The Art And Science Of User Feedback

Running a business, or any other social endeavor for that matter, is all about feedback. Especially in a competitive market such as e-learning, your options are mostly limited to adapt and improve (like Apple in the 00s) or perish (like AOL in the same decade).

Now, when it comes to feedback, there are three things that matter: getting it, “getting” it, and doing something with it. Which is exactly what we’re going to cover in this post.

Getting it

When it comes to getting feedback about your e-learning setup, you’re, literally, spoiled for choice.

Some of it comes to the inherent benefits of running a web service: collecting feedback is both easy and easily automated.

You can of course take it a step further and conduct market research, hire an analyst, etc, but when it comes to the core operation of your e-learning service, your LMS platform should provide you with all the essential tools to collect user feedback.

User actions, course completions, enrollment counts, grades ― all these and several other metrics can be monitored and logged by your LMS.

And if your LMS is up to the task, it should also allow you to see this information not just as some raw log file, but in the form of comprehensive reports.

Our eFront and eFront products, for example, offer a flexible reporting system you can use to gain insight to learners’ progress, course popularity, payments, etc, complete with plots to help you easily spot trends and tabular listings, so that you can see all the available dimensions at a glance.

And if you want to dig deeper, our tools allow you to create custom reports, using filters to narrow down the information to just what you need, and even export them for further statistical analysis in Excel.

This kind of feedback, based on direct observation of users’ actions, can be a treasure trove of insights, if you know how to read it (and we’ll get to that in a moment).

It’s also an area that will “explode” in the future, with technologies like the Experience (Tin Can) API promising an easy way to track all kinds of user activity, whether its on the web or mobile, online or offline.

Sometimes, though, nothing beats asking your users directly. That’s were tools like automated surveys come in handy (and we’ve got you covered for those too).

The general idea is to present a series of questions to your users ― including all possible users, e.g. demo or free tier accounts ―, in order to understand how they see your e-learning service.

There are a few tricks and tips in survey creation that we’ll cover in a future post (for example, don’t offer too many options in “like/hate” ratings), but you should at least avoid a common mistake a lot of enterprise surveys make: don’t fish for praise; fish for their raw, unadulterated, opinion ― it’s the only thing that will provide valuable insight.

“Getting” it

Getting feedback, especially with all the tools provided in a modern LMS platform, is the easy part.

The difficult part is, of course, “getting” them, as in understanding their significance and translating them into actionable tasks.

User feedback should be quite obvious to read, but there are several things that can hinder your understanding of it.

One obvious impediment is inexperience.

If you’re new to e-learning, the educational services industry or business in general you wont be able to understand feedback fully at first.

That’s something that will get better with experience (duh!), and it will help to keep an eye on e-learning blogs (such as this one), read some books on market analysis and customer satisfaction, etc.

While inexperience is, to some degree unavoidable, there are other things that you can, and should try to, control.

One of them is being defensive.

Everybody loves their babies, and your e-learning service is your baby, but you have to learn to take criticism and accept that it will inevitably have some weak points.

Don’t consider it an attack on what you’ve built, but as an opportunity to improve it.

Another thing that hinders the proper evaluation of feedback is bias. Don’t read your LMS reports or your user survey results with pre-conceived ideas of what they should contain or what is the best course for your business.

The whole idea is letting the feedback you get to suggest the best course of action, rather that using it to justify what you already wanted to do.

Doing something with it

If you managed to correctly evaluate your user feedback, you’re way ahead of most e-learning service owners. But that would not mean much, unless you do something with it.

In this stage, you need to translate the insights you’ve gotten from analyzing the feedback you’ve got into actionable items.

If using the reporting tools you realized that a course is unpopular, a possible action would be to stop offering it. Another would be to promote it more, or better.

If a course’s final grades are too low, you should maybe simplify the course material, get a more competent processor or restrict it to students that have taken some prerequisites.

As you can see, there can be several possible corrective actions for a given negative feedback. Which one you take is of course up to you, after you’ve tried to understand the underlying causes.

Some items call for drastic changes, while others can be fixed in small iterative steps. The latter are the better, as you can use further feedback after each step to fine-tune your course of action (like when playing the “Hot or Cold” game).

Reacting to feedback and pivoting your business is more of an art than an exact science.

You can be better or worse at it, and you can also improve, but there’s no shortcut to give you a definitive answer to each issue that arises.

And maybe that’s for the better, as business, just like learning, will always need that human element.

And with that, we conclude this short introduction in the issues.

If you have any, err, feedback for our blog, it’s more than welcome and feel free to leave a comment below.

See you next week with more e-learning insight, tips, and industry gossip.

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