No time to learn? Try a MOOC

Learning picture Courtesy of Death to Stock

“So many things to learn. So little time, money, energy…” Does that sound like you? It’s certainly how I feel leafing through my local college prospectus. That’s why I joined a MOOC. Massive Open Online Courses (yep MOOCs) offer free, bite-sized digital learning opportunities for the inquisitive but time poor and cash strapped. Each online course brings together participants from across the globe to trade knowledge and perspectives on a given topic. Perhaps there’s never been a more poignant time to bridge the gap between yourself and your neighbours on other continents to fight ignorance through education.

Future Learn is the Open University’s MOOC platform with “over 2.5 million registered users from more than 190 countries, studying more than 5 million courses”. I opted to MOOC around on the University of Southampton’s fantastic Digital Marketing: Challenges and Insights course for 3 weeks. It turns out I actually do have time to study. Not for 6-hours straight like I did as a student but in arguably more efficient short bursts. The minimum 3 hours of study a week was easily completed in the 10 minutes before my commute to work or slumped on the sofa after dinner. In this patchwork quilt of time I explored the ethics of different digital marketing technologies and the unique web of on- and offline interactions that shape our individual purchasing decisions. Complex stuff was broken down into snappy videos and short articles that my brain could handle pre-9am and post-9pm.

The University of Southampton (UoS) itself showcased three of the best techniques in modern marketing through its own #FLdigital MOOC.

  1. Telling sticky stories: we are frankly bombarded with information. We tune out masses of this noise because it’s irrelevant, bland, incomprehensible or all of the above. But great stories stick in our brain. These are the stories that are accessible in our busy lives and use familiar narrative structures. These are the stories that resonate with us in some way and evoke strong emotional responses. UoS picked tales from the National Trust, Plants4Presents, OntheWight and the European Health Management Association to highlight the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats that exist for anyone developing or implementing a digital marketing strategy. Every “You’re damn right about that!” moment I experienced watching the interviews or reading the discussion threads inspired me to interact more with the course.
  2. Talking to customers like you are a human, not a corporate robot: lots of companies still use digital channels just the same way they use their website, adverts, and press releases. To broadcast. To shout at you. But the magic happens when you listen to what your customer is saying and you talk to them like human beings. It would have been easy for the UoS to simply upload their planned content to Future Learn and YouTube, and then leave us to it. Instead their postgraduate students, researchers and educators invested time engaging with participants to enhance their understanding of both digital marketings and their university. This included straying beyond the Future Learn discussion forums onto places like Google+, Facebook and Twitter. Places that their participants were already familiar with, where they feel safe and where they check in regularly. This certainly kept me in touch with the course when I was on the move and unable to log into Future Learn. I also developed a sense that UoS was the type of brand I could do business with because they actually cared about what I had to contribute to the course.
  3. Attracting potential new customers to their brand by giving away stuff for free: we all take risks as consumers. Some producers or providers deliver what they promise to time and time again. Others consistently under-deliver but somehow limp along ready to con another poor sucker. As a discerning consumer I always look at what a brand offers for free, and how good it is, before I buy from them. Offering “freemium” content is an opportunity for potential customers to understand your brand better and, crucially, for you to capture their contact details in return. Old school businesses obsess about how to make money out of everything they do. It smacks of desperation. Whilst others, like content planning experts CoSchedule, demonstrate their confidence in their paid-for product by giving away tons of blogging and social media advice for free. It’s this approach that has enabled CoSchedule to earn my goodwill and convince me they are a credible brand. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve recommended them too on the basis of their freemium content alone. The same can be said of the University of Southampton. Their postgraduate courses weren’t on my radar before but through their Future Learn course they’ve given me a window into their institution, and it was a pretty impressive view.

Even if marketing isn’t your thing maybe you’d like to write your first song or you want to understand how genetics is revolutionising the detection and treatment of cancer. Whatever your interests there are MOOCs available to everyone with an internet connection and a passion for knowledge. And believe it or not, you DO have the resources to learn scattered around!

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