Way back in 2011, some employees at HubSpot had an idea. They wanted to create an educational program on inbound marketing for HubSpot customers. So they wrote scripts for a few lessons, shot a few videos, and published them on a landing page. At the end of the course, they included an optional exam. If someone went through the course and passed the exam, they’d receive an official Inbound Certification.
“At the time, we knew it wasn’t the best course on SEO or content marketing or email marketing,” the company wrote in a recent e-book. “But what [the] Inbound Marketing [course] did do well was combine all of those strategies into a framework that really spoke to SMB marketers.”
Almost a decade later, that single project has evolved into HubSpot Academy, which offers over 350 free online courses. Per HubSpot, the Academy educates “tens of thousands of users every month.” In Q1 of 2020, new leads increased 115 percent year-over-year. Anyone can access the database to get certified in disciplines ranging from content marketing to business analytics to e-commerce. All you have to do is fill out a form.
HubSpot was clearly onto something. Virtual learning has boomed in recent years thanks to massive open online courses (MOOCs) like Coursera. Students can go through the material at their own pace, usually for free. Even esteemed colleges like Harvard and Yale have gotten in on the action, letting the public take certain online classes without needing to pay a cent of the $50,000 tuition.
In the professional world, this trend has huge appeal, especially for B2B companies. Workers can add to their skillset or learn something new if they want to switch careers. B2B marketers, meanwhile, can break down their complex products and services into lessons that are easy to understand. The courses also help nurture leads gradually (and improve customer retention). The built-in structure gives people a reason to come back multiple times to finish the lessons on your site.
Every course begins with a landing page. Think of it as a syllabus or outline, packaging the different components. This typically reveals how many lessons there are, who’s teaching them, and how long it’ll take to complete the whole course.
One reason these courses are so popular is because of chunking. The term comes from Harvard psychologist George A. Miller, who, in the 1950s, found that humans tend to memorize information best when something is split up between five and nine segments. If your boss asks you to learn Google Analytics, that sounds daunting. But if you go to Google Analytics Academy and see there’s a beginner course with smaller units for setting up basic campaigns and tracking conversions, suddenly the request seems more manageable.
For marketers, chunking supplies an added bonus: It gives users a clear reason to fill out a lead form. We’re all bombarded with pop-ups asking us to subscribe to newsletters and talk to a salesperson. But it makes sense to give up your email when you’re taking a course so that new lessons can be delivered to you on time.
Most successful courses incorporate video lessons, but you don’t need a huge budget (or an academy) to put together a successful video course. The key ingredient is knowing what your audience wants.
In 2014, three researchers from MIT, edX, and the University of Rochester studied 128,000 students learning through MOOCs. The goal was to find virtual learning trends and provide recommendations for instructional designers and video producers.
After evaluating over 6.9 million watching sessions, here’s what the researchers suggest:
B2B marketers, particularly in tech, already have the instincts to build a course like this, since they’re used to communicating with a digital audience.
“Presentation styles that have worked well for centuries in traditional in-person lectures do not necessarily make for effective online educational videos,” the researchers wrote. “To maximize student engagement, instructors must plan their lessons speciﬁcally for an online video format.”
How to take advantage of this trend:
- Review your existing content to find common themes or topics that could become courses.
- Use your content calendar to map out new course lessons well ahead of time if you’re starting from scratch.
- Keep video lessons short and highlight the instructor to give the course a personal connection.