Announcing: A Breakthrough Educational Collaboration between Copyblogger and U.C. Davis

In the explosion of online courses and education … what role will universities play? Announcing a new Copyblogger collaboration …

A lot of people see online education as either something created by universities (for example the MOOCs) or by companies (like Rainmaker Digital).

But the folks at U.C. Davis Extension approached the Copyblogger team to talk about a collaboration — and it’s finally here.

In this 25-minute episode, I talk with James Garvin on the U.C. Davis Extension team about:

  • The evolution of online education and the elements that make it work
  • The strengths and challenges of online education
  • For those of us who create online education: balancing business and learning
  • The increasing demand for up-to-date content marketing education
  • Predictions for education that will be more personalized to the individual learner
  • More details about our Copyblogger-U.C. Davis collaboration!

IMPORTANT NOTE: U.C. Davis has given us a discount code for this course — it’s COPY50. This gets you 50% off the course — but only through August 31, 2016.


The Show Notes


Announcing: A Breakthrough Educational Collaboration between Copyblogger and U.C. Davis

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free, 14-day trial at Rainmaker.FM/Platform.

Sonia Simone: Hey there, so glad to see you again. Welcome back to Copyblogger.FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger.FM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone. I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I hang out with the folks who do the heavy lifting over on the Copyblogger blog.

You will be able to get show notes for this show, including some interesting links and discount codes, by going to Copyblogger.FM. That will also take you to the complete archive for the show, and I want to dive right into it. We have an interesting one today, a little bit different.

The Evolution of Online Education and the Elements That Make It Work

Sonia Simone: At Copyblogger, we’ve been talking for many years about this trend of online-based education, web-based education. We use the word trend rather than fad, because it’s actually something that’s becoming more and more important as the years go by. It shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Today, I have invited James Garvin. James is over at U.C. Davis Extension. James, it’s really great talking with you today.

James Garvin: Yeah, thanks so much for having me today, Sonia. Really excited to talk with you and your audience.

Sonia Simone: Very good, very good. Before we jump in, let us know what you do for a living, so people kind of have a context of who you are and what you do.

James Garvin: Sure. My title is Director of Business Programs over at U.C. Davis Extension. What that means is I manage and create a portfolio of business programs, both online and in the classroom, aimed at helping working professionals acquire marketable skills in high demand, like content marketing, for example.

Sonia Simone: Exactly. I invited James over for two reasons. One, spoiler alert, is that Copyblogger has teamed up with U.C. Davis Extension on this pioneering course that is going to be taught online. In fact, I just returned from Sacramento, where I shot some video that’s going to work with the course. We’re going to let you know a little bit more about that in a few minutes.

The second reason I wanted James to come on the podcast is that James and the team over there at U.C. Davis are really doing some interesting things with online learning in the context of that more traditional university framework. He has a perspective I think we don’t hear all the time. I thought it would be fun to talk to him about it.

Sonia Simone: I guess I would start with this question. I think traditionally, there has been this perception of ‘never the twain shall meet.’ There are online courses created by private companies, companies like Copyblogger, and then there’s education that’s created by universities. And somehow these have nothing to do with one another. Do you think that that divide, do you think it’s going to continue? Do you think it’s as strong as it used to be?

James Garvin: Yeah, I think especially when we look at continuing education, it is a huge market, fast growing, and one that’s really being disrupted. The reason I got into working at U.C. Davis Extension was because I saw the evolution of what was going on in continuing education.

I have an MBA from U.C. Davis, and one of the biggest jokes about getting an MBA at a top-tier institution is that you learn everything but you don’t learn how to do anything, referencing particular skills that are marketable. I think that’s very true, especially today with a lot of graduates coming out of undergraduate universities. Again, four years of college, hundreds of thousands in debt, yet we still have double-figure unemployment. A lot of it has to do with the lack of marketable skills.

Sonia Simone: I think that’s exactly right. You and I have talked about this, and I think universities do what they do really well. There’s some really interesting things coming up with the skills-based training that supplements — for some people it will be a supplement, and for other people, they’re going to go right to that.

