Friday, December 02, 2016

Online facilitation inspired by car dealers

autoWe have recently bought a different car, a used car. We started with a search on the Internet. Then we went one afternoon to some dealers to watch the cars. We met the first salesman there.  Fortunately he fully matched my preconceptions of a car salesman :). He was a man who was already retired, and was selling cars for fun during weekends. He questioned us and soon realized that my husband was sensitive for station models and I had a crush for colors, my daughter wants to have a red car. So he pointed at a red Citroen station model. He told us we were very lucky, the car was € 1,000 cheaper because "no one wants a red car" .. But we had to decide quickly, actually today. We could make a test drive immediately . I heard a strange sound during the test drive. When I told hem about the sound, he went with us for a drive in the car. He started the engine full gas and said: "Hear, hear what  a wonderful sound, a very strong engine. I wished it was my car" Eventually he heard the noise and explained that would entail only a 5 minutes repair. Long story short: we have not bought this car. We purchased the car at another dealer. Who really surprised us when we arrived: He had packed up the car and we could unpacking it as a gift :).

Learning is not the same as selling cars is it? 

I was reading a blogpost by Wilfred Rubens today in which he argues that you can not transfer lessons from Greenwheels and to education. Because education is more than just making content available. Thus facilitating is really different than selling cars. Yet I believe we also copy and learn from car sellers. Long ago I thought marketing specialists were sellers of hot air and were no craftsmen. However, since the social media age I started following more and more marketers online. They embraced social media earlier than learning professionals so that alone is something we can learn from. They are also good at studying people and their behavior and how to influence their behavior.

A famous marketing model is the model by Cialdini with 6 strategies to influence people. The 6 strategies are:

  1. Reciprocity - We like to return favours. We started with a cup of coffee at the car dealer's.
  2. Scarcity - when something is scarce people want it. According to the car salesman this car offer was only valid for this day.
  3. Authority - you believe the professor rather than the postman. The car seller stressed that he had sold cars his entire life. (Unfortunately that was a minus for me :)
  4. Consistency (and commitment) - once people have put the first step is the next easier. A test drive ...
  5. Consensus (Social evidence) - one sheep over the dam.. and others follow. Stories about other people who also opted for this type of car.
  6. Sympathy (liking) - If you like someone you are quicker to award him something than when you don't like someone(this factor had my car salesman then not again!)
In the Dutch learning trajectory about learning technologies we investigated how you might apply these principles to online and social learning.

This prompted a discussion on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. My own conclusion is that you have to look and observe what drives people, what motivates them. So my car salesman quickly realized that would still like to have a red car and my husband was prone to a station model. How did he get there? By simply asking what we seek, by asking and observing which cars drew our attention. If you realize this, the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is less relevant. Is ultimately about influencing people. What trigger can you use to motivate them?

From car sales to learning online

The link between Cialdini and online learning is that we are learning online with a lot of added distractions than in a  face-to-face setting. In an online workshop or webinar for example, you're always just one click away from your email. I myself have just facilitated a three-week online course on business and human rights, the involvement from week one to week three went down, from high to low. It's quite a challenge to keep the attention of busy officials. I still find it a nice challenge to fascinate people, and keep them engaged online. Relying on their own motivation of participants is not enough.

Motivating people to engage in online learning - tips from car salesmen

  • Be the first to share a story which will incite participants to share as well, they also want to share a story or make sure that there are already interesting documents before asking participants to share documents online. You can also advance if something interesting partsn
  • Give participants a gift, eg. a fact sheet before asking if they want to do something, for instance complete the evaluation

  • Limit the number of spaces. Select participants on the basis of criteria
  • Open a platform, content or activity for a limited period of time. For instance I participated in a MOOC on digital badges which was open for only 48 hours
  • Make sure the platform closes immediately after the course instead of keeping it accessible 
  • Invite respected experts as guest speakers, or to provide feedback or give a master class
  • Invite important, authoritative people to place a cal for participation and finish
  • Use a positive evaluation of an online course or MOOC to recruit people for the next edition
  • Start with simple questions online, for example to make a simple introduction online.
  • Inviting people to introduce themselves and ask a question for the next in line works well for instance 
  • Ask participants in advance a number of questions, such as whether they want to share online and if they are going to finish the course for example. After this they be more committed to do so 


  • Behind the scenes you may invite a number of people to respond or engage online. This will make it easier for the next to follow
  • Emphasize positive behaviour, eg. "80% participated in the first webinar", instead of "I hope next week more people will participate"
  • Work with or likes or best content - so you can show what content is valued 
  • Make contact, such as through the mail and be genuinely interested in the questions and circumstances of your participants
  • Make sure you are visible online, eg by placing a video or photo of yourself and display a positive attitude and tone in your communications
  • Give compliments

Can you think of other actions based on these principles? 

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