What’s Your Social Media Strategy?

These days you can’t visit a website without seeing the icons for Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, and the like. So many channels, so little time. How do we manage all the information coming at us? How can we use social media in meaningful ways?

Identify your Social Media Strategy by considering the following questions:

  1. Which information is most important to you?
  2. How can you most efficiently obtain information you want?
  3. At what level will you contribute?

#1 – Which information is most important to you?

This question helps you answer which type(s) of social media you may want to use.

  • FaceBook: A catch all for anything and everything. A kind of social media playground.
  • GooglePlus – like Facebook, but generally less noisy
  • LinkedIn: Professionally focused; your career network.
  • Twitter: on the fly updates, like a newsfeed ticker; can be used personally or professionally
  • Etc…

Next, you need to ask yourself a fundamental question: Why do you spend time on one or more of these social networks?

  • Are you just bored and curious about what’s on going in the world?
  • Do you want to keep up with friends?
  • Are you hoping for useful bits of information?
  • Are you looking to connect with people who are interested in the same things you are?

Most people get on social media because they like the idea of being in the loop, and connecting with others who have similar interests. Social media is supposed to help us be 1) more informed and 2) more connected to the people and things we care about. Unfortunately, it often falls short.

#2 – How can you most efficiently obtain information you want? 

Most folks don’t take the time to strategically consider this question. They just join a few social media networks and hope for the best. Then they find they aren’t finding the information they want and feel frustrated. So, let’s take a look how social networks can be used more efficiently.

You Just Want to Browse

You are:

  • Bored and curious about what’s going on in the world.
  • Want to keep up with friends.

You can spend all day trying to “keep up” with social media feeds. If you are attempting to “keep up,” how much time are you will to invest? 10 minutes every morning? 20 minutes at lunch?

Some key strategies for using social media to stay in the loop:

  • Generally limit the amount of time you spend scrolling through the main (aggregate) social media feeds.
  • On Facebook: Visit friends’ individual FaceBook pages. Main social media feeds are messy and you may miss important updates anyway.
  • Notifications: How much time are you spending following notifications? Is it worth it? Consider turning them off.

Be Efficient:
Directly Access the People you Care About

Limit Time Spent

You Want a More Narrow Focus 

You want:

  1. Useful bits of information.
  2. Connections to people that are interested in the same things.

How much information on FaceBook is actually useful to you? What about on LinkedIn? Some key strategies for increasing the usefulness of your networks:

  • On LinkedIn: Connect with professionals who are interested in the same things you are and who actively contribute to the network. You will then find more interesting and relevant articles/updates in your feed.
  • On FaceBook: Join specific groups that are likely to share the information you are interested in, i.e. community groups, school groups, hobby groups, etc. Visit these group pages directly and skip the general FaceBook feed.

Be Efficient:
Skip “Main” Feeds
Purposefully Grow Your Network to Include Like-Minded People
Join Groups

#3 – At what level will you contribute?

Contributions are what make a social media network worth using. If no one contributed to the conversation, there would be nothing to follow. If you join a social network, you should actively contribute in some way.

Examples:

  • On FaceBook: Will you just follow the posts of others or contribute posts of your own?
  • On LinkedIn: Will you just read articles or write and share some articles as well?

Social Media and Online Learning

It is also important for online course designers to develop a social media strategy. By enrolling in an online course, online learners are essentially participating in their own private social media network with classmates.

It is helpful to consider the same key questions:

  • How will you help learners find information that is most important to them? Information must be logically organized so learners can easily identify topics and ideas of interest. In addition, larger classes will benefit from the creation of groups.
  • How will learners with limited time efficiently obtain important information?
    Ask learners share on more focused topics so that they discuss what is most important.
  • At what level should learners be asked to contribute?
    Studies have shown that learners who actively contribute (demonstrate what they’ve learned), learn the most. Are you asking your learners to actively and frequently participate in online learning activities?

Social media’s usefulness is largely determined by how you approach it – use it purposefully and your network can have great value.

