Posts Tagged ‘experimentation’

The Evolution of Online Education and its Future Real-Life Applications

June 5, 2013

Once considered a threat to traditional higher educational institutions, online course offerings now seem to be a defining element in creating and maintaining a world-class reputation in the space. Speaking at the BRITE ’13 Conference, Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University’s first chief digital officer, discussed how the growing demand for massive open online courses (MOOCs) is disrupting conventional thought around the school’s many programs.

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There are several platforms in place already, including Harvard and MIT’s co-created platform edX, and for-profit providers Coursera and Udacity, with the landscape changing daily as colleges and universities around the globe explore digital learning models and test them in larger markets. This past April, Stanford University, a long-time advocate for open learning, struck an agreement to share its proprietary Class2Go platform with edX, GigaOm reported.

Despite the growing number of courses offered online and the increasing appetite for them, the sentiment around online degrees seems to be a different story. As discussed in a US News & World Report piece in late 2012, it is still unclear how far down the road major blue-chip organizations are from universally embracing job candidates with online degrees, although smaller organizations have begun to look more seriously at them. Similarly, many schools themselves have reservations – Columbia being one of them. Administration is reluctant to provide online MBA courses for full credit, stating that a large part of the experience happens on campus and in the traditional classroom setting. Given how quickly online ed has taken hold in the past year alone, Sreenivasan predicted more and more accredited institutions will likely begin to offer full-fledged programs.  He explained that the advancement of and increasing accessibility to technology would be a key driver in this space. Columbia, he pointed out, has been involved with online ed since the turn of the century, citing its Fathom project, a learning portal which ran from 2000-2003. He said that its failure to catch on was due to the fact that it was “ahead of its time” and needed people to catch up to, and be able to access, the innovation before it could succeed.

Whatever the challenges, Sreenivasan was adamant that any successful initiative would be rooted in Columbia’s commitment to its brand, claiming that ongoing exploration and testing of online courses would not detract from “the magic that happens in the classroom.” Instead, he expects to optimize how both the digital and physical classrooms operate. How? The same way other big businesses improve their product and services: data. Through the ability to offer classes to tens of thousands of students, educators are able to collect enormous amounts of information on how students interact with courses and online tools. From Sreenivasan’s perspective, it is only a matter of time before digital learning becomes mainstream.

Watch Sree Sreenivasan’s BRITE ’13 talk to learn more about his and other organization’s views on the future of online education.

BY NANDITA RAY

Small Experiments That Lead to Big Results: The Value of A/B Testing

May 29, 2013

The use of randomized experiments to determine the most effective marketing or communications approach – known as A/B testing – is an extremely valuable tool for companies aiming to make the biggest impact on key stakeholders. However, according to Pete Koomen, president of website optimization software company Optimizely, the method is not implemented nearly enough. At the BRITE ’13 conference, Koomen shared personal experiences to demonstrate the very real value that A/B testing can contribute to developing results-driven communications programs. The most compelling of his examples included the 2008 Obama presidential campaign and the countless tests its analytics team ran on www.barackobama.com website content and email subject lines. Koomen noted that even the slightest word phrasing could drive visitors to action (e.g., donating funds, signing up to volunteer). “It was an extremely powerful technique for [influencing] decisions,” he said. However, given the deep investment in time and resources needed for A/B testing, Koomen observed over time that companies tended to avoid using the technique – a fact that he and his business partner Dan Siroker quickly recognized as a major business opportunity.

Koomen

The success of the 2008 campaign spoke for itself. Koomen estimated that methodical experimentation accounted for roughly $75 million more in donations to President Obama’s campaign and 4 million new website registrants. These results motivated Koomen and Siroker, both former Google product managers, to found Optimizely in 2009. They created a simple program that even small and medium-size businesses could utilize without having to depend on specialized in-house talent to run experiments. Organizations with limited resources could take advantage of marketing tactics that Amazon and other major blue-chip companies have been using for years to increase traffic and user conversion.

At BRITE ‘13, Koomen shared some best practices and lessons learned from running over 100,000 tests for clients and identifying the most effective approaches for achieving business objectives. For the Obama campaign, this entailed what Bloomberg BusinessWeek called “strange, incessant, and weirdly over familiar e-mails” due to the unusual, extremely casual tone Obama’s team usedjourney to office in 2008. The fundraising team found that the most successful subject heading “Hey” alone brought in millions of dollars in funding.

A few things that Koomen recommends businesses keep in mind as they take stock of their websites’ performance are:

  • Define quantifiable success metrics. One of the most important parts of testing. As exemplified by the Obama campaign, Koomen states that the campaign staffers did a good job of attracting people to the official website, but turning the site’s visitors into subscribers had proved more challenging and converting email signups to paying donators even more so.  By tweaking the website to optimize those two KPIs – subscribers and payers – the new website outperformed the old version by about 40%.
  • Explore before you refine. Koomen cautions against refining and optimizing in favor of exploring first to ensure you are aware of all potential solutions before selecting one to improve.  Otherwise, there is a chance the best solution will be missed.
  • Less is more. Reducing optionality can have a major impact on a website’s effectiveness. Koomen cites a client which removed a series of links related to its product portfolio and company background from its shopping cart page and saw a 16% improvement in the dollars per visitor.

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Watch Pete Koomen’s BRITE ’13 talk to learn more about how A/B Testing can drive greater communications effectiveness.

BY NANDITA RAY

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