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Scale up predictive models for early detection of at-risk students: a feasibility study

Ying Cui (Department of Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)
Fu Chen (Department of Educational Psychology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)
Ali Shiri (Department of Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada)

Information and Learning Sciences

ISSN: 2398-5348

Article publication date: 8 February 2020




This study aims to investigate the feasibility of developing general predictive models for using the learning management system (LMS) data to predict student performances in various courses. The authors focused on examining three practical but important questions: are there a common set of student activity variables that predict student performance in different courses? Which machine-learning classifiers tend to perform consistently well across different courses? Can the authors develop a general model for use in multiple courses to predict student performance based on LMS data?


Three mandatory undergraduate courses with large class sizes were selected from three different faculties at a large Western Canadian University, namely, faculties of science, engineering and education. Course-specific models for these three courses were built and compared using data from two semesters, one for model building and the other for generalizability testing.


The investigation has led the authors to conclude that it is not desirable to develop a general model in predicting course failure across variable courses. However, for the science course, the predictive model, which was built on data from one semester, was able to identify about 70% of students who failed the course and 70% of students who passed the course in another semester with only LMS data extracted from the first four weeks.


The results of this study are promising as they show the usability of LMS for early prediction of student course failure, which has the potential to provide students with timely feedback and support in higher education institutions.



Funding: This research was supported by the University of Alberta Teaching and Learning Research Fund (RES0035131).


Cui, Y., Chen, F. and Shiri, A. (2020), "Scale up predictive models for early detection of at-risk students: a feasibility study", Information and Learning Sciences, Vol. 121 No. 3/4, pp. 97-116.



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