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Photo by Henry Majoros

Marketers can save the world AND deliver tons of business value by creating online courses.

Sarah Bedrick
Dec 26, 2017 · 12 min read

When it comes to technology, I’ve often wondered how I previously lived without it.

It’s hard to imagine a world where personal computers, smartphones, Kindle e-readers, 2-day shipping, and the internet don’t exist. These technologies have enhanced my ability to learn, grow, and advance my skills and quality of life tremendously.

I’m not alone. When Pew Research asked Americans what they believed has brought the most improvement to their lives in the past 50 years, four-in-ten Americans said technology.

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Technological advances are enhancing and changing our lives tremendously.

Pew Research states that 77% of American adults own smartphones. The smartphone has revolutionized the way we communicate, shop, learn, navigate, and interact with the world around us, and it took ten years.

Robots can now follow us to help deliver mail, carry our luggage for us, and beat us in chess.

Semi-autonomous vehicles are currently available for purchase on car lots everywhere, and eleven automobile manufacturers project to have fully autonomous cars available in the year 2020.

In March of this year, Elon Musk’s SpaceX team made history by launching and landing a used rocket, making consistent space travel cheaper and more likely than ever before.

And at TED2017, Elon Musk unveiled his plans with The Boring Company and their underground high-speed tunnels. In his interview, he stated that these pods will travel 200 kilometers an hour, or about 130 miles per hour, and can take you from Westwood(LA) to LAX in 5–6 minutes; a drive that would typically take 20–40 minutes during the 9:00am morning commute.

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Screenshot from Elon Musk’s TED interview at TED2017.

If you haven’t watched the TED2017 interview with Elon Musk, do that now. It will blow your mind, and that is an understatement.

Like Ray Kurzweil, a famous futurist predicts, due to the Law of Accelerating Returns and how it impacts technological advancements, in the next few decades the world will be unrecognizable.

Our natural inclination is to start wondering what this means for us as individuals.

But I’d like to posit the question of what does this mean for our economy and our world?

As tech advances emerge, they require new and higher skill levels from the labor force than before. Skills necessary results in a significant shift of middle-class jobs.

The skills of today are more about our mental fortitude than our physical. Data analytics, computer science, machine learning, and other STEM-related skills are in high demand. In the next ten years, Mark Cuban and other AI entrepreneurs believe the needed skills will be critical thinking skills and make a return to liberal arts degrees.

How are higher education or public training/retraining programs helping us make this shift?

They’re not really, and that’s a problem.

WIRED published an interesting piece the other day, “Impatient with Colleges, Employers Design Their Own Courses.”

The article’s title highlights the frustration of businesses’ well. The premise of the piece is that universities today are not adequately preparing students with course materials and certain degree programs which we need in today’s job marketplace.

It’s not the fault of universities though; they’re not designed to whip up new curriculums in a year.

It’s not just universities having a hard time providing the labor force with adequate education; government training programs are struggling too.

On the evening of November 6, 2016 while Americans were rightfully glued to their television to see who would become the 45th President of the United States, the U.S. Department of Labor surreptitiously announced the results of their job-training efforts, and they were bad. Very bad.

The Government report surveyed people 15-months after they went through their training programs and found some scary results. Those who went through their “high-demand job training” received a lower salary, fewer employment opportunities, and fewer benefits like health insurance than those people who used the basic career services like assessments, job search assistance, and job plan development support.

The disappointing results from these reports indicate that these programs often aren’t designed or executed well and that the government is out of touch with the current needs of employers and the job marketplace of today.

While there are multiple reasons for the lack of proper education and training, the biggest one of all is the exponential rate at which technology is growing.

The lack of education and proper training leads to a lack opportunity. The majority of Americans are ill-prepared to participate in this shift of jobs, severely impacting the United States’ citizens and economy.

CompTIA projects that 1.8 million new tech jobs will be created between 2014 and 2024, many of them requiring people with data and computer-science credentials. However, recent figures show that in 2015, there were only 28,000 computer-science graduates.

There are a lot of open positions, yet there’s a shortage of talent to fill them.

While it’s unfortunate for businesses not to have access to the talent they need, what is more unfortunate is the number of people who want to level up their career and contribute but have no idea how.

The stories we often hear are about the how the Dow is at an all-time high, and the unemployment rate is at an all-time low, and housing prices are up.

