At the end of each year, I like to look back over the last twelve months to see what I can learn from my writing and the readership at Etale. What resonated the most with readers? What articles received the most unique visitors and what were people inclined to share the most? Who was interested and why? Which search terms result in the most visitors? How did people learn about the site or article? What countries are represented in my readership? This year included more than a few surprises and interesting insights. As such, here is the 2016 summary by the statistics.
How many articles did you publish?
From January 1, 2016 to December 28, 2016 I published 185 articles on Etale.org (although I deleted 6 of them), averaging 3.5 articles a week. I published 3 articles a week steadily throughout the year, but there were a few weeks where I clearly had a bit more to say, publishing 8 articles in one week. Then there were the week when I only published a couple articles.
People ask me about how I manage to write so much, and I often explain that this is not a forum for polished articles. These are rough draft thoughts, a way for me to process and make sense of new and old ideas while also connecting with people around the world about those ideas. Most of my writing happens on the weekend, but instead of publishing 3 or 4 articles on a Saturday, I schedule them to release throughout the week. In fact, I’ve been known to write 6 or 7 articles on a weekend, setting them up to release over the next two or three weeks.
Etale is just one of many forums for my writing. I guest blog on occasion, write for popular and academic publications, write white papers on occasion for organizations, and then there is the book writing that keeps me occupied most days. As the quote says at the top of my blog and I like to repeat, I’m fond of Isaac Asimov’s quote that, “Writing is just thinking with your fingers.”
What did you write about?
Scanning the articles from 2016, much of my writing focused on some aspect of nurturing agency and self-education. The future of education, education reform, education policy, the need for and role of educational innovation, and alternative credentials were also frequent themes. I don’t plan out themes in advance. What I write is what I’m thinking about at the moment. In fact, readers may notice patterns in my thinking before I see them (and I’m grateful when readers point them out to me).
What were the most popular articles?
I like to break this up into two categories. The first includes articles that are all-time top picks for readers, ut they also continue to garner the most traffic on the site in the current year. The second category represents articles that I published in 2016 that garnered the most readers.
For the all-time top picks that also topped the list in 2016, we have four.
- 5 Common Reasons for the Importance of Letter Grades
- 70+ Education Documentaries to Challenge and Inspire
- 5 Templates to Use for Self-Directed Learning Projects
- What are the 10 Most Critical Issues in Education?
Interestingly, each of these also connect to projects on the docket in 2016. I hope to have a new book published early in 2016 about self-directed learning. I also have a finished manuscript about grading and assessment, and I’m going to explain more about a new experimental form of inquiry for me in 2017 that will look at the letter grade system in education. In addition, I published a book in 2016 that was inspired by the last article, What Really Matters? Ten Critical Issues in Education.
The top ten articles published in 2016 are:
- 20 Ideas for Professional Development in the Digital Age,
- 10 Tips for Parents Who Crave More for Their Children’s Education,
- Meet BreakoutEdu: Proof That Learning and Fun Go Together,
- A Tale of a Curious Boy,
- 10 Educational Trends to Watch in 2016,
- Should Everyone Go to College?,
- What are We Going to Do About Student Boredom in School?,
- 20 Elements of an Amazing School Curriculum,
- 10 Things that I Would Uninvent in Education, and
- 8 Principles of the Enlightened Digital Citizen
I have plans to expand on some of these in 2017 in a variety of forms, new articles, new books, and more. You are welcome to sign up for the Etale Newlsetter if you want to be the first to learn about these projects.
One thing that became evident this year more than any other was that list articles consistently get the most readers. 6 of the top 10 new articles and all the all-time most read articles include a numbered list. This says more to me about what captures readers attention online than it does anything else. As a writer who focuses much of his work on theory, philosophy, and think pieces, I confess that this is a little disheartening, but it does prompt me to think about how to best communicate my ideas in a way that is true to myself but also digestible for readers. I don’t ever anticipate Etale becoming a concrete “how to” site, but it is good to acknowledge the practical focus of many readers.
How did people discover Etale articles?
Google searches continue to be the most common way that people end up on the site or a specific article. Producing 180 articles in a year with a little SEO doesn’t hurt. Bing and Yahoo also direct a modest number of people to the site (but less than 5% of what Google did in 2016). After the search engines, Twitter and Facebook were even for the second most frequent referrers. After those two, we have Scoop.It, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+.
I also a few 2016 referrers coming from email servers, often school or University ones. I’m delighted to see that as it seems like these usually happen when someone reads an article, finds it useful or provocative, and sends it to colleagues as a resource or a discussion starter. I love to see this, as I often like to think of my writing as a form of kindling to fuel the fire of rich and substantive discourse about what matters in education today. Like all good kindling, it burns up in the fire, and I’m fine when my writing plays that role.
What keywords brought people to Etale?
It is always intriguing to see what people were seeking and how that led them to the site. What did they type into the search engine to get here? Part of this has to do with search engine optimization and ranking of certain articles. Then there is how much “competition” is out there on the same topic. Nonetheless, here are ten themes that show up consistently in the top searches that lead people to the site.
- self-directed learning lesson examples (and a dozen other derivations of searches about self-directed learning)
- critical issues in education (problems in education and many other related searches)
- educational documentaries
- letter grades (and many derivations)
- digital badges
- types of educational technology (I wrote an article which those exact words a few years back)
- teacher-centered versus learner-centered
- educational innovation
- the future in education
People end up at Etale when they want to explore self-directed learning, critical issues in education, and the role of credentials and assessment in education, education reform, and the future of education. This is consistent from 2015, with the exception that Etale is a growing destination point for people who want to explore critical issues and problems in modern education.
What countries are represented in the readership?
I counted twice on this one because I didn’t believe the results at first. Out of the 196 countries in the world, people from 185 of those countries read one or more articles on Etale in 2016. English-speaking countries are obviously at the top of the list. The largest number of readers in 2016 came from the United States. After that, there was a close second between Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and India. Then there is a third grouping that included the European Union, the Philippines, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Africa, Malaysia, and Singapore. The fourth group included Pakistan along with individual naming of most of the countries in the European Union (I’m not quite sure about the rhyme or reason behind some visitors showing up by a specific country and others simply by the broader “European Union” label).
It is still amazing to me that an academic from Wisconsin can write and self-publish articles from his living room (home library, or the local coffee shop down the street) that reach people in that many countries around the world. Of course, now I need to figure out which 11 countries are not on that list and how to invite those people to join the Etale reading excitement.
How many people visited Etale this year?
Etale is still a niche site. Up to this point, I don’t get millions of readers each month or year. This year we had just under 140,000 visitors. There continues to be a slow but steady growth in readers from year to year. Etale was never about becoming a major news source, but I do aspire to expand the conversation about ideas that matter in education. As such, I look forward to finding new ways to connect with even more people in 2017, and I welcome your help in that effort by sharing articles that resonate with you.
I’ve been blogging for over a decade, but it is only in the last few years that I started writing over a hundred articles a year. During these last few years especially, I connected with people around the world and discovered countless new ways to invest my time and energy in sparking thought, conversation, and action around critical issues in education. Readers of Etale are the ones who encouraged me to put more of my ideas in writing, being the impetus for three books published in 2016 and much more to come. More than ever, I see education as one of the most powerful forms of social entrepreneurship in existence, and my resolve in promoting this way of thinking is stronger than ever. This brief year in review is yet another source of insight and inspiration on this lifelong calling to challenge people to consider the significance and relevance of ideas that matter in education and society. Ultimately, my work is and will remain an ongoing exploration of truth, beauty, and goodness in this world and beyond.