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There are at least two (opposing) views on whether or not MOOCs fit into a universities marketing plan. Here is an exchange on LinkedIn that captures those:

PWPeter WilkinsonMD of Wilkinson Group / Chair of Etched Communications

I think almost all universities are so far suffering the same exquisitely painful dilemma: on one hand, to incorporate MOOCs into a marketing plan is bad for the existing business model because MOOCs will a) not, for quite a while, be sufficiently profitable to be worth investing already scarce resources and b) ultimately cannibalise the uni business; on the other hand to ignore them is potentially fatal.

The only unis that are exceptions to that may be those that can support two potentially conflicting businesses. Those would be first, globally strong brands (Harvard etc) and second, those that can grow MOOCs that cannibalise other universities, not their own. So in a worrying way I suspect the answer to your question may be, for Australian unis under the existing business models you can’t. What do you think?

And I wonder if a more challenging question is (and I’m not suggesting there is an easy answer), how do unis have to modify their thinking and their business models to manage through the approaching hostile environment.

 

MichaelRutterMichael RutterDirector of Communications, HarvardX

The question remains whether MOOCs are merely marketing—for any university. I think a better way to consider them is not necessarily through the traditional marketing lens (reserve that for admissions-based and extension/adult ed programs) but instead as a way to showcase innovative teaching, research, and other particular aspects of your institution.

In some ways, they are another ‘window’ into your institution — akin to a campus tour or main website or social media assets. Moreover, research institutions have long published their findings, discoveries in a wide variety of formats to garner media, reputation enhancement, and to show public benefit. MOOCs can do the same thing for teaching.

For us, we see them as a way to extend an experience. Like a particular iTunes lecture? Well check out the full course. Want to dig deeper into something you saw at a library or museum, well then take a related course that provides detailed historical context. Are an alum going on a trip to China? Well, then spend some time learning about the geo-political context. By extension, if you liked the MOOC, you might want to explore other courses, entire programs, and so forth.

Finally, don’t forget that placed-based and residential learning are essential with MOOCs. How can they be used to enhance traditional forms of education … or as pre-reading for events, lectures, and other talks. They provide an ideal way to “convene” conversations, club activities, etc. and can be used as snippets, trailers, and in other modular ways as needed in a variety of settings.

And an aside, MOOCs are not a ‘strategy’. They are one aspect of an institutions commitment to teaching and learning.

 

PWPeter WilkinsonMD of Wilkinson Group / Chair of Etched Communications

Hi Michael, I agree on the ‘window into your institution’ value of a MOOC. It really works! From down here in Australia we can see you guys have put a lot of thought into this. There are a number of colleagues who have enrolled in the Wharton School (another strong brand) MOOCs including yours truly, and I’ve looked at Harvard’s Prof. Michael Sandel’s Justice course. Your brands are now even stronger down here, no doubt, and there must be a draft plan on someone’s desk on both campuses to increasingly ‘go global’. Almost everyone wins!

I wonder though what impact that ‘window’ marketing strategy has at the level of regional unis with weaker brands. Do you think we’ll be smothered by you? Down here an EY report has predicted the probable demise of many universities and I think another of your Harvard professors, Clayton Christensen, has made some pretty dire comparisons between unis now and what started happening to newspapers in about 2005. I’m not suggesting either EY or Christensen are correct, they’re just expressing opinions too. I don’t know, but after a year of working at it, I’m concerned. What do you think?

 

MichaelRutterMichael Rutter

Director of Communications, HarvardX

 >>I wonder though what impact that ‘window’ marketing strategy has at the level of regional unis with weaker brands. 

At least in the U.S., there is diversity in higher ed (at all levels). Meaning, provided an institution (small, technical, community college) has a specific mission and aim, many can thrive … esp., if they are specific in their target audience.

I think the same could go for MOOCs … as already, Udemy has a strategy where anyone can offer a MOOC who has a skill they wish to share (without necessarily institutional branding). Some smaller institutions like Davidson College are focused on very specific kinds of MOOCs (in their case Advance Placement). And so on.

>> Do you think we’ll be smothered by you? Down here an EY report has predicted the probable demise of many universities and I think another of your Harvard professors, Clayton Christensen, has made some pretty dire comparisons between unis now and what started happening to newspapers in about 2005. I’m not suggesting either EY or Christensen are correct, they’re just expressing opinions too. I don’t know, but after a year of working at it, I’m concerned. What do you think?

No one can tell the future at this point. In our case, all that we do is aimed at advancing learning—and that means online and especially on campus. Meaning, MOOCs are an extension of what many institutions have always done … and higher ed has and will continue to evolve (which always seems to surprise people — but think of the case method, interdisciplinary studies, digital humanities, and so on) … and this may be one step, or iteration, in that evolution.

 

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