Intellectual Property Vs. Content Marketing In eLearning
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Intellectual Property Vs. Content Marketing: What eLearning Professionals Need To Know

As an educator, it can be tempting to treat your lesson plans, learning materials, and individual approach to teaching and engaging with students as proprietary. In many respects, it all is proprietary: You conceived it, field-tested it, refined it, maybe even leveraged it to train other faculty or peers. Your academic methods and original resources are your intellectual property (IP), and more than that, they are the bread and butter of your professional value proposition. No one else brings what you bring to the learning table.

But the internet is disrupting the whole idea of IP, as well as formal learning, much more than we often give it credit for.

I want to talk briefly about something that is all the rage in corporate, professional, and technology sectors: Content marketing.

How Content Marketing Is Disrupting Ideas Of Ownership

The notion here is really quite simple — despite the troves of opinions and “expert” suggestions swarming around the subject like a plague of flies straight out of Exodus. The internet is built around content. Social media, in particular, has pivoted heavily away from people simply connecting to one another to incorporate more content sharing. Facebook, once preoccupied with “friends” and groups, now facilitates video sharing and streaming, and has all sorts of algorithms managing content feeds. Instagram, YouTube, and virtually every other popular platform has taken a similar course, putting content first and connections second.

The point of all this is that getting maximum visibility and engagement for your content often means sacrificing your IP claims up front. Putting your content behind paywalls, or requiring subscriptions, only inhibits its viral potential. People and companies today are worried more about maximizing exposure, rather than controlling access and ensuring credit is giving where it is due. In fact, major brands and companies are looking to crowdsource advertising through the use of user-generated video, amplified by social media, rather than putting their own resources behind heavily protected and expensively produced media.

Exclusive rights and authorship is being displaced, in some respects, by an alternative currency also unique to the internet: links. Since links facilitate the flow of traffic, “creators” are often just as happy to get this little blip of HTML code pointing at their content and site as they would be to have their name dropped in reference to whatever they produced — happier, in fact, because links are easier to click than names are to search.

Content Marketing Challenges For eLearning

What this all means for the education community, and the eLearning community in particular, is that we are officially competing for attention, links, engagement, and learning outcomes with an avalanche of free marketing content. In some respects, marketers today have the same goals as educators:

  • Transmit new knowledge and understanding that people want and need.
  • Teach something in a new, accessible way.
  • Present a new perspective that adds depth to existing knowledge, or fosters curiosity.

That is the essence of good content marketing; the problem is, content marketers make their educational content free, and highly visible to boot. Meanwhile, educators often languish behind the paywall of tuition and enrollment, whether they operate from a university, provide industry-specific professional training, or even work within a corporate environment. Despite the mobility and global reach of eLearning in theory, the reality of trying to maintain control over content and educational IP can mean sacrificing the full potential of the digital medium.

The primary impulse of many people today is to search for answers online before soliciting a professional’s insight or expertise; that means content marketers have a leg up on educators, at least in terms of first exposure. And the more inquiring minds online can find free, albeit branded, answers to their queries, the less inclination they may have to engage with eLearning technologies and professionals to discover or deepen their understanding and skills.

Where Do eLearning Leaders Go From Here?

If it wasn’t obvious before, let me point out that eLearning instructors can utilize content marketing for their own educational enterprises. Experts, after all, ought to be able to beat marketers in terms of depth as well as breadth of knowledge. It follows that expert teachers taking advantage of eLearning technologies can provide introductory materials for free while continuing to invite visitors to their classrooms or formal courses.

At the same time, other industries have proven that turning visitors and customers into subscribers can be both effective in terms of engagement, as well as sustainable as an income stream. eLearning students are a natural fit for the subscription model and can help you balance the need to keep your educational IP exclusive, while making your educational brand public and highly visible.

Finally, just because something is free and easily shared, doesn’t mean it easily translates into a lesson plan or scales up to a curriculum. The materials, videos, and other educational content you’ve developed in support of your eLearning programs may still be valuable as formal teaching tools, rather than self-teaching resources. While content marketing thrives on quick bites that leave people feeling they have learned something new, eLearning students often need more formal, thorough, individualized, or robust instruction to really come away with something of value.

Content marketing and the methods it has adopted can feel like a threat or like competition, but eLearning can both learn from and compete with this latest trend. Consider how you leverage the new normal in free informational resources on social media and online, and turn crowd-pleasing tidbits into a pathway into your own digital classroom.

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