I just finished the fourth and final module of the University of British Colombia Web Analytics course, loftily called an “Award of Achievement” and thought I would impart my thoughts on the program.

About the course

This fully online course is offered by the University of British Colombia in association with the Web Analytics Association and is comprised of four modules:

Introduction to Web Analytics

This module does exactly what it says on the tin by introducing the student to the concepts of web analysis, KPIs, SEO, campaigns etc.  This unit is a pre-requisite for the other three, but may be skipped on successful completion of a prior learning assessment.  I, however, thoroughly enjoyed it (my tutor, Jeff Young, was tremendously engaged and helpful throughout) and it led me to some interesting investigations into cookie perceptions – you can see the blog posts here and here.  While I was already familiar with the concepts, there were some very interesting case studies in the course material and discussions with students with varying levels of experience were quite enlightening.

Web Analytics for Site Optimization

Persona models, character diamonds and masks were introduced in this module – all of which were relatively new to me in this form.  We looked at visitor behaviour and activity and the assignments behind these led me to some deep-in-thought-on-the-bus-to-a-point-where-I-missed-my-stop introspection regarding the limitations of tracking in the face of miscreant visitors (leading me to ask What happens when sheep behave like people?).
At this point, you might wonder if the course is simply blog fodder, but press on, there’s more!

Measuring Marketing Campaigns Online

I found this module quite challenging in terms of the material offered (see The Cons), but fascinating in terms of the assignments, which really allowed the creative (I know, fantastic pun) side some breathing room.  We looked at the various methods of campaigning and explored the effectiveness of online and offline efforts, focussing on areas like: landing pages bereft of relevance to related paid search campaigns (a personal pet peeve – one of a legion, to be fair).

Creating and Managing the Analytical Business Culture

This was probably the most demanding of the four modules in terms of the fact that it deals with the intangible topic of driving change in a business through web analytics.  Topics in this unit covered the characteristics of a web analytics manager, models of data collection and fashioning a data-driven culture. All of this was from more of a management perspective and forced us to look at everything we’d learned from a new angle.

The Pros

I very much enjoyed doing this course.  I found myself reading some amazing books and blogs that I might previously have missed had I not been researching for assignments.  I was involved in some great discussions and my eyes were opened on a couple of topics I’d only viewed from one perspective.  Some of the assignments were downright fun and overall the resources provided in the online “Moodle” environment were great.

As an incentive to do well, if one were needed, each year the student with the highest grade across all four modules is awarded the Jim Novo Award of Academic Excellence. Who wouldn’t want that?

The Cons

The course materials provided definitely need refreshing.  Most of the lectures appeared to be from 2006.  In some modules, like the introductory one, this did not matter too much, but in Module 3, Measuring Marketing Campaigns online, it was especially frustrating.  Sentences like “Flash tracking may take off, we’ll have to wait and see” (I’m paraphrasing) made some of the information seem desperately dated.

The discussion assignments, conversations conducted in an online forum on a particular topic, can be quite stilted and it is very difficult to know if you have done enough – especially, I would surmise, for those who enter the conversation late and just appear to parrot what’s been said previously, which is surely difficult to avoid.  The key seemed to be to get in early, get your point across and force everyone else to have to react to you (Me?  Gameplan?  Naaaahh!).

It is a shame that there isn’t a requirement for students to participate in at least one non-assignment discussion – you can only get out of this course what you put in, and you could almost hear the wind whistling in the desert in some modules due to the lack of input in the online forum.  I imagine it would be quite easy to pass the course with a minimum of effort if all you wanted was the entry on your CV (perhaps to some, this is not a “Con”?).

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Absolutely!  However, bear in mind that this is about learning about the background and theory of web analytics – you will not magically be a web analyst or super-powered analyst at the end.  Nothing replaces experience.  But, if nothing else, this course is a wonderful resource of resources and comprises lectures provided by some of the best and brightest in the industry.
In terms of other web analytics education and industry-involvement, consider the following:

  • The Web Analytics Association Certification (ETA early-ish 2010):  this aims to certify analysts with hands-on experience in the field of web analytics.
  • Joining and volunteering at the Web Analytics Association.
  • Joining the Web Analytics forum on Yahoo! Groups.
  • Finding or holding a Web Analytics Wednesday in your area.
  • Unashamedly stalking industry leaders, evangelists, analysts, vendors, practitioners, students etc on Twitter – this is my list, though I’m sure I’m missing a few jewels.  Further stalking can be accomplished by following blogs (see my blogroll for a small selection of some of the great blogs out there)
  • Checking out the brand spanking new Analysis Exchange and getting involved.

There are lots of other ways to learn more about web analytics and immerse yourself in the discipline, so get up, get out, get involved and get me a cappuccino while you’re there!

Note: for a more detailed run-down on the individual UBC WA modules, I recommend Russell Smith’s blog series which begins here.

[Update: Also coming up in 2010 is "Web Analytics Without Borders" from the Web Analytics Association - learn more here.  What an interesting year we have coming up!]