Carmichael Lynch Wall
Advertising Age

Marcus AdAge Online Classes

My New Year’s resolution: take a MOOC.

What is a MOOC? You’ll be hearing more and more about them. They’re Massive Online Open Courses. They’re at the intersection of higher education, social media and collective learning, blended with real-world contact.

There are three big players in this space: Udacity, edX and Coursera. New offerings are popping up on a regular basis. The Coursera site has a running total of “Courserians” who are taking the classes. The total stands at just over 2 million — and it’s only been going since mid-2012.

The MOOCs have impressive universities partnering with them: Stanford, Harvard and MIT, to name a few. The types of classes offered are broad and far reaching. Most are in science and technology. As of now, you can complete the course, but not get college credit, though that limitation may not last much longer.

MOOC evangelists say that we’re ushering in a new age of education. Detractors say this will further dilute education, cut funding and take away from the personal interaction of teacher and student. I lean more to the evangelist side. The growth of MOOCs is undeniable. Who is taking these courses and why? The most comprehensive look I’ve seen shows a range of current students and employed professionals who are looking to sharpen and enhance their knowledge. For both Coursera and Udacity, the great majority of students live abroad. For students, the attraction is clear: access to professors from top universities.

Those of us who are practitioners of branding, media and marketing can learn a lot from the MOOC model, about how we will be communicating moving forward and some of the challenges we will face, including feedback on a mass scale, splinter communities and finding new metrics.

Brands want to be positioned as online universities or professors. We want to teach classes about our brands, experiences, values, services and products. Would brands ever be able to create content interesting enough that people would sign up to take “the class of a brand?”‘

We ultimately want consumers/prospects (students) to sign up for our class to learn it, live it and share/use it in daily life. Just as study groups form (both virtual and real) in the MOOC community of students, we want consumers/prospects to come together to discuss our topics (social media groups). And, just as MOOCs have a cache about the universities they’re associated with, so too, do we want a cache that will attract consumers/prospects to our brand.

MOOCs and marketing messages have another thing in common. People are critical and fickle. If the content isn’t good, it won’t last. Just as consumers are quick to support something, they’re quick to pan it, too.

Since there isn’t any established criteria or level of expectation, the reviews that will be coming in on MOOCs are likely to vary greatly. The natural benchmark that students will have is traditional classrooms. New evaluation criteria will be needed. So too with marketing, as we develop new types of messages on new platforms, the metrics we use to evaluate them will need to evolve, too.

One study found that a full one-third of all New Year’s resolutions are broken before the end of January, and only a quarter of them are kept. But, as to my New Year’s resolution, I’m now a Coursera student. See you in class.

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