James Garvin: Yeah, and there’s no question. Going back to your question about private versus public, I think private entities, they’re merged and really grew fast in the continuing education market, because it was something that universities tend to shy away from. They didn’t invest as much money in continuing education as they do in traditionally undergraduate programs or even in graduate level programs for Master’s and Ph.Ds.

That’s really the role that extension universities like U.C. Davis Extension play, is to develop and manage programs aimed at working professionals that don’t take five years to complete or cost 100,000 dollars. These are certificate programs that most students can complete in as little as six months to as many as two or three years. That’s usually dictated by the student, not by the duration of the program. Traditionally, continuing education programs and certificates are completed part time. So students are still working or taking care of their family. They don’t have to move and uplift their family life to further their education and careers.

The Strengths and Challenges of Online Education

Sonia Simone: Yep. It’s kind of fun because we got to spend a couple of days together over on your turf. What do you see as the real strengths of delivering education over the web? What is it about that education over the web that’s really strong?

James Garvin: I think there are a couple of things. One, obviously, is the access. You break down geographic barriers, and anyone around the world can take an online course. I think the second point is convenience, especially in today’s age. People want convenience. You don’t have to sit in traffic after work driving 35 minutes to go sit in a classroom for three hours. We all work 24/7, where most employees are sort of always on the clock. Being able to leave for three or four hours in the evening makes things challenging, when you talk about sitting in a classroom for 15 or 20 minutes, or as long as you want.

I think those are the two key things that deliver on the promise of online education. I think the third thing that is just emerging with online education is really the personalization and customization of learning to the individual learner. I think generally when we think of instruction, we think of one instructor. We think of him or her teaching to dozens or hundreds of students, and everyone receives the same content. There’s a lot of technology and a lot of different learning modules that are coming out that help tailor and customize learning experiences based on the individual. I think that’s a really exciting emerging trend that’s going to continue in education all the way down from kindergarten through what we do with continuing education.

Sonia Simone: A conversation you and I had—I find this topic really interesting—is this question of whether online learning might be able to democratize education. We talked about how I went to a university where there were a very limited number of places, and more students than there were places to physically put them. A lot of people who would have benefited from that education didn’t have access to it.

When there’s no practical limit to how many students can attend a course, do you see, in what was elite education, something that might be available to everyone, or at least a lot more people than it is today?

James Garvin: Well, yes and no. I think what’s being democratized is the content. What I mean by that is, yeah, in this day and age, with the technology and widespread internet around the world, anyone can upload a video of content and distribute that to as many or as few people across the world as they want.

I think the challenging thing, when we talk about democratization of education, still comes back to the role of the instructor and the experience and interaction that students garner when there’s an instructor interacting with students. I think the companies that really helped democratize education are the MOOC providers. MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course.

Companies like Coursera and edX made a big splash, because all of a sudden they were, in theory, delivering top-tier instruction around the world. But really what it was was it was simply delivering the content. What was missing was still that engagement, on the student end, directly with an instructor.

But what we’re seeing now is sort of the role of online TAs, where you hire an online TA for every 50 or 100 students, so you’re still providing some interaction and ensuring that the students are in fact learning and mastering the content.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, and that’s a really intriguing area. We have a couple of programs where we have an instructor, an interaction component. Of course, it doesn’t scale the same way that something like a MOOC or a simple video would. It’s definitely an interesting thing to explore.

For Those Creating Online Education: Balancing Business and Learning

Sonia Simone: I’ll switch gears a little bit and ask — because you do have a lot of expertise — what do you think? So there’s that instructor interaction that’s a potential minus, or at least it’s a challenge. Are there any other special challenges to creating online learning?

James Garvin: I think it’s accountability. And it comes back down to motivation. I think students who are very self motivated and push themselves to not just consume the content but to apply it can do very well. Online learning isn’t for everybody, because you have some people who need an extra push from an instructor or a TA, somebody who’s going to hold the student accountable and keep them on schedule and also reinforce that they are in fact not just learning but applying what is being taught in the classroom.

