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Training Courses and Certification Make Dollars and Sense for This Digital Age

“WWD, The Economist Launch Education Offerings,” read last week’s MediaPost headline. These were just the latest media companies to jump on the online education/certification bandwagon. But smaller publishers may be leading the charge. I spoke with Lesley Ellen Harris of Copyrightlaws.com and Bob Coleman of Coleman Report to see what’s driving their success with online training courses.

“For our training, we do 8-10 weeks of hour-long courses, but we break each one up into 5 or 6 10-12 minute segments,” Coleman told me, speaking about their successful Coleman online training courses for the small business lender niche. They do four seasonal semesters; the winter quarter started on Feb. 1.

“We give reading assignments, homework, credit underwriting [assignments]—‘You drive down your street and see a commercial building, maybe a veterinarian or a standalone restaurant. What do you think it’s worth?’ We take questions—used to do that during office hours, but now that’s evolved into the daily web show [Coleman Report Live] where questions are put up on the screen.” Not only does this give people live interaction with experts, but it also provides marketing for the training courses, which cost between $695 and $1,295. They had 440 people watching yesterday for the 1 pm show.

When it comes to media companies and publishers diversifying revenue, online training and certification programs continue to trend up. Once started, they’re relatively easy to manage—especially as the platforms get better—can give new roles to your staff, reach a big audience, not require a huge investment and thus can be successfully carried out by companies small and big. Some other recent examples:

WWD teamed with the Parsons School of Design and the education platform Yellowbrick to produce Fashion Business Essentials—an online course delving into industry trends. The course provides 15 hours of instruction and project time in five modules. Students completing the program receive a noncredit Completion Certificate from Parsons. They are also using the courses to bring more diverse voices into the ranks.

The Economist has launched The Economist Executive Education, bringing “the rigor and intelligence we apply to our journalism to the growing world of online education,” says Bob Cohn, president of the global brand. Created by Economist journalists, it was developed in collaboration with GetSmarter, a brand of global education technology firm 2U, Inc. (Great to see the content team involved in that way, especially with events mostly sidelined.)

AM&P Network member Money-Media has their own ThinkTank website that allows users to earn continuing education credits toward a CFP designation (Chartered Financial Planner) by reading content on their website. “Our system is unique because we don’t require the user to answer test questions at the end,” Dan Fink, Money-Media managing director, said in an email. “We worked with the CFP Board to allow us to eliminate test questions, and they agreed because our technology utilizes time-on-page, along with other user actions (such as mouse movement). As a result, we can ensure users only get credit for active reading time and can’t game the system.”

Copyrightlaws.com offers a variety of online courses—many geared for about 12 weeks—that students can self-pace on. They range from 21 Virtual Ways to Build Copyright Awareness in Your Library or Organization ($199) to Licensing Digital Content ($749) to the Copyright Leadership Certificate ($1,499). “All the assignments are directly related to issues,” Lesley Ellen Harris told me. “We began using Thinkific in the fall as an experiment, and we have moved most of our courses to Thinkific now. All students love it as do I. It offers just enough features to customize a bit but is simple both for trainers and students.”

Harris calls Thinkific “a one-stop shop for teaching. Students get through the materials at their own pace, supplemented by an online discussion that I moderate,” she said. “I’ve learned that a full hour doesn’t work. You have to end at 10 to an hour now or people leave. Plus you can’t just talk for 50 minutes, so we have breakout rooms and I’ll get questions [that people submitted in advance] going. We’ll do polls in Zoom, maybe a true-false or multiple choice. Those are simple to set up. I don’t even have to be in the breakout room. If they’re having a good discussion, I don’t want to disrupt them, but I don’t give them that long either.”

As these examples show, these courses are not the bar exam or CPA test—the key is the learning, the engagement and the dollars, not making it too hard to pass. For Copyrightlaws.com, there’s a final assignment and then 20 questions and a digital certificate. Coleman asks students to write a credit memo or take an open-book exam of 100 questions; pass and they receive a nice plaque in the mail.

