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Northwestern Launches ‘MOOC’ Specialization in Content Strategy

University first in region to offer a specialization in massive open online courses

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University is launching the first specialization in one of its existing MOOCs -- massive open online courses -- to enable people in organizations to pursue deeper immersion in a particular subject area that impacts the effectiveness of individuals and for-profit, nonprofit, volunteer and government enterprises around the world.

The specialization will build on the University’s existing MOOC, “Engaging Audiences for Your Organization,” which will begin March 30. The course will be followed by an all-new second MOOC on growing audiences for your content – “Expanding Your Content’s Impact and Reach” -- as well as a Final Specialization Project that ties all of the learning together.

The Content Strategy Specialization offers professionals the opportunity to develop high-demand skills and subject matter expertise -- while learning from Northwestern professors of journalism, strategy, management, integrated marketing communications and social media marketing. Participants in the Content Strategy Specialization will learn:

  • How to grow audiences with engaging content in a data-rich world that faces ever more challenging competition for people’s time and attention.  
  • Actionable insights and best practices to more effectively create and implement engaging content that will be valued by the most important targeted audiences.
  • Best practice examples of content strategy from large and small for-profit and nonprofit organizations across the globe.

Partnering with the online education platform Coursera, Northwestern’s new specialization joins 17 other specializations at universities around the world unveiled by Coursera Oct. 15. Each of them consists of a targeted sequence of courses with an applied special project.

“We created the first MOOC that anchored people with what content strategy is: how to tell engaging stories that are credible and trustable and, in the process, further the organization’s strategy,” observed John Lavine, the lead professor on the MOOC and director of Northwestern’s Media Management Center.

“MOOC 2 is a course on how to grow an audience,” he added. “People loved MOOC 1, and we have numbers across the board showing that it went way beyond other course offerings. We are repeating MOOC 1 starting March 30, followed by a June 1 start for MOOC 2. The second MOOC will concentrate on how to take that learning even further. If a participant completes Signature Track for both MOOCs 1 and 2, the way will be open for him or her to do a final project. And we will partner with organizations around the world to do that.”

Professor Candy Lee, co-leader of the content strategy MOOCs, noted that many of the faculty involved in the MOOC came from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, “which is known as a school that is differentiated by its pillars of content creation and strategy and its audience-centric approach to engaging people with content in new, innovative and measureable ways.

“Creating this specialization -- combining content that is aligned with an organization’s goals, with in-depth learning on engaging audiences -- utilizes the strengths of the faculty,” Lee observed. “The specialization also addresses the deep needs of organizations to use all forms of content and media to reach a desired audience.”

As the Coursera website explains, “From this work, you will have the knowledge and skills to advance your enterprise and your own career. In addition, the top specialization participants will be selected to have their final project recognized and awarded a prize by a real-world enterprise.”

The Coursera blog reported an explosion of interest in MOOC specializations, observing: “Over the past nine months, we have seen a surge in worldwide demand with more than 1.5 million learners participating in specializations. We’ve also seen the number of Verified Certificates (VCs) issued in 2014 double in volume due to specializations. Over 60 percent of all learners earning a Verified Certificate share it on LinkedIn to boost their profile.

“Coursera has also seen a great response from universities, professors and companies looking to join forces and be at the forefront in creating new pathways to career success. To bridge the gap, specializations offer a unique final project that allows learners to apply what they’ve learned to relevant, real-world scenarios.”

The first content strategy MOOC at Northwestern was offered last winter and drew interest from 21,728 professionals in 141 countries who took some or all of it. Its 12 percent completion rate was high for a MOOC. A subsequent special session of the MOOC was offered exclusively to University alumni and friends in the summer.

Professor Lee said that the people who took the Content Strategy for Professionals MOOC that was offered earlier in 2014 and who received a Verified Certificate will be eligible to enroll for the specialization without repeating the first MOOC. She emphasized that those who took the first MOOC but did not earn a Verified Signature Track Certificate can now go back and get the certificate by completing the case study embedded in the new offering of the MOOC 1 course.

“In this complex information age, forward-thinking people know that if they and their for-profit or nonprofit organizations are to thrive, they must master the most demanding communications frontier -- creating engaging, strategic, honest stories and information that are valued by their most important audiences,” Lavine said.

People in organizations who wish to enroll for the Content Strategy Specialization may sign up now for the first two MOOCs by going to the Coursera website and clicking on the Content Strategy Specialization for Professionals in Organizations. Here is the three-part program:

The first MOOC on “Engaging Audiences for your Organization” begins March 30 and will last six weeks. The course description reads: “To earn a Verified Certificate, learners must watch the MOOC's videos, answer the Learning Questions that accompany each video, participate in the discussion forums, develop and complete a case study, and evaluate the cases of three other MOOC participants.”

The second MOOC on “Expanding Your Content’s Impact and Reach” begins June 1 and runs for six weeks, as well. Its description notes: “Professionals at all levels of an organization will learn the best ways to grow an audience they want and need by smartly implementing their important, strategic stories and information.” The same metrics apply for earning a Verified Northwestern Certificate.

The final project will be offered in August. It will only be available to those who complete Content Strategy MOOCs 1 and 2. The Coursera website observes that this project “will enable MOOC participants to develop an exciting product that will demonstrate their skills to colleagues and current or potential employers.”

The two MOOCs and the final project will each cost $49. Participants who complete all three MOOCs will earn the Northwestern University Content Strategy Specialization Certificate. 

Northwestern’s first MOOC offerings debuted in fall 2013 and drew interest from more than 68,000 students around the world. To do these new online courses, Northwestern partnered with Coursera to provide its MOOCs on Coursera’s digital platform to anyone, anywhere, for free. Coursera’s mission is to educate millions of people by offering a digital learning experience and classes and professors from top universities online. 

Echoing that goal, Lavine said, “Content strategy is impacting organizations around the world. Northwestern created this field in MOOCs because it is essential if people everywhere are going to be informed to enable people in all facets of organizations to support their organizations’ goals and improve their effectiveness. It touches everybody. Now, with the specialization we are moving to take content strategy to the next level.”