Sonia Simone: Yeah.

James Garvin: I think that’s the biggest limitation with online learning, is how do you demonstrate that a student or a learner has in fact mastered the concepts and/or the skills that are being taught in the course?

Sonia Simone: Yeah, I agree. This one is hopefully not too awkward. You have an MBA, you are a strong marketer. I think that you consider yourself a business person, a marketer. Does that ever get tricky to manage, because you are in an academic environment? I imagine some of your ideas might not be … maybe some of your colleagues are not quite as familiar with some of the ways that you look at things.

James Garvin: Yeah, I think when you come into a university setting from the private sector, you’re able to collaborate in new ways. Not only was I able to bring new ideas to the organization, but they also shed some light on academic best practices.

I think that’s what really makes a university stand out from some of the private continuing education providers. You still have that academic excellence built into a lot of the programs. While our marketing may have lagged behind some of the start-up enterprise marketing tactics, I think where a university has the advantage is in understanding how to develop quality, engaged programs, whether that’s online or in the classroom.

Predictions for Education That Will Be More Personalized to the Individual Learner

Sonia Simone: That’s really cool. Yeah, I’m going to touch on that in a minute, but before we do, I don’t really believe in predictions, because they’re usually wrong, but they are fun. I’m going to ask you to make some predictions. Where do you think, since you have an interesting perspective, the future lies in online learning? Where do you think we’ll be in the next 10 years?

James Garvin: It’s going to continue to be more and more online. I think virtual reality will have something to do with it. Where or what, I don’t know. It’s going to be much more personalized and customized. No two students will engage in the same way. I think especially with online, we’re going to see more collaborations, so it’s less ‘student – computer,’ but more ‘student – student – student,’ whether it’s Skype or Google Hangouts or whatever virtual reality platform Google or Facebook come out with.

I think it’s going to be, especially in the continuing education market, and for employers in particular, ‘don’t tell me what you know, show me what you can do.’ I think having a portfolio of work through your class or through an internship through your course work is really going to be critical. And really what will allow students to stand out from the rest are those who can say, “I took this class and here’s what I created,” versus students who just say, “Well, I took this class.”

Sonia Simone: Yes, as you know, I have such a bias for that, for really getting it out there. That kind of leads nicely to something I hinted at, which is, we have a thing that we made called The Strategy of Content Marketing. It’s a course for U.C. Davis Extension co-produced by Copyblogger and U.C. Davis Extension. I’m the lead instructor for the course, and I was joined by Brian Clark, Stefanie Flaxman, and Jessica Frick on our side. So you get a nice sampling of viewpoints and skill sets from different roles on the Copyblogger team.

Then we have the expertise, and as James was saying, the advice and the talents and the abilities of the U.C. Davis Extension team. It’s pretty neat. My parents will be proud, teaching a U.C. Extension course. I thought it would be fun before we tell people how they can pick that up — because you can pick that up now, actually — I’d like you to just let me know, when you came to me with this idea, you shared some insights about the market, about the job listings that were in the Bay Area.

For those of you who don’t know U.C. Davis, it’s close to Silicon Valley, it’s close to San Francisco, and to that explosion of listings. Can you set the context for that, to help people understand why U.C. Davis wanted to develop this course?

The Increasing Demand for Up-To-Date Content Marketing Education

James Garvin: Yeah, well when I came on board two and a half years ago, I knew right away that I wanted to build a program or programs in digital marketing specifically. A lot of it had to do with my experience and knowledge in digital marketing before coming on at U.C. Davis. But there were two reasons why I really focused on it, aside from my experience.

One was, it’s just a fast-growing industry. The second was, not a lot of universities or even private companies were touching this. For the most part, online marketing, whether it’s content, social, email, or SEL, is really a self-taught skill.

So when I looked at those two things, with the number of jobs, the growth of digital marketing being utilized across every business out there, every organization out there, and the lack of supply in terms of quality, I knew I wanted to focus on that. The next question was, how do we create, for example, a content marketing program that’s not like any other?

