2U’s 2015 Impact Report defends online education through content marketing

2U has released a 2015 “impact report” that I think is worth mentioning for its substance, structure, and style.

2U’s message: You or someone you know thinks online ed is lame, but actually it’s not. Thanks to 2U.

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I’ll admit it makes me sad that, despite continuing evidence of no significant difference, we still have to justify/defend online learning in the year 2015. But they’re right. We do. For example, the 2014 Babson Survey report Grade Level states, “academic leaders rating online learning outcomes as ‘Inferior’ or ‘Somewhat Inferior’ remained steady [in 2014] at 25.9%.”

One of the things you’ll notice as you (double)scroll to navigate through the report is it is both elegant and painless to read. Which brings me to think about the structure and the style of this piece:

For those of you interested in sales or marketing tactics, 2U’s report is a good example of commercial teaching — the report leads from the problem (persistent negative perception of online education) to their unique solution (strongly partnered online degree programs).

My colleague Sean Morris and I are both deeply invested in figuring out how to make important education research both appealing and impactful. We talked in depth about the language used in this 2U piece, and how even though this is labeled an “impact report”, it certainly feels much lighter weight. We had to ask ourselves, is this in actuality a research report or is it mere marketing narrative? It’s both. In my previous career I would have been a prime target for this particular piece, yet I didn’t feel like the report was BS’ing me or hiding truth behind fluffy language. Perhaps that’s because I know enough of the underlying tension (e.g. the perception vs reality challenge that online learning faces) that I was able to accept the claims without too much scrutiny of sources.

If you work in education, what examples have you seen of simple but substantial (and, dare I say, influential) content marketing that worked for you?