Data Management and Alerts in Online Education Systems

As an instructor I have worked with two learning management systems, Moodle and Canvas, delivering content and grades to a maximum of 20 students at a time. While I have my preferences, there are two problems common to both: the management of massive amounts of data generated and a faulty implementation of alerts.

Management of Data

While all of my classes have been face-to-face, there are still online activities that generate a massive amount of data: messages, homework assignments, grades, pages, and discussions. Not to mention the scale of management problems that occur the more classes taught.

In a training class for teaching entirely online, I was floored by the amount of data generated in order to meet the accreditation requirements. All of the normal in-class activities were being replaced with digital alternatives all resulting in a lot of poorly searchable and unlikely archivable data.

Forums were the popular means of organizing discussions and content and as an instructor I felt overwhelmed. I could not imagine how the students might have felt. I constantly asked myself: How in the world am I supposed to manage this? How is education supposed to scale? Do I trust the system to manage this for me?

I felt paranoid that I was going to miss something. Which brings me to the problem with alerts.


From my experience there are three approaches to alerts:

  1. Funnel everything into one spot, Facebook-style;
  2. Generate a worthless daily digest email;
  3. Only alert when a message has been sent, but report no other activity.

All three of the options listed above are worthless. The first is spraying me with a firehose. I could potentially have 60+ alerts in one day, spread across multiple students and classes. The second is addressing this issue by letting you know daily the activity that occurred with links to view said activity. The final does not provide any peace of mind for the instructor or student.

What if the solution to the alerts is the ability to create people-centric alerts? For example, defining the common activities per student and letting instructors know that new activity has occurred in each activity through alert buckets.

I would personally love that alert system.

Online Education Is Big Business

Online education is a huge growth industry with new training sites popping up daily. It is my belief that the system that addresses data management and alerts will be the front-runners of transforming online education.

What do you think?