It’s that time of year where I’m planning my spring courses.

For graduate and undergraduate students alike, real-world experiences are essential to the learning process. I talk a lot about my eCommunities course as an example. In the course, teams of 4 to 5 students work with small businesses, startups, or non-profit organization to design and implement their social media strategy. The summer 2012 and spring 2013 classes are fortunate enough to work with many exciting new startups featured on Barbara Corcoran’s Shark Tank series.

It’s amazing to pair students with real businesses. It’s a learning process for both the students and business owners.

It’s important to enable students to learn social media through experiencing it. Students experience the world of social media by managing the online presence for their assigned business client. They learn how to manage the client relationship and ensure that the client is clear on the objectives for the business. Student teams work to refine the objectives with the client based on the target audience and implement a strategy using various social media platforms.

This works well as a semester long project. However, measuring the impact of the changes proposed and implemented by the student teams is more difficult to measure.  This goes beyond ROI, but more towards having a better understanding of cause and effect in social media.  During the course of the project the clients give feedback to students on their performance as do I.  However, the feedback from the community to various campaigns, interventions, and experiments is the ultimate response.

To have a better understanding of the cause and effect, I’m revising the course to be not only experiential but experimental. Student teams will be charged with implementing 5 experiments for 5 to 7 days for $500 or less. This approach lends itself to measuring outcomes. It also provides students with the time necessary to implement a single experiment at one time. I’ve adapted this idea from Erik Brynjolfsson who promotes an evidence based culture in business decision making. I hope to write more on the outcomes of this approach at the end of the spring 2013 semester.

Experiential and Experimental Learning – Using Small Businesses as Projects