I recently revisited an article that I read a few years ago by John S. Brown and Richard P. Adler entitled Minds on Fire. This is one of my favorite inspirational pieces to read because it effectively reignites my excitement for online learning every time I read it. This time around, I decided to re-read it while working with a client on one of her new online courses. What jumped out at me this time around was how similar some of these concepts were to features that are built into the Amazon.com model.
As online course creators, I think we can learn much by taking a closer look at a few of Amazon’s features. I have outlined these “Amazonisms” below and recommended a few tools that could be used to implement such a strategy. By the way, I am in no way affiliated with these companies. If at any point I begin to use affiliate links, I will let you know so that I can be fully transparent.
Create an Open Culture of Sharing
While a traditional classroom environment focuses on transferring knowledge from teacher to student, a web context encourages and allows for easier interaction and discussion between the participants. As entrepreneurs who are teaching or providing training for adult learners, it is even more vital that we give them opportunities to share their experiences and knowledge with each other. We can see this open culture of sharing and discussion on Amazon.
Amazon allows open debate about the quality of the products, as well as the sellers. They do not stifle communication, and as a result, customers often choose products based on reviews from other customers. The implication, then, is that online learning environments need to be designed with communication and learner interaction in mind. Communication should not be stifled for fear of exchange of negative information, but it should be encouraged as a vehicle for learning.
Communication Tools for Online Courses
- Facebook Group – This is a popular option. Many online courses include access to a closed Facebook group in which all participants can share their experiences or ask questions.
- Facebook Comment Plugin – If you would rather keep all Facebook comments within your own self-hosted page, for example on a WordPress page, you can install a Facebook Comments plugin that allows participants to engage in discussion without having to leave your page to go to Facebook. This feature comes with the option to also add the post to the commenter’s facebook page.
- Disqus – This is another popular option for adding discussion areas to your online course.
- BuddyPress – If you want to go beyond a simple discussion area and add a complete forum or online community, BuddyPress is a good option.
Track and Use Data to Improve Customer Experience
Although traditional learning environments may try to track student activity, this is often difficult to capture and may not be used to make improvements in the environment. In the online environment, however, tracking is inherent. Perhaps it’s my Computer Science background speaking, but I would even go as far as to say that this is the biggest benefit of an online course.
Amazon tracks a variety of things – such as product ratings and purchase history. Both of these allow the customer to have a value added and for the system to improve itself. Based on the data collected, Amazon can also make recommendations based on the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” feature.
What could learning environment designers learn from this? Well, many Learning Management System (LMS) environments already track various types of data – but you will need to do some research as you are considering which platform to use for delivering your online course. Consider these elements of tracking and data collection:
- How often people are logging in
- How long they spend on each activity
- How active each person is in the discussion area
- How many lessons have been marked complete
And even beyond this, data could be better leveraged to provide feedback to improve the environment itself. For example, if a participant has spent 3 weeks on lesson 1 when it normally takes a few days to complete, can the system automate an email with additional resources to help them along? Or how about if a student responds to many posts in the discussion forum, can they get a “badge”, or some sort of reward? When all lessons have been marked complete, can a certificate be issued and posted to social media?
Data Collection Tools for Online Courses
- LifterLMS, LearnDash, and WP Courseware – These are a few LMSs that support certificates and badging.
- WooCommerce – Many hosted solutions such as Teachable and Udemy have ratings and course reviews built-in, but if you are hosting your own course, plugins such as WooCommerce Product Review Pro also have advanced ratings and review features.
These options not only create more dynamic learning environments but have also been known to increase course sales.