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Learn Online & Bust a Move

Get_Up_And_Get_Moving

This is an important revelation for online learners – read carefully now – you don’t have to sit in front of your computer in order to get your work done! “What?” you think, “How is that possible??” Keep reading, it’s definitely possible. Don’t sacrifice your health and well being while you are learning online.

Below are some tips on how to stay physically active while learning online:

  1. For beginners: Use a text-to-speech program (program that reads on screen text aloud)
  2. For the serious and committed: Invest in a fitness desk (a desk that allows you to exercise -walk or bike – while you are working)

Beginning to Get Movin’

“But, I have so many articles to read,” you say, “I just can’t get up from my desk!” Yes, you can! If you have a smartphone or tablet, it’s quite easy. Even with a less portable technology like a laptop or a FULL desktop computer, you, too, can get moving!

First things first, you need to have the right equipment, namely:

  1. Technological device of your choosing – smartphone, tablet, computer
  2. Text-to-Speech program (reads on screen text aloud)

Text_To_Speech

“Wait, a second,” you say, “Text to speech? I don’t want to listen to a voice that sounds like a robot!! That won’t work for me.” Text-to speech programs have come a LONG way in the last decade and especially in the last few years. You used to have to pay a premium for pleasant sounding voices. Today, quality voices (easy on the ears) are automatically included with low cost text-to-speech programs.

“Low cost?” you ask, “How much money are we talking here?”
My favorite text-to-speech program is only $10!! It has all the features I want. This program reads web articles if I provide the link. It reads the documents I upload to my Dropdrox. I can highlight and tag the text I want to archive. And what is the name of this fabulous program?

VoiceDream, iPhone, $10

VoiceDream

There certainly are a variety of text-to-speech programs out there. I invite you to explore what’s available for your specific tech device and operating system.

When do I use VoiceDream, my preferred text-to-speech program? While I’m doing household chores that don’t require much concentration (laundry, dishes, you get the idea). While I’m walking the dog. In commute. There are so many uses for text-to-speech. It truly allows you to “learn on the go.”

If you do have a desktop computer, you can crank up the volume and do some stretches and calisthenics near your desk. While you are listening instead of reading, you are free to get up from your chair. A smartphone just gives you greater reach — grab your phone, a pair of headphones, and your dog. You are ready to hit the streets while getting a little studying done as well 🙂

Breaking a Sweat (for the Committed and Ambitious)

“Well, that’s great,” you think, “but I feel like I need my keyboard in order to be productive.” Again, you do have options with a bit of creative forethought and planning.

A colleague told me about this idea and I love it — the Treadmill Desk. Work at your computer while walking on your treadmill. If you already have a treadmill, you can rig up a board across it and, voila, you have a place to set your computer.

fitness_desk_treadmillfitness_desk_bike

The basics on how to get started:

  1. Figure out how to turn your treadmill (or other piece of fitness equipment) into a desk. You can also buy a treadmill desk from a retailer. Here are a couple of good resources:

How to Quickly and Easily Build a Treadmill Desk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vx0b75E5j50

The Best Treadmills Desks (Consumer Reports): http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2013/11/best-treadmill-desks/index.htm

  1. Place computer on top of fitness desk.
  2. Start walking at a very low setting. (probably the very lowest setting – be safe!)
  3. Get comfortable. At first, just try walking and reading. Then see if you can manage some clicks.
  4. Try Some Typing. Once you’re comfortable, you can try typing while you’re exercising. It sounds like it might be difficult, but with training, you’ll find it’s pretty easy.

CAVEAT: Just remember to stop when you begin feeling fatigued. That’s when an accident is most likely to happen.

Keep these tips in mind and online learning will not deteriorate your fitness level. In fact, you will probably find those dog walks a lot more interesting. And if you invest in a fitness desk, you’ll likely find yourself feeling invigorated and even more ready to tackle your online coursework.

Let’s Face It, Extroverts Love Online Learning Too

Introverts_Extroverts_Shake_Hands

When I mention that I work in online learning, I often hear a response like, “Oh yes, online, that must be great for introverted learners.” And I always feel a little surprised. I’d never thought that online courses were better for introverts. Do you know why?

