The BSBR research has been undertaken to answer two questions related to curriculum design and digital marketing training for small business. To answer these two questions, the course had 52 participants in two classroom cohorts, called Alpha and Beta. Data about them was collected before, throughout, and after the course (some data still being collected).
Research about applied course design for adult learners; adapting learning materials and teaching styles from the classroom to adult education and taking insights back to the classroom.
Looking at the course build through an academic teaching lens.
The data collected to support the analysis of the curriculum design is as follows: Course Evaluation: course content & structure feedback
1) Pre-course Focus Group
2) 4 Week Course Survey
3) 8 Week Course Survey
4) 12 Week Course Survey
5) Course End Focus Group
* Also ongoing individual exploratory discussion throughout.
Looking at tangible business outcomes including ROI, revenue and profit, digital performance (audience reach and engagement).
How well the digital marketing training worked in terms of business success.
The data collected to support the analysis of business performance resulting from the digital marketing training is as follows: In Depth Personal, Business & Digital Marketing Metrics: Digital Marketing & Business Outcomes
1) Prescreen Entry Metrics
2) 6 Months After Course Metrics
3) 6 Months After Course Focus Group
4)12 Months After Course Metrics
5) 12 Months After Course Focus Group
With this third report for BSBR research we look at the course feedback for the Alpha and Beta classroom cohorts and gleam insights as to how to improve experiential learning in the PSB classroom. (the two previous reports can be found here: BSBR Report: Stage 1 Program Design and BSBR Research: Stage 2 Program Development)
The course was developed with backward design, where the outcome of the course was the completion of a digital marketing planning and execution workbook to support the strategy and tactics for small businesses digital marketing. The lessons and instruction in their entirety were driven and supported the Course Workbook.
The participants were asked if the Workbook helped with their learning. At the four, eight and twelve week point they answered as follows, 4.0 -> 4.0 -> 4.8 out of 5. The participants greatly appreciated the book as per this sample comment: “The workbook is a masterpiece”.
An insight for an experiential course #1 is to support the applied instruction by simplifying the course outcome to a linear all encompassing homework workbook and then design the courses and instruction to support that workbook (assignment).
The participants were asked if the lesson slides were well structured and informative. At the four, eight and twelve week point they answered as follows, 3.6 -> 4.1 -> 4.7 out of 5 The first four weeks of the course was a marketing analysis and some participants questioned the undertaking of strategic analysis and wanted the digital marketing to go straight to promotional content. Unfortunately, many of those businesses who did not embrace the strategic analysis, were lost once they entered into the tactics in week 5. You can see the ranking increase as the participants moved to promotional content creation. At the 4 week point, you can see the increase in ranking for the Beta over the Alpha cohort due to our efforts to better show the connection of the strategy to the tactics.
For both cohorts, towards the end of the course as they saw the workbook and lessons unfold, there was a more positive ranking as illustrated with the following comment: “All content is so easy to use for reference; thorough and supports the lessons well”.
An insight for an experiential course #2 is to ensure theory or strategy is clearly linked to the upcoming applied work.
The participants were asked if the instructor facilitated the course well. At the four, eight and twelve week point they answered as follows, 3.7 -> 4.4 -> 4.9 out of 5. For our experience as educators, instruction is roughly equally based upon the subject content and the teaching style. As with the lesson slides, some participants felt the course content of marketing strategy was not required in the beginning. And as mentioned in the lesson slides, many of those participants ran into trouble in week 5. For digital marketing is merely the creation of content to support business and marketing goals, without this foundational understanding the content effectiveness will be severely limited.
Once again, as the participants entered the final week and they saw the relationship of the strategy to the tactics, the instructor ranking increased as per the following comment: “A wonderful balance between sharing his own insights directly and answering questions in a way that was helpful to everyone”.
Another insight relative to the instruction was that teaching to younger versus older adults is very different. Most younger adults raised with their smartphones and YouTube appreciate an “entertaining” approach as part of the teaching style, while some older adults raised in a different time, dislike this approach.
An insight for an experiential course #3 or any course is to attempt to adjust your teaching to the teaching style desired by your participants (and also teach “authentically”). And once again, as mentioned with the lesson slides, show the relationship of strategy to tactics in an applied course (this is not an easy task, you need to know your subject matter very well).
The participants were asked if the case studies and samples were valuable. At the four, eight and twelve week point they answered as follows, 3.9 -> 4.2 -> 4.6 out of 5. Overwhelmingly, the participants wanted examples and cases specific to their needs. Which is illustrated in the following comment: “I would love to see more things built from scratch like a Google Ad” (some participants did not want to know the details of Google Ads).