However, those data points don’t tell the full story. Not everyone is benefiting from this economic growth.

What you don’t see is that in 2016, the percentage of Americans in poverty was 12.7%; a number which is (slightly) higher than in 2017, pre-2008 recession. Inequality is at a historic high, as wages for hourly-earners has remained stagnant too resulting in the ultimate version of the rate race. Lop-sided cities are emerging where the only people who can afford to live there work in tech. And the heaviest of them all, the tragic 22% increase in drug overdoses from 2015 to 2016.

So who is supporting all of this economic growth? Largely people in the tech sector. According to CompTIA, in 2017, the average salary of a person in tech was ~109,000, more than twice the median household income.

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Our situation reminds me of a story Leo McGarry tells in one of my favorite television shows, The West Wing:

“This guy is walking down the street when he falls into a hole. The walls are so steep; he can’t get out.
A doctor passes by, and the guy in the well shouts up, ‘Hey you, can you help me out?’
The doctor writes a prescription throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’
The priest writes him out a prayer throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a friend walks by. He says ‘Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?”
The friend jumps in the hole, and the guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here!”
And the friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here, and I know the way out.”

We need to develop more ways help those around us.

Without access to education and training, these problems will only continue to grow.

With the rate of technological change, the status quo of relying on higher education institutions and the government for policy changes to improve the labor force is no longer working.

But we marketers must intervene; we can address the problem and deliver businesses value simultaneously.

By using content marketing to create a “business academy” complete with educational courses to educate our customers, the industry, and the world.

As a marketer who uncovered the intersection of marketing and instructional design, I’ve seen firsthand the power of a business academy and what it can do for the business and the market.

At my professional alma mater, HubSpot, our Academy team developed free courses and certifications which educated business professionals on how to become inbound marketers, inbound sales professionals, and build inbound businesses. In 2016, we awarded over 73,000 certifications to professionals everywhere which helped many break into a new career field, improve their business, and have a positive impact on the economy.

And I’m not the only one seeing the value of “business academies.” According to Sratistics MRC, the e-learning market accounted for a healthy $165.21 billion in 2015 and is expected to reach $275.10 billion by 2022.

There’s so much untapped opportunity in business academies since universities and the labor markets can’t keep up with the speed of technological change. Businesses are beginning to show interest. Here’s a list of some companies producing elearning material in some capacity or another: Salesforce, Google, LinkedIn, HubSpot, Tableau, Shopify, Appcues, Invision, Canva, Hootesuite, Midaxo, Constant Contact, Wordstream, Khan Academy, EdX, Udemy, Udacity, Alison, Coursera, Canvas, General Assembly, WozU, Codecademy, and MIT. The list goes on.

Online learning, courses, and business academies have become a favorite strategy of top businesses because people love them. They often offer valuable content which might help people get their first job, a new job, a promotion, make a career shift, or master a topic. Since they’re online, they’re also easy to access, inexpensive, and better learning experiences as the user controls their pace of learning.

And when people love them, businesses win.

Businesses benefit tremendously from creating courses as well. They often experience the following under-discussed advantages:

A way to repurpose and repackage your marketing material.

If you’re a marketer today, chances are you and your team already create a lot of content. Content is how you attract your potential buyers online and develop a relationship with them.

One of the more profitable ways you can repackage your marketing material is to tie it all together into a cohesive curriculum. Google and other search engines will likely appreciate the in-depth content, and you’ll attract inbound links from users who complete the course, giving you more visibility than the traditional marketing content of today.

According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2015, it takes most writers 1–3 hours to write a blog post. For me, it’s about 4–6. If you blog 2–3 per week and assume each post takes about 4 hours, that’s 480 hours of writing a year. That’s with taking a month off for vacation too.

Compiling your content into a cohesive curriculum increases efficiency and make the most of the 480 hours — normal day-to-day work — that you’ve already invested in creating meaningful content.

Build trust with the market.

Every industry needs thought leaders, why can’t it be you?

As John Hall mentions in his book Top of Mind, creating content for your business is an excellent way to become a trusted advisor in the space.

You and your business have tons of experience since you’re living and breathing this stuff every day. Who better to educate the world than the experienced industry leaders in the space.

Use them as marketing collateral.

