Blogs rank high in online education

This morning I read a notice from our Division of Continuing Studies, pointing to how their online resource library had received more than one million visits so far this year (“Vast distance education online resource open to all”).

With more than one million page visits to the UW-Madison Continuing Studies online Distance Education Resource Library so far in 2011, no one can dispute that interest in online education is flourishing.

That is definitely something for the university to be proud of. But in breadth of outreach, I have a lot more impact writing alone here than the Distance Education Resource Library. Since the first of this year, my logs show 2.7 million visits here on this blog.

Naturally, the audiences are not the same, and total visits is a misleading comparison, since our sites have traffic with a long tail of one-time readers, and a small cadre of repeat visitors. Thanks to every one of you!

I don’t track statistics like these to argue that one model is superior to another; they have different (and complementary) goals. Comparing the numbers is essential, though, because the comparison gives them perspective.

Traffic is one way to quantify a website’s importance, but it is most useful to compare traffic among sites with similar missions. Saying that “I had XXX visits,” may sound very impressive, but showing how that number compares between credible and well-known web resources makes the number into useful information. A blog can do spectacularly well relative to a fully resourced education outreach project.

MIT OpenCourseWare receives 1.5 million visits a month (“OCW Site Statistics”). Their offerings are uneven in quality, but they provide a unique service by archiving lectures as they are created.

I am investigating the technology to offer substantial open course elements here on my blog. This semester I began offering our laboratories from a section of this website, and my lecture slides have moved to Prezi, making them easily sharable. After a semester to try out the new format, I think we may be ready to move onward with a full scale open courseware approach.

So keep watching here over the next month, as I lay the groundwork for my spring course.