Visit Modern Campus

Content Marketing, MOOCs and Pathways: Three Innovations in International Student Recruitment

Content Marketing, MOOCs and Pathways: Three Innovations in International Student Recruitment
The international English language marketplace is diverse and highly competitive, requiring institutions to come up with new and unique approaches to recruitment.
The Internet has changed marketing forever. This change can be traced back to the early days of email (May, 1999) when Seth Godin first detailed the concept of “Permission Marketing” in his classic book by the same title.

According to Godin, permission marketing is a response to a consumer shift away from traditional marketing, when an organization gains the privilege of sending “anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”[1] Further, ingrained in permission marketing is the recognition that the organization will do nothing else beyond what they initially promised to do, and what the consumer initially accepted to receive. Given the power of the Internet, permission marketing means you can treat different consumers differently, and “demands that you figure out how to let your permission base choose what they hear and in what format.”[2]

The wisdom of permission marketing later evolved and became embodied in the development of content strategy. “Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.”[3]

A recent logical extension of content creation is the offering of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). It should be clear from recent data reports on the MOOC phenomenon that most MOOC participants already hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree (some 80 per cent) and are primarily male.[4] Although there is significant international participation in MOOCs sponsored by elite universities, the greatest numbers are from the following countries:  Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa.[5]

And it isn’t just international students interested in the MOOC concept. German, British, Australian and Brazilian universities, and their company partners devoted to launching MOOCs, are springing up everywhere.

Institutions of all kinds see the marketing potential in drawing large numbers of unsolicited participants and are hoping to capitalize on it. But in all of this, one must not lose sight of the potential and promise of MOOC education to advance access to higher education learning across the digital divide.

Recently, institutions including UC Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania and others have developed MOOCs designed for English learners to improve their academic skills. This is one of the missing pieces in the conversation where MOOCs in English are concerned. Without university-level academic skills in English, how can students fully participate? And, more importantly, how are they able to personally benefit from studying with some of the greatest subject specialists in the world?

On the other hand, a fast growing area of international student recruitment is the university pathway program. At its core, it is essentially marketing by strategic alliance. However, here too, one can see the concept of content marketing at play. By combining English for Academic Purposes (EAP) training with conditional enrollment policies, institutions allow students to sample academic life without having to risk everything in the process. Thus, universities are adding value to the international student relationship while assuring that each and every applicant is qualified to begin university studies.

Private companies such INTO, Navitas and Kaplan offer university pathway alternatives proving successful for many institutions in the United States and abroad.[6] After all, if we consider these university pathways courses as a form of remedial education — where international students are gaining college-level English language skills from an institutional MOOC before enrolling in the university proper  — research suggests they will be academically prepared for the rigors of postsecondary education and be more likely to enroll in further courses.[7]

– – – –



[1] Seth Godin, “Permission Marketing,” Seth’s Blog, January 31, 2008. Accessed at

[2] Ibid

[3] “What is Content Marketing?” The Content Marketing Institute. Accessed at

[4] Gayle Christensen, Andrew Steinmetz, Brandon Alcorn, Amy Bennett, Deirdre Woods and Ezekiel Emanuel, “The MOOC Phenomenon: Who Takes Massive Open Online Courses and Why?” Paper Abstract: November 6, 2013. Accessed at

[5] Steve Kolowich, “MOOCs Are Largely Reaching Privileged Learners, Survey Finds,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 20, 2013. Accessed at

[6] “INTO Announced 5th USA partner university,” Study Travel Magazine, March 5, 2014. Accessed at

[7] Colleen Moore and Nancy Shulock, “Student Progress Toward Degree Completion: Lessons from the Research Literature,” Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy, September 2009. Accessed at

Author Perspective: