Posts Tagged 'Digital Services'

October 7, 2015

Give me a MOOC with social proof

I’ve spent the last few weeks investigating the technologies needed to deliver e-learning, and it’s been a real eye-opener as to what’s hot.

I thought the only way to investigate was to try out a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for myself. After all, “eating your own dog food” is an essential skill for any entrepreneur.

Most of my learning in the last 20 years has been through the School of Life—I haven’t been in formal training for a while. Going back to school (or at least digital school) has been a fascinating experience. MOOCs, as offered by the likes of Coursera, iVersity and Udemy, represent a real step change in learning technology.

We all have areas of interest beyond technology; mine is global politics and development. (So keen am I on this subject that after a recent hackathon, I started running an employee advocacy program for the United Nations: the UN Social 500.) I enrolled in a Coursera course, Configuring the World, to learn how data drives political decisions. Perfect for a startup founder offering automated statistical release software!

The course covers eight weeks of lectures with reading material for each week and a quiz at the end of the week. You can watch the videos in normal or double-time on the web, or you can download them to your mobile device of choice to watch on-the-go.

Having the content accessible via mobile turned out to be essential for me. I thought I was going to block out the time at work (two hours every other day), but client needs always felt more pressing. In the end, I found that perching the phone above the sink whilst doing the washing up worked best (although I frequently have to dry my hands to press play on the next video).

As head of a company offering digital services, the mobile need has been a great lesson for me. You can’t always expect your users to either have Internet access or the time to sit at a desk. Mobile offers the experience offline on a smartphone and is utterly necessary if you want to retain your customers.

The second key I picked up from the course has been the value of interaction with others. It is in the discussion forums that you can review the lectures, ask questions, and extend the conversation beyond the confines of the curriculum.

I’m a social person, so you’d think I’d love the discussion forums. While helpful, they aren’t enough for me. They lack a killer feature, which is a social proof mechanism: a way of comparing my progress with other participants. On Twitter, I have a social proof mechanism: I can compare numbers of followers. That may be an overly simplified score (what’s the value of a follower anyway?), but at least it allows me compare progress via some standard metric.

What I really craved was a similar mechanism in my course. Not because I particularly wanted to compete—I’m not aiming to be top of the class—but because I wanted to make sure I am keeping up. Are my quiz scores worse or better than the average? Am I watching enough of the lectures?

The traditional way for us technologists to solve this problem is to offer a dashboard. You know the type: a page of multiple bar graphs, dials, and gauges.

The trouble with these types of data dashboards is that it is pretty difficult for the user to figure out whether he or she needs to do anything or not. The insights are not exactly “actionable.” If one gauge has gone up and another has gone down, is that good or bad overall? Moreover, should I be panicking?

Dashboards of this nature also tend to be fairly passive. Unless you remember to check them regularly (and who does?), they are quickly forgotten. I would prefer to see a single composite score (much like what Nike+ does for running or Klout for social media) that has an embedded weighting method for the relative importance of each metric. For my MOOC example, watching videos is important, so that should be worth 60 percent of the score. Scoring well on the quiz also counts, which should be worth 30 percent of the score. That leaves 10 percent for the discussion forums.

Now that I have a score, it should be sent to me each week (no passivity here), and I’ll know whether I’ve done well or badly. Even better: show me how I compare versus others across the world or in my country on a leaderboard. Then I will really have a social proof mechanism to help guide my behaviour.


Toby Beresford is CEO and founder of, a social utility to share the score. Rise provides an automated statistical release service to create composite single scores and to distribute the results via web, social media, and email. Rise scores and leaderboards have been used across enterprises for multiple use cases including employee advocacy programs, partner management, e-learning, audience development, digital marketing, and digital sales enablement. Rise is a member of the SoftLayer Startup Catalyst program.

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