Online Interaction: Getting Real

A key buzz phrase around the Synaxis offices is "making it real." By this, we mean we are committed to make real technologically what our clients envision in their minds when we are hired.

But there is a distinction to be made between "making it real" and "getting real," as a recent New York Times piece on distributed education shows. Pointing to data for online enrollment at colleges large and small, prestigious and not so prestigious, the article levels two concerns that are often overlooked by school administrators enamored of online learning.

"First, student attrition rates — around 90 percent for some huge online courses — appear to be a problem even in small-scale online courses when compared with traditional face-to-face classes. Second, courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed."

The implications for nonprofits and associations looking to make online interaction a key part of their web redesign are significant.

Don't overestimate your audience's willingness to meet you online. Universities are assuming a lot about the willingness and ability of students to do work and complete courses online. As a nonprofit organization, it's worth asking if you are expecting too much as well. Even if you have a demonstrated channel of people already visiting your website, taking the next step to full online engagement is not simply a matter of building the platform and people will come. You need to build an interactive platform that not only addresses your users' needs, but also is designed to match their energy for engaging you online in meaningful ways. What those thresholds are will vary from client to client—careful study of your existing clientele is necessary to discern where you should go.

Don't underestimate your visitors' willingness to engage online, but …. Consider building your site in stages. If you want to build significant audience participation online, but don't currently have the audience to support this (or are launching a new initiative designed to attract online participation), consider building the online capabilities but rolling them out in stages. Start with blogging, or Facebook and Twitter—something that your audience is familiar with, and tools that are known for their ability to draw eyes to your page. Once you discover the information that will attract your audience, then consider turning on the switches to user feedback, online purchases, or online forums. The danger in doing too much too fast is you run the risk of having lots of interactivity, but no one to interact with you.

Want to know more? Drop us a note to discuss your goals for online interactivity, and learn what Synaxis has already done for others, and can do for you.