Sunday, April 18, 2010

If you build it they won't come...

Tier 3, Row P, Seat 22Image via Wikipedia
The day of just putting some content up on the web and expecting people to consume it in any significant numbers is over. I was reminded of this recently when dealing with some concern over an informal online course that had no takers. A little over a year ago I wrote the following email to the course creators in response to their query over what I thought of the course:
Dear {name redacted},

Good questions. I'll try not to ramble. :)

I find most online courses sort of boring. I remember asking when we first met back in May how many of you had taken an online course. They are really hard to do well. That said, as far as online courses go this one is certainly better than most. The best? Not sure I've seen one that I would call the best-- one that really caught my attention as being very innovative and engaging.

That said, here's what will most likely make the course a winner. It has almost nothing to do with the content and everything to do with what social interactions we engineer around the course materials. When we met in Washington there was some discussion about an online portion of {project name redacted} and they talked about some single digit (%) completion numbers. That's not atypical. It was also mentioned that one of the primary benefits that participants got from {project name redacted} was the opportunity to meet and converse with people in similar situations to theirs. The {project name redacted} course materials became a social object around which people gathered. The course became the excuse for the gathering.

Moodle has all sorts of provisions to allow course participants to interact: forums, wikis, chatting... I haven't heard a lot of discussion around what activities will take place as people take the course. What opportunities will people have to interact with other learners, with the instructors, with other {redacted}, or guests?

I read this Chris Brogan blog post this morning and it seemed relevant: The Goal is the Interaction. Here's a quote if you don't want to read the whole thing.

..."which face are you showing through your online presence? Are you the live and participatory, the sharing and thoughtful, or are you a one way street?"

Now that the social object (the course) is nearing completion it seems that the next level of conversation needs to be around how that object will be used to better foster engagement.

My $.02.

Of course, the engagement never happened with this course. The days of "if you build it they will come" ended with Field of Dreams (1989). If you're too busy to spend time engaging with the learners who might find your content of interest, then you shouldn't waste your time doing the content in the first place.

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llippke said...

There was actually some good intent when this course was created. It contains 7 forum activities. Unfortunately, they were never used.

Andy said...

Agreed. My friend Mani Karthik ( said once "Set up twitter, youtube, Facebook and wait for the magic.... FAIL."

There is no magic. It takes work and outreach to engage in conversations and expand your network to draw in people.

Good post Kevin.