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MOOCs - the ultimate content marketing?

Turns out that once you have people’s attention, opportunities for revenue appear from every direction.

MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, have always seemed to me the poster boy for the whole philosophy of content marketing. For those wedded to traditional marketing concepts – ‘give ‘em the sizzle, not the sausage’ – the whole idea is incomprehensible. I remember a fellow-publisher, a textbook editor, shaking her head in baffled irritation when they first emerged. ‘Why would you give away your teaching for nothing? How is that sustainable?’

And yet it seems not only be sustainable, but part of an irresistible tide. Quite soon the question may be: if you DON’T have a MOOC as part of your offering, is your institution sustainable?

In the old HE teaching paradigm (to be fair, still the primary source of revenue), universities attract paying students to attend lectures and seminars in person, usually to live on campus, to undergo assessment and benefit from a wide range of university facilities, and to qualify with a recognized degree after a specified number of years. In the US particularly, many of these students go on to provide an additional revenue stream as grateful alumni, keen to immortalize their names in the fabric of their alma mater by their generous donations.

So why risk messing with this model by making that prized teaching freely available on line? Yes, it’s a glorious vision – high-quality education freely available to all, using the internet for the public good, potentially lifting millions out of poverty – but where’s the money?

It turns out the money is in all sorts of places. It’s in the massive customer databases of registered students, in the upsell of credentials at the end of courses and merchandise, in enhanced reputation and visibility and an increase in students applying for paid courses, lead generation, by any other name, in syndication rights to other institutions, and no doubt in the future personalization and optional add-ons such as tutor calls. An article in The Conversation this week highlighted the fact that The University of Phoenix, Arizona, has become the most searched-for HE institution on Google, well ahead of Oxbridge and the Ivy League, thanks to its open courses and permissive enrollment policies.

Turns out that once you have people’s attention, opportunities for revenue appear from every direction.

Giving away content still seems counter-intuitive to many businesses. But the success of MOOCs doesn’t eclipse the fact that, as Simon Nelson, head of FutureLearn in the UK points out, “Learning is not something you can commodify.” And so it is with content marketing for any service provider. By providing valuable content for free you do not sabotage your business; you win attention, and with it the opportunity to win clients for whom the basic information is not enough, who want to work with you personally.

The crucial thing to remember with any content strategy is the way in which it relates to the broader strategy of the organization. Too many HE institutions are currently missing out on the potential benefits of MOOCs by outsourcing their provision, seeing them as a 'needed-to-play' add-on rather than an 'in-for-the-win' key strategic plank of their future. How do you want your content to work for you?

Tags: MOOCs | elearning | content strategy | marketing

This entry was posted on 30 September 2014 at 11:21 and is filed under content strategy. You can leave a response here.

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