What Instructional Designers Need to Know About “Funnels”

For the last 3-4 months I have been deeply engaged in learning, researching and playing with web analytics well beyond what I had been doing before. In my book ‘Learning on Demand‘ I address analytics, I have written for ASTD’s T&D Magazine on Analytics and I have blogged about analytics on several occasions. Let me go on record again by saying that instructional designers and those in L&D know far too little about the topic. Even recent discussion threads on the Tin Can Api vs SCORM reveal a shocking lack of depth in our understanding about ‘data models’ and what the new xAPI specification is about. So, in earnest, I want to help by sharing some thoughts on ‘Funnels’ to help those who are interested in the topic of learning analytics start to think a little bit differently. This ties directly into a topic I’ve been discussing lately on Designing for Data.

So what are ‘Funnels’? Funnels are the paths that users travel in navigating through web content. They provide key insights into what ‘experiences’ you provide for your users vs what target experiences you’ve setup. I recently presented at an event and argued that designers ought to stop trying to design solutions and need to start designing experiments. The difference is one presupposes an answer and one sets out a hypothesis against which metrics will help validate that hypothesis. What funnels help web content designers/developers do is to focus on the behaviours expected of a target end user as they interact with a piece of content. Some content is meant to initiate behaviour, other content is meant to engage and steer behaviour in one or more directions and some content is the target behaviour. This of course is a spectrum and content takes the shape and size of what the intent is. A funnel describes the user behaviour as they move and engage with the various pieces of content which hopefully lets a designer/developer know whether the various pieces of content are doing what they set out to do.

As an example, at SlideJar we recently benchmarked some key behaviours we wanted out of our end users that engage with our social content.

funnels

This represents one of the funnels we have set out and which drives our messaging to our end users. It is a visualization of behaviours and the design of our campaigns target these behaviours in addition to the content within our pages that target the behaviour.

If your an instructional designer you are probably hearing lots of banter around the idea of ‘designing experiences’. Well, designing an experience and funnels are pretty well tied at the hip. Funnels are your key to tracking end user experiences and understanding whether your designs are delivering what you intend them to deliver. Funnels are not measurements. You cant measure a funnel. What you can measure are the percentages of end users who engage in your ‘experience’ that walk through the funnels you’ve designed. Its equally important to understand users who do not follow the funnel and what paths they end of travelling other than the ones you’ve anticipated.

How do you setup funnels? Exactly as I did. Diagram them out. Use these models as your basis for all messaging, graphic design and interaction design. Then find yourself someone who can implement tracking code like ‘xAPI’ or Google Analytics and go to town. If you think its too early to adopt the xAPI specification (a theme I’ve read and heard to my disgust) then you should know your actually far too late. L&D professionals have been negligent in steering away from understanding web content strategies and the xAPI has catalyzed some folks into digging their heels in which is great, but understanding the technology can come later. I hope this helps. I intend to write a few more posts talking about some basic concepts of web analytics that L&D professionals can begin to work with.

 

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