Because I am extroverted and I love online learning!
Here are some reasons why extroverts may prefer online courses:

  • You don’t have to wait your turn. That’s right, you can wax verbose and post lengthy responses to your classmates anytime! If you have something to say, you can say it. And you can say it without anyone telling you to sit down. (Now there are those tricky instructors who might limit the post count or word count, but most don’t.)
  • You can have one-on one conversations with LOTS of people. You can read a multitude of posts and contribute to many conversations on varying topics. In the physical classroom, you are limited by the constraints of time and even your placement in the room. The person you may have wanted to share ideas with could be on the opposite side of the room; when learning online, that person becomes easily accessible anytime.
  • You can be MANY PLACES at once. This is an extroverts dream! Extroverts are prone to try and create as many connections to others as possible — through different social media, group projects, discussion boards, etc. Online options give them the opportunity to virtually “be” in more places at once.

Personality theory states that extroverts are energized by the external world (i.e. talking with people) and introverts are energized by their own internal worlds (i.e. privately reflecting on their thoughts).

Introvert: Think, Think, Think, Do, Think
Extrovert: Do, Do, Do, Think, Do

Isn’t an online course about both things – doing and thinking? Aren’t we both talking to people through various technologies AND reflecting on our thoughts?

So, I never assume an introverted personality type has led someone to sign up for an online course. I typically think it’s the people who want to have more control over their learning experiences. The ones who are hoping to be more strategic in their class participation. The ones who are looking to thoughtfully connect with folks who are interested in the same things they are.

What about the more introverted types? Do they prefer online courses as well? They also enjoy these commonly cited benefits of online learning:

  • More time to process your thoughts. You don’t have to come up with a snappy answer in front of the class. You can write and revise (or record and revise) as you see fit.
  • Less “small talk.” Conversation is centered on topics on interest.
  • You participate when you’re ready. You determine when you work on your online course. You are not tied to a specific schedule.

I also consider myself an introvert at times and like learning online for these reasons as well. It’s nice to be able to sit back and reflect on a topic of interest for a period of time. That’s why I enjoy writing these blog posts.

I don’t think we can say a certain personality type has a stronger preference for online learning. The introverted vs. extroverted distinction is only so helpful anyway because people often switch between these modes of behavior, depending on the situation.

What do you think? Do you think someone’s personality determines his or her preference for online learning?

It could be a factor. But no matter how you look at it, both extroverts and introverts will see some advantages to learning online.

Choosing Online Tools (A Lot Like Buying a Car?)

Often, online course designers have their heart set on using a particular technology tool, e.g. web meetings, whiteboarding, online journaling, simulations, etc. This may be because an individual is already comfortable with a specific tool OR attended a demo where the tool looked really useful or cool. However, a fantastic demo or past experience can falsely lead someone into believing a technology tool is the best choice.

So, how do you decide on the most appropriate technology for your online course?
It’s actually a lot like buying a car. Both activities benefit from a logical decision making process.
Let’s compare these two processes:

Buying_A_CarBuying a Car 

  1. Shop around
  2. Go for test drives
  3. Consider alternatives
  4. Purchase
  5. Go forth boldly with courage! (despite obstacles)

As compared to:

Selecting_Technology_ChecklistSelecting Technology for an Online Course

  1. Shop around
  2. Use the tool in real situations (practice!)
  3. Consider alternatives (more practice!)
  4. Commit
  5. Go forth boldly with courage! (despite obstacles)

This five step process helps course designers select the most appropriate technology tool(s) for an online course.

Step 1 – Shop Around

There’s no point in getting tied to a technology solution before you’ve considered a variety of options. Research is critical to any decision making process. What are the pros/cons of the various technology options that may work for your course?

Consider the following example:
Web meetings can be useful, but will your learners always be available at specific times? Have you considered other interactive discussion tools without time constraints? Would they also meet your needs?

Step 2 – Use the Tool in Real Situations & Practice!