Components for Coleman courses—sessions get released every Tuesday—include training videos, reading assignments, quizzes and a Q&A session. Bob Coleman is in the process of refilming all their course videos for the next semester. They will change up a bit, he said. “Last time I did one whole course, and [the other instructor] did one. But now we’re going to cross-pollinate, do some interviews with experts, engage in dialogue—instead of just a lecture.”

Even in companies that are consumer-oriented, the B2B bent is obvious. After their first six-week course, “The New Global Order: How Politics, Business and Technology are Changing,” starts in May, The Economist’s second course will focus on business writing.

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Try Phone, Slack and Single Focus; Overcoming Your Zoom and Gloom

“I wanted to be the band on the Titanic,” comedian Paula Poundstone said in an article in The Washington Post this weekend about Zoom fatigue. She was posting almost daily bits and “Quarantine Corner” updates through April on Instagram but stopped by late May. “But the Titanic sank faster. It just occurred to me now that that’s what was wrong with my plan.”
Lesley Harris of Copyrightlaws.com was kind enough to email me last week suggesting this trending topic. Funny, because she was using Zoom before most of the rest of us—holding her SIPAward-winning 20-minute Zoom on Ins over lunchtime in 2019 and early 2020. As many as 450 people were registering for her sessions. Copyrightlaws.com holds many courses and certificate programs, so Zoom is a staple, but Harris is trying to mix it up.
“One thing I did in my last class this spring was a Slack Live Chat…similar to a Twitter chat but private,” Harris wrote to me. “My students really liked it and what’s great is that there’s a record of it and people can continue to discuss the issues… It worked for that group of students. We’ll experiment with it further this fall.”
In an article How to Combat Zoom Fatigue at the end of April—wow, that was already a thing then!—Harvard Business Review had these three suggestions:
Try not to multitask. This is much easier said than done—I’d say nine out of 10 people have told me they are working harder since the pandemic started—but it will help. “Researchers at Stanford found that people who multitask can’t remember things as well as their more singularly focused peers.” It’s funny, if we look away on Zoom it looks like we’re not paying attention. But sometimes it’s easier to concentrate that way. Whereas when we look straight at the camera we can do other work. So it’s inherently evil in that respect.
Reduce onscreen stimuli. “Research shows that when you’re on video, you tend to spend the most time gazing at your own face.” I knew I should have shaved this morning. They say we even process the backgrounds people have—it’s true. How many Zoom calls have started with someone commenting on a background or two? I love radio and find that I listen best in the car because of the limited distractions. Some recommend not using video at all occasionally on Zoom, though that can be construed as being technology deficient..
Avoid the default to Zoom. The article suggests switching to Slack—as Harris did—or even a phone call. Remember those? The HBR author makes a good point: “In situations where you’re communicating with people outside of your organization (clients, vendors, networking, etc.)—conversations for which you used to rely on phone calls—you may feel obligated to send out a Zoom link instead. But a video call is fairly intimate and can even feel invasive in some situations.” It really depends on the situation. When I interviewed the keynotes for SIPA 2020, seeing them helped me build rapport. But other times, it does feel awkward.
A couple other ideas:
Gamify or poll. I’ve heard positive feedback about doing a quiz or trivia game, or taking a poll to break up a webinar or keynote talk. In a story on Health.comClaire Gillespie writes that “she still has weekly video chats with [her] family, but we’ve turned them into quizzes—and it’s made the experience more enjoyable and less tiring. We take turns to talk, there are no awkward silences, and when the quiz is over, we say our goodbyes.”
Adjust how your Zoom call looks. Instead of trying to focus on everyone in a Zoom meeting at once, shift from gallery view to speaker view so you only have to focus on one person, Fast Company’s Elizabeth Grace Saunders suggests. Cover up the portion of the screen showing your face with a Post-It note so you’re not distracted by yourself. And, if you’re uncomfortable with how you look on video calls, take some time to adjust your camera settings or the lighting in your house, said Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.
Hmmm, fancy lighting or post-it notes. I must have those little yellow things here somewhere.
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Copyrightlaws.com’s Successful Lead Generation ‘Show’

Last year, Lesley Ellen Harris of SIPA member Copyrightlaws.com told me about a very successful 20-minute virtual lunchtime session they do called Zoom On In. With as many as 140 people signing up, Copyrightlaws.com has found a relatively stress-free but content-strong formula to engage more audience.

