Stand Back… I’m Going to Try Science!

 

Karlyn Borysenko blinded us with science Tuesday afternoon at #heweb13. Borysenko, a marketing manager with Eduventures, showed her audience how to conduct research into the wants, needs and habits of their respective audiences.

Borysenko, armed with a lab coat and a tie-dye shirt, took the 100 people in the audience through differences in and steps behind quantitative and qualitative research.

Quantitative research is collection of the hard numbers and data. Qualitative research seeks to establish narratives. That may seem a little softer of an approach “but it’s just as valid,” said Borysenko.

In the quantitative approach you start with a question you want to answer – for example “is social media an effective recruiting tool for your organization?” or “Are prospects engaged with a college’s social media sites more likely to enroll than those who are not?” And you need to define your terms for each part of that question.

They you pick a null hypothesis — in Borysenko’s case “students who are engaged on social media are no more likely to enroll than those who are not” and you try to disprove it with your data.

You assemble a survey with close ended questions, and determine a sample size. Borysenko shared a site that can help determine a statistically significant sample size: www.bit.ly/mdp12.

You share the survey and wait for the results.

“It doesn’t take very long and it’s very doable,” Borysenko said.

Qualitative data, however is about developing a narrative of the experience a person has connected to your brand.

“It tells you why something is going on. It gets you insides people’s heads and tell you what they’re thinking,” Borysenko said.

The questions in qualitative research are open-ended, and you must conduct focus groups to collect that information.

You conduct those focus groups, until you stop hearing new ideas, Borysenko said.

“You’re looking for trends,” she said. “You want to reach data saturation.”

Researchers also must continue to probe, constantly asking survey participants what they mean.

“Never assume that just because you’re using the same words that you mean the same thing,” Borysenko said.

The final product of qualitative research will be the story of your survey participants experience, not hard data.

Both approaches can be very useful for higher ed, Borysenko said, and each have their own set of advantages.

Quantitative research is cheap to perform and relatively easy to construct, but you’re not going to get in-depth information out of it, she said. Qualitative takes longer, more expensive and is harder to analyze, but you get better information about it, she said. And you can effectively mix the two and should do so, Borysenko said.

But, regardless of which method you choose, higher ed marketing needs to conduct more research, she said. A recent Harvard Business Review article found that only 11 percent of marketing decisions were driven by data.

That, says Borysenko, is a data point that must change if higher education is to thrive in the coming years.

Image Courtesy Flickr user  chase_elliott via a CC license.