For the Alpha we had the participants involved directly in some lessons with cases, however it was difficult to ensure the case aligned successfully with the lesson. For the Beta, an attempt was made to create one case and draw it out though the entire course. With this, participants expressed a want for variety. Neither approach was entirely successful, the solution might lie in having a wider variety of cases that follow the course in its entirety.
An insight for an experiential course #4 or any course is to build a good variety of cases/samples that move through the entire course. This is however a great deal of work and will take time to build the variety of applied cases. Student work could be used, however, it would likely have to be greatly adjusted.
The participants were asked if they were coping well with the course homework. At the four, eight and twelve week point they answered as follows, 3.1 -> 3.1 -> 3.5 out of 5. This was the most significant issue of the course, the business owners were overwhelmed with the needs of their business and the time needed to undertake the course. As seen with the following comment: “Too much work in little time with staffing problems in the business”.
The course was designed to urgently support small businesses in light of the COVID-19 pandemic; time was of the essence. However, without the COVID-19 urgency, the course would be drawn out over a much longer time period.
An insight for an experiential course #5 is that it requires more time than a theory course because of the necessary time to undertake the applied work. You cannot simply “memorize” the content.
The participants were asked if the technical support offered by the course was working well for them. At the four, eight and twelve week point they answered as follows, 3.9 -> 4.4 -> 4.6 out of 5. This was one of the few “one-on-one” aspects of the course, where the participant was given solo time to deal with their technical needs relating to their digital marketing elements. Firstly, the individualization, as expressed in regard to all course elements, was desired by the participants. Secondly, the older adults were less tech savvy than students and the extra support was essential in supporting their digital marketing infrastructure setup or tune-up. This is exemplified by the following comment: “Still had to reach out for additional support as issues were discovered on my end.”
An insight for an experiential course #6 is that adult learners may not be as tech savvy as younger adults. Also, as exemplified, any individualized in an applied course is desired.
The participants were asked if they were coping well with the course homework. At the four, eight and twelve week point they answered as follows, 3.4 -> 2.9 -> 3.4 out of 5. With the two cohorts, we did not figure out how to work this. In an academic setting, the students are more prepared to work in groups, however this was not the case for the adult learner. In the Alpha course, we put together groups with a diversity of industries to enable free information sharing without concern of competition.This did not work, as the participants wanted to have group members with similar businesses. For the Beta course, we then grouped participants by industry to see if this would better support the group work. Unfortunately this configuration was not successful either, as the business owners were unsure how to manage their group interactions. The solution might lie in forming the groups with more specific instructions and a guided discussion process and most importantly, possibly wait a few weeks into the course to see if any “strong” leaders emerged to place at the head of the various groups. This is exemplified by the following comment: “An experienced Team Captain would be cool. Some strong personalities in the group that can take up a lot of air and be a bit distracting sometimes.”.
An insight for an experiential course #7 is that strong groups are important to aid learning, however they need to have a clearly defined purpose and structure; you cannot expect the students to have an understanding of how to manage their group interactions. This becomes even more pronounced with adult learners who have been out of academia for a while.
The participants were asked about their course satisfaction. At the four, eight and twelve week point they answered as follows, 3.6 -> 3.8 -> 4.7 out of 5. As the course progressed, satisfaction increased. The issues with the strategic foundation before creating actual promotional tactics is part of this ranking trend. Again, there is a need to link “unapplied” course elements to the applied elements. Also, with an applied course, the participant making their way to the final outcome (with backward design) may be required to gauge their overall course satisfaction.
An insight for an experiential course #8 is that if there is a lag between strategy and tactics expect some disenchantment from students. Also, there is a strong need to show the ongoing link between strategy and tactics.
The participants were asked if they were confident with their digital marketing skills. At the four, eight and twelve week point they answered as follows, 4.5 out of 5 ranking. Given the wide breadth and speed of this course, this is outstanding.
An insight for an experiential course #9 is that you want to wrap up the totality of the course outcome by the end of the course to ensure students can see the subject matter in its entirety and hopefully their understanding and mastery of the subject matter.
At the end of the course, the participants were asked if they would recommend the course to others, where, 100% answered Yes.
An insight for an experiential course #10 is as mentioned, sometimes you need to show the final relationship of all elements with the final outcome to gauge course value and satisfaction from participants.
The primary challenge of an experiential learning course is the need to have a clear scaffolding from the foundational strategy to tactics.
Also, you need to have a very strong linear controlling line of assignments/homework/groups to hold the student through the applied process. Unlike a theory course, any diversions or jumps will throw the learner “off track”.
Any ways to individualize aspects of the instruction or assignments will be desired by most students. This will present itself in the lessons, case studies, support, assignments, etc.
Applied courses take more time to execute for the student, regurgitating content is very different from producing it from scratch.
In some cases, the success of your experiential learning course will only unfold at the end once the students have mastered the final outcome (backward design).