Analysis of students’ behaviour through user clustering in online learning settings, based on Self Organizing Maps neural networks

An accurate analysis of user behaviour in online learning environments is a useful means of early follow up of students, so that they can be better supported to improve their performance and achieve the expected competences. However, that task becomes challenging due to the massive data that learning management systems store and categorise. With the COVID-19 pandemic still on-going, face-to-face learning settings have migrate into online and blended ones, meaning an increase of online students and teachers in need for a tailored and effective support to their needs. A novel unsupervised clustering technique based on the Self-Organizing Map (SOM) artificial neural network model is used in this research to analyse 1,709,189 records of online students enrolled from 2015 to 2019 at Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (UNIR), a fully online Higher Education institution. SOM performs a precise and diverse user clustering based on those records. Results highlight that specific clusters are linked to the intake average profile at the university, with a clear relation between user interaction and a higher performance. Further, results show that, out of a targeted desk research compared to the analysis in this paper, face-to-face and online settings are connected through the methodological approach beyond the technology-based environment, which presents a similar behaviour in both contexts.

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