TRS-80 Pocket Computer

The Law of Halves

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

How many people do you need to recruit ten thousand learners?

The preliminary questions are: is there an established network of learners? This requires that learners are connected to each other, and not simply end nodes in a pyramidal structure. And, do you have access to the network?

These questions may be answered empirically. Publish your course. Build it and they may come – through the network. This is the value proposition of the MOOC aggregators: sign up for one course and you become part of its network. Expect to receive frequent communication as the aggregator’s value to the institutions who feed it content depends on its ability to convert one course enrollment into a lifelong pattern of registrations.

What if they do not come?

Much seems to depend on the level of computer literacy. If your target learners are computer software engineers, offer a relevant, quality course and they are likely to find it.

What if they are not?

Traditional marketing principles apply. Send a targetted e-mail through a trusted channel to 500 addresses. Expect 25 to click through to your registration page. Then the Law of Halves applies. You will lose half through each successive step required to participate in the course. So let’s say 13 register. Half of those will actually start the course.

So, if you want ten thousand learners, target 800,000 addresses.

On the first step (targetted e-mail), you can improve the click-through rate by improving the clarity of the value proposition (read: selfish, what’s-in-it-for-me incentive) and by offering direct access (in the invitation e-mail) to a screencast that walks you through the enrollment process. On the successive steps, a combination of screencasts and live online sessions (call them “briefings” or “orientation” or whatever) can help. Last but not least, turning the launch of the course into an event requires synchronicity. Do not underestimate how much identity matters to the way human beings connect and interact online.

Unless your learners are savvy enough to communicate through social media, e-mail remains the lowest common denominator. It is a necessary evil. The only way to push content, reminders, questions, or surveys to your learners. Unfortunately, a merciless law of diminishing returns applies there also. Your course’s mailings are likely to increasingly end up in spam or junk mail boxes. And e-mail fatigue ensures that even the most motivated learners will read fewer and fewer course-related communication that is dropped into their inboxes. Computer literacy is crucial, again, because low computer literacy makes it probable that a learner won’t be checking for false positives and is less likely to have developed the filtering skills to quickly process and correctly identify relevant e-mails.

Photo: My first computer, a TRS-80 Pocket Computer.