Test_DriveStep Two is often overlooked when selecting a technology tool. Folks may think because they attended a web demo of the tool, they have enough information to move forward. This is not necessarily true. When buying a car, the test drive portion is critical. You may think you love the car, but then you get in and your legs are cramped and there’s no place for your coffee cup.  Similarly, you also need to test drive your technology tool – ask for the trial version and actually try teaching a short lesson with the tool.

What questions do you have after use? With practice, do you feel like you will be able to use the tool effectively?

Step 3 – Consider Alternatives & Keeping Practicing!

Continue learning about and practicing with a variety of technology tools. You may reaffirm your “gut” technology selection or find a better solution. Considering alternatives is always valuable because you are 1) reaffirming that you have selected the best available tool and 2) getting additional practice with available tools.

Step 4 – Commit

Decide_Commit_SucceedStep Four seems obvious – Commit. However, some folks don’t like to close the door on potential technology options for their online course. Commitment is not closing the door forever. It is saying: for this version of the course, I will use this technology until I re-evaluate technology options in the future. It takes time and energy to learn technology tools and get them properly set up. Therefore, once you commit, stay focused on using that tool as effectively as possible:

  • Learn everything you can about that tool.
  • Include easy-to-follow instructions on using the tool for your learners.
  • Document troubleshooting steps to make using the tool easier.

Step 5 – Go Boldly Forth With Courage!

The final step, “go forth boldly with courage,” is the attitude that one must maintain while instructing with their selected technology tool. You should consider yourself “all in” at this point. And you might think – with all the planning and practice you put into selecting the tool – that things will go almost perfectly. But, it won’t. There will be hiccups with the tool and something will happen that you didn’t plan for.

Stay focused on doing what is best for your learners when there are problems:

  • Send out clarification instructions.
  • Develop a workaround for learners.
  • Be empathetic but frank about the fact that technology doesn’t always work perfectly.

ForgiveWe need to cultivate learning cultures that accept that technology doesn’t always work perfectly. In your online course, encourage a culture that forgives technology mishaps – they happen. With this culture of forgiveness in place, learners will be less afraid of technology and more willing to experiment and do great things.

When everyone relaxes their technology expectations a bit, the chosen technology is recognized for what is — only one part of the learning culture. Technology alone does not determine culture. The people and processes put in place around a chosen technology determine how the technology is used, and ultimately, how others react to it.

Technology_Processes_People

It’s All About Design (And A Little Magic)

Ever taken an online course that met all of your needs and more? The colors didn’t make you cringe, you could find what you needed, and you didn’t dread the activities you were asked to complete. You thought to yourself, “Wow, that course was very well-designed!” You wished there was a “thumbs up” icon by the course title that you could click.

The course you took likely utilized excellent design in several, if not ALL, of the following areas:

• Interface Design
• Assessment Design
• Learning Object Design
• Technology & Multi-Media Design
• Learning Activity Design

Each of these design areas impact how learners will perceive an online course.

Design_Building_Blocks_3D

Interface Design

An online course interface is well designed when the course is presented in a logical, easy to navigate, and visually appealing manner. It is dangerous to discount the importance of presentation and ease of use for learners. Whole disciplines dictate what is best in the area of interface design – there are graphic design dos and don’ts, principles of technical writing and information management, as well as web design best practices. It is best to standardize on a presentation format, so learners can get comfortable and know what to expect. High quality content and activities do not alone make an excellent online course. Presentation matters.

Assessment Design

Assessment drives which learning activities are needed an online course. If the assessment methods are inappropriate for an online course, course quality will suffer. For example, if an online course is weighted too heavily towards quizzes and homework, learners may not have ample time for discussion and reflection. If interaction is desired among learners, the evaluation plan must allow for it.

Learning Object Design

Learners need learning objects (such as videos, readings, websites, tutorials etc.) that will help them make sense of course content. If the learning objects in a course aren’t very helpful, (or worse, non-existent), learners will have trouble completing learning activities. The learning activities will seem difficult and irrelevant to learners without the necessary supporting resources. Learning objects should be discussed early on in the course development process because locating and creating these objects can take a significant amount of time.

