Content strategy MOOC shows it can’t handle criticism

It’s always interesting to see how many people and courses pretend one thing, but act in a totally different way. It’s especially interesting to see this happening in ‘academia’ where the academics are supposed to be open for criticism and always questioning. I’ve been educating myself since last year trough so called MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) on Coursera and I like the model and style. Although many people generally start such a training, few usually finish (about 7% according to some research). Why? Well, I think in part it’s because many people have a higher expectation of the education given there, next to of course the time element and the self motivation element.

I was doing two MOOC’s at ones and I decided to quit one today: Content Strategy from Northwestern. I always held Northwestern in high regard, but for me their reputation lost some of it’s glamour with their actions in this MOOC.

I had no intention of posting this post in the public internet space, but since it was removed from the MOOC’s forums, I decided to do that anyway. Why? Because first of all the removal proves my point. They preach transparency, yet don’t practice it themselves. Second of all, because I would like an open discussion about the points I make. I’d rather had that discussion in the confined and closed section of the MOOC’s forum, but since the internet allows me to publish it anyway, I will. I thought that it was generally known in the world of content strategy that removing content that criticizes you generally isn’t a good strategy.

This is the post that was removed earlier from the forum. I’ve left the links in so my former class mates are able to link directly, I understand for other readers these forums are closed, so you just have to take my word on it that this is what was said in these forums.

My post:

I have several reasons for my disappointment in this MOOC. Mainly the bad content experience that’s given in a MOOC about content.

First: there is a thread about the video’s intro’s being too long (https://class.coursera.org/contentstrategy-001/forum/thread?thread_id=34). Many complaints, not a good content experience. When I asked about the strategy professor John Lavine himself explained it (a good content experience), but when I confronted him that his strategy was in contradiction with his own lessons (the content needs to be relevant for the readers/viewers, and the branding in every video is not) he remains silent (bad content experience).

Then I wonder about the facts behind the best practices (https://class.coursera.org/contentstrategy-001/forum/thread?thread_id=1532). Since there is nothing being said about the actual numbers on the best practice. Just ‘what they did’. The staff replied (good experience), stating they… really don’t measure them at all. They don’t even know what a good metric would be. When I question this again, once again… silence. (bad experience).

This brings me to two main points. First of all: as soon as there is some criticism, it seems the staff will not engage is further dialogue. I understand that when strong language is used, but I believe good content means a good dialogue and just walking away from any dialogue, also a digital one, is just plain rude and bad content strategy.

Second: it seems there is no data behind the content strategy. At least not behind the best practices. I know several cases where a good (content) strategy delivered big business results. Interpolis (A Dutch insurance firm) for example went from less then 5% marketshare to one of the main players in the market with their ‘crystal clear’ campaign. Compare the market went from 8% marketshare to 40% marketshare and gained 800.000 new clients with their ‘meerkat’ strategy. Thunderhead got an ROI of 11.000% with their ‘data data data’ strategy (gain as much data as you can about your prospects (B2B) and adjust every piece of content to that.

And there are so many more great examples of good content strategy, lasting for years, improving, and with measurable results.

Maybe my expectations are too high. I expected a university to work with metrics and measurable results. I’ve seen enough trainers tell people what they want to hear without bringing evidence to the table. Now I don’t debate the basics of the course (trustworthy, credible and transparent information). I don’t debate the face that a story works better (the case of Join the Meerkat shows that) and everything else. It’s not nonsense, but they’ve been discussed a hundred times before on every blog and every seminar. I expected academics to be better than the average trainer of blogger (I’m one of them) and to have more measurable results.

And I expected people that made content their lives, to not go against their own findings and tips (on transparency with the cases, on relevance with the branding).

Since all the content is already live, I don’t expect anything to change. So I’ve decided to quit and spend my time in another one of Coursera’s MOOC’s (like John said in week one, you only have 24 hours in a day).

Goodbye and good luck.

Bas