Content Marketing Is Not Teaching

Written by

Mark Johnson

The idea of “teaching” an online course has been largely distorted to mean packaging up a bunch of videos and documents and then focusing all energy towards selling it. In real life, this would be like a professor selling you a textbook he wrote along with a few slideshows and then heading out the door.

Content marketers, often motivated by a mythical idea of hands-off content streams as passive revenue gold mines, have found creating online “courses” to be an easy sell. You can spot these kinds of courses by the snake-oil style sales tactics used to sell them: access windows that expire for no good reason, super long sales pages, a pyramid-scheme-like emphasis on buying into a passive-revenue lifestyle, unreasonably high price points with steep limited time discounts, etc.

A whole industry of content marketing experts and course creation platforms has emerged around this fad of using “courses” as a get rich quick scheme. While there’s nothing wrong with creating and selling useful content, calling it a “course” and calling offering it “teaching” is at best an abuse of some important words and at worst deceptive.

So what does great online teaching look like? It’s actually pretty easy to identify — being a great teacher online requires doing the same things you’ve seen your favorite teachers do in the classroom.

Great online teachers:

  1. Build a path of small steps to reach big goals. They understand where their students’ are first and carefully guide them to achieve their goals one step at a time. Great teachers get in their student’s minds so they can make them better people not so they can get in their wallets.
  2. Design practical projects and exercises. Watching a video isn’t enough. Until we can apply the content, we haven’t learned it. It’s one thing to watch a video demo on baking macaroons and another thing entirely to get in the kitchen and actually do it.
  3. Communicate the cost. Effective teachers calculate what their course costs for students both in terms of time and money. This allows teachers to communicate the necessary investment upfront, which helps students buy-in with confidence knowing the challenges and rewards that lie ahead.
  4. Give accountability and motivation. Staying motivated to learn in an online environment is tough. Great teachers help motivate their students by setting a schedule with reasonable deadlines, evaluating and scoring work, and checking in on how they are doing.
  5. Encourage discussion and collaboration. Include opportunities to learn with and from other people through discussion, debate, and collaboration — not just from passive content.

If that sounds like a lot of work, it is. There’s nothing passive about real teaching. It is as much a craft and art as any other job. And doing the job well comes with immense rewards, as any teacher knows.

The good news is that the internet and technology can and should act as a multiplier to great teaching not a bastardization of it. In fact, at a time when so much great content exists, we need truly excellent teachers more than ever — this is not the time to sell out.

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