Friday, 6 August 2010

Target Your Audience

I was in a fascinating conversation yesterday with the group marketing manager for one of my clients. We were talking about the design of web pages.

He was outlining how they were monitoring web traffic so that sales could target specific clients with specific information. For example, imagine I'm trying to sell you Moodle services. I want to target you with information on how I can help your school. So I create a web page with links to examples on using Moodle for teaching different subject areas. You click on the links to see what I'm offering. As a supplier, once I know which subject areas seem to interest you, I could target my sales pitch accordingly.

For instance, I've included an image of a 3D representation of a molecule that's taken your interest and you've clicked on it. Are you interested in multimedia? We can create another page containing more information on including multimedia content in Moodle. In subsequent interactions we can find out if it is actually science you are interested in by monitoring what pages you have visited, what links you have clicked on, even how long you have spent on a particular page.

Of course, why not just ask the question "are you interested in teaching science with Moodle?" Well, there are a number of problems with this approach. For instance, I might inadvertantly offend cultural sensibilities - especially when dealing with a worldwide audience. I might come across as being too blunt in my approach (it's easy for your motives to be misunderstood at the best of times but seemingly more so when the interaction is online). More importantly from a sales point of view, however, is that our potential client who's being asked that question might not actually be aware that they are interested in teaching science with Moodle. In other words: if you were that potential client then you might well be interested in the tools to teach science with Moodle... you just didn't realise it yet.

For example, I'm a theology instructor (which I'm not - I was just trying to think of a discipline that wasn't science but it probably isn't a good example) teaching about evolution: I dim the lights slightly and use the Moodle Jmol plugin to display a large, slowly revolving 3D representation of a water molecule on the interactive whiteboard. Then I start to teach...

"What is truely remarkable about that molecule on the board is that the angle between the hydrogen atoms is exactly 104.5 degrees. That means that when water molecules join together they form a solid (ice) that is less dense than the liquid. This means that if water freezes then it doesn't sink: it floats. If ice sank then everything living under it would die. Do you think the water molecule looks like that by chance [I point back to the large, slowly revolving water molecule on the board] or by design?"

See what I mean?

If you and I were trying to sell Moodle services then you can see how this approach to designing and managing our online presence is going to be far more successful than just putting up a few web pages telling our site visitors how great Moodle is and then crossing our fingers.

To discuss the care with which this particular client studies, and follows up, the interactions that take place between their online presence and their (potential and current) clients was extremely informative (in all honesty, it's probably that level of attention to detail and presence of thought that might help explain why they lead the world in what they do).

Are you a teacher running an online course in Moodle? If so check out the Reports link in your course administration block.

In exactly the same way my marketing colleagues would want to drill down to see how clients interact with the online collateral and target their sales pitch accordingly, you too can see how your pupils are interacting with your teaching materials and provide just the right kind of support and guidance.

Stick with me a few moments more because another fascinating point came out of this discussion: I was thinking about @Moodleman Julian Ridden mentioning in the excellent Moodle Mayhem podcasts (here) about tackling a teaching colleague on having lots of animated GIF images in her Moodle course (if you haven't heard those podcasts then you really must: there are two and they're excellent).

In fact what the guys in marketing have also been investigating is how their clients interact with static images and animations on web pages. For instance, they've found that if you have a static image of a book, clients are far less likely to click on that than if the icon was animated - e.g. the pages of the book start to flick open by themselves. They've also been looking at delaying the animation, e.g. for a second and a half or two seconds after the page has loaded, before the book flicks open. Then users are much more likely to click on the book.

Can we likewise take our students on a particular journey through our courses by the clever use of "visual cues"? Would we want to?

Do we, by using visual or audio cues, inadvertantly take our learners to specific resources without realising it? This is just one of the questions that has come out of the work of Dr Richard Clark (learn more here).

Have you tried investigating how your students interact with your courses using the Reports function in Moodle? Have you tried using visual cues to guide your students through a Moodle course? If you have then I'm interested to hear your experiences.

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