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“I know these topics inside out,” Harris said at the time. “So I don’t have to do any research. It’s around lunchtime and really short but long enough to say some useful things. I kind of challenge myself by saying that I have five things to tell you today—and then I have to get through all five things. It’s fun. Sometimes [at the end], I’m like, ‘Whoosh I made it!’ And I can see people smiling.” (On Zoom, Harris can see some attendees, and they can see her.)

I just checked Copyrightlaws.com, and happily the beat goes on for the Zoom On Ins, but now with guests! Two more sessions are scheduled—on Jan. 23 and Feb. 13—both with prominent speakers. “Yes, this is kind of a Phase 2,” Harris just told me on the phone. “I’ll come on to briefly introduce the speakers but then they’ll take over. The 20 minutes go fast.”

Harris uses the Zoom On Ins to build audience and promote their 2020 online copyright courses. She will talk about that and more successes on Thursday at 2 pm in a SIPA Webinar titled How to Develop Free Webinars (and Other Virtual Events) that Generate Qualified Leads—and Convert Them to Paying Customers. Also presenting will be Greg Hart, director of marketing, PSMJ Resources, Inc., and president of SIPA, so you should join in.

The webinar is free for SIPA members. Register here.

The Zoom On Ins have “helped us reinforce the topics that interest our small niche market, and many signed up for our free weekly copyright newsletter,” Harris said. “It’s another way for us to get amplified, reach beyond our own circle. Someone on the call will tell one or two staff members to sign up for the next one. To pick topics, we go to our Google Analytics and look at the top blog entries—see what’s most popular. Maybe it’s ‘A Simple Guide to Copyright for Librarians.’ We target who we know our market is. They might ask, ‘Are we doing it again?’ And we’ll say look at our courses.”

It’s great to see that Harris has expanded both with guests and geography. The Feb. 23 Zoom On In will feature two UK educators who are passionate about education and gamification. For that reason, the Zoom On In will start at 10 am. For the Jan. 23 session, listeners can get 30% off an important book in the field.

Mostly, Harris does not record her Zoom On Ins, though Thursday’s webinar, like all SIPA webinars, are recorded and can be accessed by members at any time. (The archives are here.) “It’s more about the way it’s shared, the atmosphere, not the information,” Harris said last year. “There’s a certain energy to do it live. And people love Zoom.” She also gets a sense that people are a little tired of watching PowerPoints.

The one exception where she did record a Zoom On In occurred when a larger library entity promoted it, and 450 people registered. Zoom can usually only accept 100 for a session, but told Harris that if she did a couple things they could open it to everyone. Unfortunately, Zoom left off one key task, and many people couldn’t join in. This frustrated Harris though she did take solace that email addresses were recorded..

“Our list is everything,” Harris said. “So at least I did get the names and could reach out to those people and offer them articles and tell them about the courses. I find that, for me, people don’t go to the recordings too much, but at least I did have it” if anyone asked for it.

Copyrightlaws.com’s signature copyright certificate programs cost $1500 so Harris and her staff know that people probably won’t sign up “just because they attended a 20-minute session,” she said. “But they’ll follow us anyhow. It reminds and encourages them to stay with us. I find that our best customers are the ones who have already taken a course or done something with us.” There’s also a follow-up email after each session urging people to join the weekly list or look at the courses.

If you haven’t signed up yet for Thursday’s webinar, now is the time! Register here.