in Learning Analytics systems
- Data sharing between systems, organisations, and stakeholders
As Kay, Kom and Oppenheim point out, the range of data is wide, potentially derived from: "*Recorded activity; student records, attendance, assignments, researcher information (CRIS).
- Systems interactions; VLE, library / repository search, card transactions.
- Feedback mechanisms; surveys, customer care.
- External systems that offer reliable identification such as sector and shared services and social networks." 
Thus the legal and ethical situation will be complex, raising implications for: "*Variety of data - principles for collection, retention and exploitation.
- Education mission - underlying issues of learning management, including social and performance engineering.
- Motivation for development of analytics – mutuality, a combination of corporate, individual and general good.
- Customer expectation – effective business practice, social data expectations, cultural considerations of a global customer base. *Obligation to act – duty of care arising from knowledge and the consequent challenges of student and employee performance management." 
- Academic analytics
- Educational data mining
- Odds algorithm
- Pattern recognition
- Predictive analytics
- Text analytics
- Call for Papers of the 1st International Conference on Learning Analytics & Knowledge (LAK 2011)
- ELI, Seven Things You Should Know About First Generation Learning Analytics. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Briefing, 2011. http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/7-things-you-should-know-about-first-generation-learning-analytics
- Long, P. and Siemens, G., Penetrating the fog: analytics in learning and education. Educause Review Online, 46, 5, (2011), 31-40. http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/penetrating-fog-analytics-learning-and-education
- Buckingham Shum, Simon. “Learning Analytics Policy Brief.” UNESCO, 2012. http://iite.unesco.org/pics/publications/en/files/3214711.pdf
- Siemens, George. “What Are Learning Analytics?” Elearnspace, August 25, 2010. http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2010/08/25/what-are-learning-analytics/
- George Siemens in the Learning Analytics Google Group discussion, August 2010
- Mike Sharkey - Director of Academic Analytics, University of Phoenix, in the Learning Analytics Google Group discussion, August 2010
- Powell, Stephen, and Shiela MacNeil. Instituitional Readiness for Analytics A Briefing Paper. CETIS Analytics Series. JISC CETIS, December 2012. http://publications.cetis.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Institutional-Readiness-for-Analytics-Vol1-No8.pdf.
- G. Siemens, D. Gasevic, C. Haythornthwaite, S. Dawson, S. B. Shum, R. Ferguson, E. Duval, K. Verbert, and R. S. J. D. Baker. Open Learning Analytics: an integrated & modularized platform. 2011.
- P. Baepler and C. J. Murdoch. Academic Analytics and Data Mining in Higher Education. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 4(2), 2010.
- C. Brooks. A Data-Assisted Approach to Supporting Instructional Interventions in Technology Enhanced Learning Environments. PhD Dissertation. University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada 2012.
- Ferguson, Rebecca. The State of Learning Analytics in 2012: A Review and Future Challenges. Technical Report. Knowledge Media Institute: The Open University, UK, 2012. http://kmi.open.ac.uk/publications/pdf/kmi-12-01.pdf
- Cooper, Adam. A Brief History of Analytics A Briefing Paper. CETIS Analytics Series. JISC CETIS, November 2012. http://publications.cetis.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Analytics-Brief-History-Vol-1-No9.pdf.
- Buckingham Shum, S. and Ferguson, R., Social Learning Analytics. Educational Technology & Society (Special Issue on Learning & Knowledge Analytics, Eds. G. Siemens & D. Gašević), 15, 3, (2012), 3-26. http://www.ifets.info Open Access Eprint: http://oro.open.ac.uk/34092
- Brown, M., Learning Analytics: Moving from Concept to Practice. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Briefing, 2012. http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/learning-analytics-moving-concept-practice
- Buckingham Shum, S. and Deakin Crick, R., Learning Dispositions and Transferable Competencies: Pedagogy, Modelling and Learning Analytics. In: Proc. 2nd International Conference on Learning Analytics & Knowledge (Vancouver, 29 Apr-2 May 2012). ACM: New York. pp.92-101. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2330601.2330629 Eprint: http://oro.open.ac.uk/32823
- Siemens, G. “Learning Analytics: Envisioning a Research Discipline and a Domain of Practice.” In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge, 4–8, 2012. http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2330605.
- Kay, David, Naomi Kom, and Charles Oppenheim. Legal, Risk and Ethical Aspects of Analytics in Higher Education. Analytics Series. Accessed January 3, 2013. 
- UNESCO "Learning Analytics Policy Brief" (2012) 
- Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR) - a research network for learning analytics
- US Department of Education report on Learning Analytics. 2012
- Learning Analytics Google Group with discussions from researchers and individuals interested in the topic.
- International Conference Learning Analytics & Knowledge
- Next Gen Learning definition
- Microsoft Education Analytics with information on how to use data to support improved educational outcomes.
- Educational Data mining
- Educause resources on learning analytics
- Learning analytics infographic