Technology & Multi-Media Design

Which types of technology and multi-media will be most appropriate for your learners? In order to answer this question, you must analyze your learners and offer appropriate support resources. Some questions to consider:
• Are your learners technology proficient? (It is best to assume “no” unless you know for sure.)
• Will learners need to practice with the technology before they are asked to use it in a learning activity?
• Should only one or two primary technology tools/channels be used in order to simplify the course for learners?
• Would the course content be better explained through the use of multi-media, such as videos, tutorials, or simulations? Is it worth the time investment to create these resources?

These questions help guide the creation of a multi-media and technology plan for the course. Such a plan is important because the development of media resources takes additional time and planning. For example, additional time may be needed for the creation of self-help guides so that learners understand how to use the technology.

Learning Activity Design

Course developers frequently want to jump into Learning Activity Design early on in the course development process. It is one of the most enticing course design elements to work on. After all, it is what your learners will actually BE DOING in the course. However, learning activity design should be considered LAST.

All other design areas impact the design of your learning activities. Once you have a handle on your basic vision for the course, learning activities can be built to meet those parameters. This is advocating both for 1) sketching out the big picture (assessment design) while 2) beginning the actual design process with the details (the learning objects that are absolutely required).

So when you embark on the design of your next course, ask yourself these questions in the following order:
1. What is the environment like where learners will experience the course (interface design)?
2. What is the assessment plan for the course (assessment design)?
3. What are the most fundamental things learners need to know (learning object design)?
4. Which types of technology and media will be utilized (multi-media & technology design)?

AND LASTLY….

5. How will learners interact with course content, other learners, and the instructor (learning activity design)?

THE MAGIC…

So, where does the magic come in? Maybe you’ve skimmed through this post hoping to learn about THE MAGIC. I don’t blame you ☺ While well-researched design principles guide course construction, it is the course designers themselves who ensure that all design elements are artfully woven together – that’s THE MAGIC. And that’s when learners can’t help but exclaim, “Wow, that course was very well-designed!”

Learner Choice in Online Course Designs

Best_Example_Choose_Your_Own_Adventure_CROPPED Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books when you were a kid? They were fun and interesting because you were in control of the character’s destiny –- would YOU get on the boat and sail to the private island or would YOU set up camp for the night? You got to choose, and, therefore, became very interested in the outcome of the story. If you were like me, you’d try one of the paths and then go back and follow all the other paths to see what happened. These books created both curiosity and commitment to the story’s outcome.

Similarly, when learners have the authority to make decisions about their learning, they become more committed to the learning process and outcomes. Providing choices to learners is an increasingly popular trend in online course design, especially in Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). This idea of providing choice is grounded in the adult learning theories of Malcolm Knowles and K. Patricia Cross. Both researchers found that adults have a need to be self-directing and decide for themselves what they want to learn. They concluded that instructors should allow for as much choice as possible in decision-making during the learning experience.

So why isn’t choice built into online course designs more often? The main reason is because a course that provides choices (allows for change) seems more difficult to design and monitor. So, the question of the day is: is it worth it? Yes, because learners become more self-directed and committed to an online course when they are given choices.

How to Decide Where to Incorporate Choice?

The following categories help instructors decide where to incorporate learning choices in their online courses. I recommend that instructors target one or several of the following categories of learner choice.

Categories of Learning Choice in Online Courses
© Jessica Rebstock

  • Resource Choices: Is the learner provided with a variety of content resources so that he/she can select what is most personally meaningful?
  • Activity Choices: Is the learner provided with a variety of activities so that he/she can participate in those that are most personally meaningful?
  • Assessment Choices: Is the learner provided with opportunities to personalize assessments so that they are personally meaningful?
  • Technology Choices: Is the learner provided with a variety of technology options so he/she can select tools that align with his/her current technology skillset or preferred learning style?
Multiple Ways to Achieve Learning Goals

Enhancing Learner Motivation Through Choice

By broadly considering a course’s learning objectives, viable choices can be created for learners. During the planning process, it is essential that parameters and goals be developed around the offered choices so that learning objectives are still met. Each learning path will end when the learner has successfully met the stated learning objectives.

