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Visualising student journeys

Project leader(s): 
David Morse and David King

The flexibility of OU study means that students follow a variety of pathways though qualifications,  for reasons that include:

  • simultaneous or near-simultaneous study of two or more modules, and/or
  • sequential study of modules,
  • from a selection of modules that can be studied in any (or with few restrictions on) study order,
  • with, or without, study breaks.

Since students can take so many different routes through each qualification, understanding and modelling the student journey and hence forecasting student numbers is extremely difficult.

The project aims to support these and other student-focused activities by investigating the feasibility and utility of developing visual representations (i.e. data visualisations) of student journeys through qualifications. It will include an analysis of student success so that common pathways can be identified and linked to student achievement. The outcomes of the project will include an improved understanding of the student journey, more accurate student number forecasting and better information, advice and guidance provided to students on module and qualification choice.

Work has been done previously on visualising the student journey using, for example, network diagrams (Raji et al. 2017) and Sankey diagrams (Gray & Perkins 2018). However, these visualisations have been developed for students studying in the full-time sector, so assume full-time, not part-time study; operate typically at the semester or year, rather than module level; don’t allow for study breaks, nor do they allow for variable study intensity. This project will build on current work at the Open University, (Edwards, 2017) and elsewhere in developing and evaluating visualisations of the student journey that are suitable for OU students and their unique study patterns.


Edwards, C, (2017) Understanding student experience in the age of personalised study.   In: ALT Online Winter Conference 2017, 12-13 Dec 2017. Available from (checked March 2019)

Gray, C.C, and Perkins, D. (2018) Visualising the University Degree Journey available from (checked February 2019)

Raji, M., , Duggan, J., , DeCotes, B., Huang, J., and Zanden, B.V. (2017) Visual Progression Analysis of Student Records Data available from