Microlearning opportunities with autoresponders

Earlier this year, I took part in an online Open Badge Boot Camp. It presented a completely different approach to other open learning opportunities I had pursued.

I was hooked by the process used in the Boot Camp and really engaged with the content. I say hooked but I was annoyed too. Each of the five sessions shared by email had a GIF as a header to the email. I think the annoyance of cats yawning and penguin chicks in photo shopped top hats did focus my attention on the content.

I was so engaged that I completed the course in one day.

My reflection on the Boot Camp was that it provided microcontent that I unlocked when it was timely for me. The email structure surprised me with its invitational tone.

I wondered if I could achieve this kind of engagement with my open learning designs. To date I have been keen to construct non-linear learning opportunities but Boot Camp has encouraged me to think about alternatives.

Fortunately I have found some resources to help me.

Doug Belshaw has written a detailed post about the Boot Camp process. 

The design team’s approach:

We wanted something fun and engaging, as there are so many boring, corporate ways of doing credentials. We also wanted something that provided information on-demand, and allowed individuals to receive a badge in recognition of creating their first one. For this reason, experimented with a self-paced email course. The idea was that the person signing-up should be able to go through it as quickly as they want to.

Each email provided what we hoped was just enough information to complete a short activity, before they clicked on the button to receive the next email.

As the whole thing was automated, we had no way of checking whether the individual had in fact completed the activity. But that wasn’t the point.

The mechanics of the course:

We created a mini email-based course where people signing-up were walked through what we consider to be ‘badge basics’.

The workflow was automatic using MailChimp’s automation tools. As soon as an individual clicked a button to say they were ready for the next email, it arrived in their inbox within minutes.

We had to create specific pages on our website to trigger the next email. You can see the code behind the specific section of our website for Badge Bootcamp here.

The only manual part of the process was the badge issuing itself. One of us had to go into the MailChimp dashboard on a regular basis, and copy/paste the details of those who had finished the course into OpenBadges.me.

Doug acknowledged the impact of Paul Jarvis on the design of the course and shared a link to Paul’s 2014 guide to creating a self-paced email course. Paul was looking for a way to support an email course:

I remembered the autoresponders feature in my newsletter application (I use MailChimp, although every newsletter software has it). I could trigger lessons with autoresponders and deliver course material to where most people spend most of their day: the inbox.

His advice includes:

How to send a final welcome email.

Setting up the first lesson and autoresponder

A url for each lesson

Create autoresponders for subsequent lessons

Setting up reminder emails

Karen Maloney has provided some additional information about autoresponders in her 2016 post. She includes a video demonstration of setting up Mailchimp. Karen notes:

Autoresponder messages can take the form of one-off emails, or a series of emails sent out in response to specific conditions based on a pre-defined workflow.

Each email will need to be created, related to a subscriber list and assigned a “trigger” i.e. you need to give the conditions for the email to be sent. For example, this may be on joining a list, 3 hours after, one day after, 2 weeks after – or even on a specific day and time.

She shared this example of a workflow:

Julie Neidlinger produced her Ultimate Guide to Creating an Email Autoresponder Course in 2014. She suggests:

An email autoresponder course is a true workhorse for your blog. It helps establish your expertise, it creates trust, and frankly, it’s a fantastic exchange between you and your readers. Both of you get what you want.

She recommends we determine:

the length of the autoresponder course

the length of individual emails

the frequency of emails

the appearance of the email

My next step is to synthesise all these insights and to plan my workflow to try out an Open Boot camp approach. I liked the five email model. I can see how I might use these courses as a modular approach to microlearning.

I have had a dormant MailChimp account for some time and I hope with Doug, Paul and Karen’s help to resurrect it.

… but there will be no gifs otherwise I will miss my target

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