Just like any other content you create, this should also be leveraged to attract new people to your business and help convert those who are interested in learning more about your product or service.

Many businesses might find that using courses in this capacity has the most business value.

At HubSpot Academy, we offered courses with certifications. After the course, people could take a certification exam, and if they passed, they were awarded a digital badge and certificate to add to their LinkedIn profile, resume, Twitter, and any other online presence they wanted. The more people shared their success, the more influential we became, and the larger our audience became.

Courses can be used to educate customers.

If you’re working in a relatively new industry, you may sell a lot of software or product based on the dream or belief in the opportunity. If this is the case, you’ll still need to educate your customers when reality sets in. This is especially true if you’re a software as a service business because retention is a critical metric of business success and sustainability.

This exact scenario reminds me of when I joined HubSpot in 2011. “Inbound marketing” was still a relatively new concept online, and we found many customers were excited about the potential. However, due to its nascency in the market, a lot of customers were struggling to get started. The division which I helped build, the HubSpot Academy team, worked to solve this problem. We created individual one-off classes on topics like SEO, blogging, landing pages, and email marketing to help get customers up-to-speed in 60 minutes or less. While I cant share specific retention numbers, customers who went through HubSpot’s Academy certifications classes and courses were much more successful than those who didn’t.

Successful companies like Salesforce, Google, Gainsight, Appcues, and Midaxo, are now using academies or universities to educate their customers — and the market.

Use them as a product offering.

If you want to make additional revenue, course content is a product worth charging for.

Many businesses like PTC, UAV Drone School, Reforge, and individuals like Lauren Holiday and Darcy Eikenburg create educational courses and sell them at a premium. Heck, that’s what the entire MOOC (massive online open course system) foundation is built on. Businesses like Udemy, Udacity, Alison, and Coursera are betting on the evolution of education as online courses.

Help train all of America and close the skills gap.

The benefits above have a measurable impact on a business’ efficiency, leads, customer retention, and revenue.

This is where saving the world comes in. The advantages below highlight some of the other, less tangible and measurable opportunities gained by creating courses.

Better train your future employees.

As the WIRED article points out, universities need to get comfortable spinning up new course curriculums and degree programs to help future employees in the workplace. The editorial shares how Eastern Washington University worked with Microsoft to integrate their already-created course material into their classroom to speed up degree-program creation.

HubSpot has a similar program called the Educational Partner Program. As part of it, Academy team members collaborate with professors to create new curriculums and use Academy’s educational collateral to develop courses which reflect the knowledge and skills needed for today’s digital marketers. This works exceptionally well because HubSpot is a marketing industry leader, and so students can be confident knowing they’re learning from a successful and experienced company.

Amazon has their own higher education program too — AWS Academy.

Train or retrain potential employees in the labor force.

We should all be as ambitious as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is about changing the world.

In May, Benioff was interviewed by Jim Cramer on MadMoney, and in his interview, he revealed a project he’s been working on.

He proposed a 5 million dollar moonshot program to help retrain America’s workforce using Salesforce’s Trailhead program. Trailhead is one of the most robust business “academies” or “universities” programs, and by giving more people access to this — they can level up their careers, make more money which will have a measurable impact on our economy and their lives.

Which ties nicely to the next and last item…

Develop an “economy” or “ecosystem” around your business.

If your business fits the bill, by educating enormous volumes of people — you’re likely to create an ecosystem around you. Future employees, agency partners, universities, other passionate fans will increase word of mouth for your business garnering you more learners, but also more users and customers.

Returning to Salesforce, they recently announced numbers around the development of the ecosystem and the role it plays in businesses worldwide. Here’s an excerpt:

I am thrilled to report that Salesforce and its ecosystem of customers and partners will drive the creation of 3.3 million new jobs and more than $859 billion in new business revenues worldwide by 2022.

The Salesforce ecosystem is helping job growth and business growth through their software and partner program. The more people they train on Salesforce products and systems, the more abundant talent supply there is for the market, leading to more demand and usage of Salesforce products and services. It’s a fulfilling prophecy.

How big do you want your business to become? Do you want to develop a network around you, while simultaneously helping train the job force?

Then let’s challenge the status quo of how training in America works, and start using our marketing skills, knowledge, and passion to have a positive impact on our business and people everywhere.

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