I was familiar with Copyblogger, with you and Brian, from my marketing days, before I joined U.C. Davis. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we did a partnership? Some sort of a co-branded partnership with the best thought leaders out there? At U.C. Davis, we don’t have researchers or academic professionals researching content marketing. It’s just too new. It’s too modern.

I thought it was the opportunity to create something that no other university could create, and it would give students a blend of both of our expertise, yours coming from content marketing, ours coming from academic excellence and quality in online instructional development. And so I took a shot. I think I actually just cold emailed you, if I recall. Much to my surprise, we got on the phone, and I ended up flying out to Colorado to visit with you, to sit down. And that’s how it all evolved.

Sonia Simone: One out of every 500 people who cold emails me gets this result. Just goes to show that if you’ve got an interesting enough idea, then that works. We did collaborate on this course. From our side, really working on what we felt was most important to know about content marketing from that strategic point of view.

The team over at U.C. Davis has been such a pleasure to work with. It’s really been fascinating. I’m fascinated to see how it goes. Before we let people know how to pick it up, I think it would be useful to just ask you who you see as the ideal student, or you probably have a couple of student profiles. What’s the ideal person who would benefit from taking this?

James Garvin: Yeah I think there are a few. Just to give your listeners an idea of what this course is, this is really a foundation in the strategy of content marketing. It’s understanding how to develop a content marketing plan, how to write great copy so that your readers ultimately take action, drive sales, subscribe to a course, and I hope that there are additional courses that follow.

I think we’re really going to benefit a couple of stakeholders. I think your freelancer, somebody who’s maybe doing some copy writing, copy editing, but wants to get into content marketing. This is an easy way to do that. The second demographic, I think, are entry-level marketers. People who are managing marketing programs or marketing teams now, who maybe touch content marketing a little bit but don’t really own the process. I think this is an opportunity for you to quickly advance your skills in content marketing and hopefully your career.

The third is, I think, career changers with a knack or an interest in content marketing but who again don’t have any formal education in it. This is an opportunity for you to learn from the very best, online at your convenience. The course won’t be easy, but I think that’s the first step. If you’re looking to make a change into a fast growing, exciting, and creative career of content marketing, this is a very logical first step for you to get your feet wet without a lot of commitment, both in time or funding.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, I agree. I think that’s well put.

More Details About the Copyblogger-U.C. Davis Collaboration!

Sonia Simone: The easiest way to get the course is to go to Copyblogger.FM in your browser. We will give you a link, get you right there. If you are just an iTunes listener and you’re not handy on the web, really, if you just Google ‘U.C. Davis Extension,’ and then ‘content marketing’ or ‘U.C. Davis Extension Copyblogger,’ either of those, it will pop right up for you.

And James was kind enough to give us a really nice discount code. It is valid until August 31st, so it’s not going to be valid forever. That is COPY50. That’s all caps. That gives you 50% off. I was thinking, “Oh, 50 dollars, that’s nice.” No, it gets you 50% off. So that’s super excellent. Thank you for that.

For anybody listening, if you have questions about the course, if you have questions about what it covers, of course, there’s a complete course description there, so you can see what’s going to be covered. But feel free to drop a comment at Copyblogger.FM or just Tweet me. I’m @soniasimone, happy to answer any questions you might have.

I really tried not to give the baby version. I tried to give a real, useful, comprehensive course that really does get into the nitty gritty of the strategies. If you have any questions about whether it would be right for you, I’m happy to answer those. James, I think we’ve given people a lot to chew on. I want to really thank you for your time.

James Garvin: It’s my pleasure. Again, thank you so much for coming out to Sacramento this week to get you on camera and get this course finalized.

Sonia Simone: Really fun and interesting. The discount code again, COPY50. I don’t know if it’s case sensitive, but if it is, it’s all caps. It’s a solid course, and I’m quite excited to be on the forefront of private university collaboration. I think that’s really cool. All right, James, thanks so much.

James Garvin: Thank you, Sonia, take care.

Sonia Simone: Take care.