At the most basic level, it is important to offer learners a variety of resources from which they can choose what is most meaningful. Learners have different interests and learning styles. When they are able to select resources that are personally relevant, they will be more motivated to participate in an online course.

Next, consider allowing learners to personalize the performance assessment. A generic assessment is rarely a good measure of what the learner truly knows and how they will apply what they’ve learned. Does your assessment allow learners to apply what they have learned to their own personal and work life?

Then, review your online activities from the perspective of offering alternatives. Online courses typically offer a schedule of activities for the week. Some activities may be required and critical to course completion. Beyond these required activities, could learners be given choices on which activities they would like to participate in?
Examples:
Would learners rather Path 1) create a learning object on their own or Path 2) look for relevant examples on the web?
Do learners prefer to participate in Path 1) a live meeting event or Path 2) a discussion forum throughout the week?

Lastly, think about the technology options offered in your course. Are you offering a variety of technology options? For example, discussion forums are great, but this format will become boring if it used too often or exclusively. Consider using newer web technologies that vary the format and draw learners into the activity frequently. Also, consider allowing learners to present and/or create using a variety technology tools.

Online courses present a great opportunity to offer learner choice and allow learners to choose their own path. It may be tempting to create a single path for learners – it’s easy to plan for and implement. However, the deepest, most committed learning occurs when we support learners on the path that they choose for themselves.

Mix it Up (Or, Less Text Please!!)

Media_Mix_2

The best online courses offer a variety of ways to interact with course content. Learners can both “take in” and “reflect on” course materials using a variety of media, e.g. audio, video, images, and other software technologies. A multi-media design strategy allows a variety of learning styles to be accommodated, e.g. visual learners, audio learners, etc.

Another benefit of “mixing it up” is that an online course becomes less text heavy. Learners aren’t just constantly reading and writing. They also have the opportunity to interact by watching, listening, and speaking. These additional interaction options may inspire learners to more actively participate in a course.

So, how can you increase the interaction options in your online course? One possible solution is a software product called VoiceThread (voicethread.com). VoiceThread allows learners to audibly hear one another as they comment on shared media files, e.g. images, documents, and slides. Learners can respond to each other using a microphone, using a webcam, or by simply adding text comments when no mic or webcam is available.

Image

How Learners Benefit from VoiceThread:

  • Get a break from reading text in an online course
  • Can hear a classmate’s voice (inflection, tone)
  • May enjoy exploring a new technology

Practical Design Considerations:

  • Cannot easily skim a VoiceThread; must listen (or watch) entire recorded segments.
  • Learners may feel uncomfortable recording themselves.
  • Leaners need time to figure out the technology.

To successfully implement VoiceThread, consider how to maximize the benefits of this technology while offering a high level of learner support:

  • Design Consideration #1: Cannot easily skim a VoiceThread; must listen (or watch) entire segments.

Solution: Because quickly scanning a VoiceThread for information is not practical, provide a specific length for learner comments, e.g. 2-5 minutes. It is important to be respectful of learners’ time. Factor in how much time learners will need to spend listening/responding to classmates’ comments.

  • Design Consideration #2: Learners may feel uncomfortable recording themselves.

Solution: Learners will need time and practice to get comfortable. Give learners ample time to experiment with the technology in a practice module before the course starts OR during an introductory, low-stakes activity.

  • Design Consideration #3: Learners need time to figure out the technology.

Solution: Learners will need time to test VoiceThread with their computer and web browsers. Learners may encounter technical difficulties. They need to be able to reach support personnel who will quickly help resolve any issues. Again, this is why a practice module OR practice activity is key to success. This will allow learners to identify any technological glitches early on.

UP NEXT:

In another blog post, I’ll provide some examples of online course activities that use VoiceThread to increase learner engagement, while providing a high level of support.