That was the year that was: what you read on my blog in 2015

December 22, 2015 Tony Bates

Working in my study

Blogging away

I find it a fun exercise to analyse the statistics for my blog at the end of the year, to see what were the most popular posts, as it gives some idea of the topics which have grabbed readers over the year. First let’s look at the figures for 2015 as a whole.

Overall visits

Blog views per month 2015 2

The total number of visits this year was way up from previous years. In 2013 the blog struggled to reach 20,000 visits a month most months. In 2014 the blog was averaging about 25,000 visits a month. In 2015 it was above 30,000 visits for nine of the twelve months and reached almost 40,000 visits in November, or an average of over 1,000 visits a day every day of the year.

It will be seen that the main reason for this large increase of visits in 2015 is indirectly related to the publication of Teaching in a Digital Age. I used my blog to ‘trial’ chapters and sections of the book, and it appears some of these blog posts are now being used as set readings on courses, or at least are being sought out by students studying, with students returning continually to these posts. I have no direct proof of this and if anyone using the blog can provide me with information on why they are using some of the blog posts on a regular basis, it will be appreciated.

Breakdown by sectors

Top posts in 2015

Top posts in 2015

To understand the picture better we need to break this down into categories.

Category 1: Students seeking advice about online courses/programs

I have several posts that attract mainly students or potential students (rather than faculty or instructors), looking for advice on online or distance learning courses or programs. These would include:

  • 1. The world’s largest supplier of free online learning? 31,886 visits in 2015No, interestingly, this isn’t about Coursera or Udacity, but Alison. Many students want to know about the status of the certificates as well as the courses offered by Alison, and the post has a regular and ongoing number of comments from people thinking about or who have taken Alison programs. The original post goes back to April, 2012 and has been one of the top posts every year since. However, the numbers this year almost tripled from 2014 (12,606).
  • 3. Recommended graduate programs in e-learning. 20,180 visits in 2015. Now number 3, this has been the perennial number 1 until this year, despite the number of hits increasing from 16,715 in 2014. This was one of my first posts, going back to July 2008. Although I revise it regularly, it is probably a little out of date as there have been many new programs in this area developed in the last two or three years and I list only those I am familiar with.
  • 7. Can you teach ‘real’ engineering at a distance? (posted 5 July, 2009). 6,388 visits in 2015. A great favourite of mine, especially since the answer has gradually changed over the six years since it was first posted (see my post on Trends in 2015), and again indicating the need for student guidance on choice of programs.
  • 8. A student guide to studying online. 5,974 visits in 2015. This jumped up from 15th position last year, with 2,321 hits, to 8th this year.

Although the blog is focused on faculty and instructors, it is clear from this data that there is high demand from students or potential students for independent, objective information about online courses and programs (also noted last year). The main value of the Alison post is the comments provided by actual users of the program.

I have hesitated to recommend online courses or programs in general, as I have no way of directly evaluating the vast majority, and there are so many of them now. However, it should be possible to create an independent, sponsor-free social media-based site where students can share information about different types of online courses and programs. I am sure such a web site would be very popular, but I’m leaving that to someone else to do (if it’s not already been done).

Category 2: Sections from ‘Teaching in a Digital Age.’

Graphic used for a short history of educational technology: Charlton Heston as Moses

Graphic used for a short history of educational technology: Charlton Heston as Moses

The big difference this year is that many of my posts were ‘first drafts’ of sections or chapters of my book (many published though in 2014 as well as 2015). These have proved extremely popular with readers in 2015, accounting for nine of the top 27 posts for 2015:

  • 2. A short history of educational technology (posted 10 December, 2014): 25,156 visits in 2015. It’s the second most popular post, and has always been among the top daily posts during 2015. This came as a complete surprise to me. I have no explanation why this is by far and away the most popular of the ‘book’ blog posts (three times more popular than the next book blog post). I’m assuming it’s a key reading for several courses, but why is it in constant demand almost every day? Am I being followed by a Charlton Heston fan club?
  • 5. Learning theories and online learning (posted 14 July, 2014): 8,528 visits in 2015. This one is less surprising. This is a core or foundational topic for any program of study on online learning.
  • 6. The strengths and weaknesses of competency-based learning in a digital age (posted 15 September, 2014) 6,822 visits in 2015. This reflects the strong interest (and possibly lack of other independent/’neutral’ accounts) in competency-based learning in 2015. I’m a little surprised though that it scored higher than the sections on ADDIE or MOOCs in my book.
  • 9. The role of communities of practice in a digital age (posted 1 October 2014). 5,300 visits in 2015. Same kind of comments as for competency-based learning.
  • 10. Deciding on appropriate media for teaching and learning (posted 28 January 2015). 4,932 visits in 2015. This one is gratifying as it covers the SECTIONS model and unlike the book drafts on different teaching methods, this post reflects my own, original work.
  • 12. Is the ADDIE model appropriate for teaching in a digital age? (posted 9 September 2014). 4,724 visits in 2015. I thought this might be more popular, seeing how central it has been to online course design in the past. However, there are plenty of other sources to go to about ADDIE.
  • 13. Comparing xMOOCs and cMOOCs: philosophy and practice (posted 13 October 2014). 4,645 visits in 2015. This was a chapter I didn’t want to write but had to. Glad I did now.
  • 20. What is a MOOC? (posted 12 October, 2014) 2,930 visits in 2015. Now we are getting quite a way down the list.
  • 22. Key characteristics of learners in a digital age….(posted 24 August, 2014) 2,819 visits in 2015. 

In the past, when I posted a new post, there was a flurry of visits in the first week or so, followed by a relatively small number of visits (less than 10 a day) in subsequent weeks. For the book posts though, the ‘tail’ is much thicker, with the above posts regularly getting between 30-50 visits each a day, and the order in terms of the number of visits doesn’t change a great deal from day to day.

Category 3: Single posts that won’t die

What's right and what's wrong with Coursera-style MOOCs: still popular

What’s right and what’s wrong with Coursera-style MOOCs: still popular

These are posts or topics that seem to have a life of their own. They are not tied in any direct way to the book.

Category 4: New in 2015

You will have noticed that almost all the above posts were posted before 2015. So what was new in 2015? In all I posted 114 posts in 2015, down considerably from previous years. Roughly a third of these posts were ‘drafts’ from the book. Here’s what did make it into the top 25 posts:

In 2014, five posts published in 2014 made the top 25.


What do I draw from this analysis?

  • first, this is a good example why data on its own isn’t very helpful. You need to know the reasons or the logic that drives the data. What do visits actually mean? One manic person visiting the same post thousands of times? Or thousands quickly glancing at something and finding no interest?
  • there seem though to be some drivers to individual posts:
    • search engines picking up on key words or phrases in the title of the post (e.g. competency-based learning)
    • blog posts that are now required or recommended readings for courses
    • students looking for some guides or hints about online courses and programs or about online learning in general
    • faculty or instructors looking for resources
    • topical or current news items.
  • the book, ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’, has both benefited from and driven people back to the blog. This is somewhat surprising, since the posts were often first drafts and the authoritative version is in the book, which is available from a totally different web site. Perhaps the blog though is more generally accessible or known. Again, comments from readers of the blog or the book on this issue would be welcome.

Blogging a lot less this year but doubling the number of visits does seem though to go against the first law of blogging, which is to blog every day if possible to drive traffic to your site. However, I suppose that once you have two thousand posts that have value to at least someone, the blog has its own life force. Nevertheless I will continue to add new posts during 2016.

What is clear to me is that the site now has developed a life of its own, as a set of resources on online learning that people keep coming back to. This is immensely rewarding, as this was always the intention.

In the meantime, have a great holiday and don’t spend too much time on screen!

© Return Path Blog, 2012

© Return Path Blog, 2012

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