Inbound in the Classroom Part II: Five Lessons Learned

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Randy Harrison
Randy Harrison



In my prior guest post “Four Steps to Bringing Inbound Into the College Classroom,” I attempted to deconstruct the experience of bringing HubSpot campaign tools and the Inbound Certification Course into my MK480 Capstone class at Emerson College in Boston in the Fall of 2014.

As noted, one comment in my student evaluations of the class really caught my eye:

"While I think inbound marketing is important, I don’t think it should have been presented to us for the first time during our Capstone."

The comment begged the question…

Why Wait?

So for the Spring ’15 semester, I thought it may be fun (and useful) to bring in the Inbound Certification Course into my First Year/Sophomore “intro to marketing” MK121 classes. The students were required to complete this self-directed program along with associated assignments I built—and take the Inbound certification test HubSpot administers. Passing the test was not required, but a hoped-for outcome. My ultimate goal was that then-students would be empowered with new tools and skills.

And they would be empowered with a professional certification to help them stand out from a crowded pack.

The Results:

Out of the 60 total marketing “newbies” in both sections of the class, 38 students passed the test and have the professional accreditation of Inbound Certification! A few direct quotes from students before we get to my personal takeaways:

"I think that Hubspot's Inbound Certification Course is nothing short of essential. This was my first official Marketing Communications course. I could not be happier with what I have taken from this course and I am excited to see what I can do with their methodologies in the future."

"I made it, Randy! Officially Inbound Certified! Thanks for opening this door for me and helping me accomplish this great feat!"

"I am incredibly thankful that part of this class required taking the Inbound Certification Course. Instead of just feeling like a college student taking classes about marketing, I can actually picture myself working and succeeding in the professional marketing world."

"This course provided me a great benefit for when I enter the career, which was awesome. Since being in the class I am now Inbound certified, a Wall Street Journal Subscriber, and have a great LinkedIn profile complete with 40+ connections."

Here are five (5) lessons (+1) we learned going though our Inbound Learning Journey over the course of the semester:

1. Do NOT underestimate today’s students or judge their capabilities by their grade level.

Our experience proves that students across the spectrum can and will rise to the challenge to earn this professional certification. Some passed on the the first try, some had to keep at it, but most passed in the end. Pretty impressive, right?

2. Today’s students crave relevant real world experiences.

In this case, my role was to place Inbound in context around the foundational marketing and strategy elements of this principles-oriented course, which I found makes the learning more powerful. These certifications are becoming resume and LinkedIn profile mainstays for modern job-hunters in the marketing industry.

3. Harness the power of assignments to support the course.

Assignments can be designed in a number of ways. My method for this class was to avoid a “drill and kill” approach on curriculum and grading. Instead, I aimed to complement the terrific Inbound Certification’s video progression. I supported the concepts. All I did was give the students a tool to internalize the learning and pass the Certification Test itself; the precise outcome I hoped for.

4. For maximum learning, students need to watch all the Inbound Certification videos!

This may sound obvious, but I found some students attempted to short circuit the process.

Shocking, I know!

The tried to go through the test reviewing just the presentation decks alone. I conducted an informal survey at the end of the semester and at least 6 to 8 of the students out of the 38 passed the test tried this method and found they had to take the test on multiple occasions to do so. At least 10 of the students that didn’t pass went down this path, as well.

5. Consider using the Inbound Marketing text by HubSpot founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.

I regret not doing so the first times around, as a few students lamented to me personally that they wished they had a supporting text. For many of them, the idea of leads, buyer’s journeys, methodologies, and conversions are brand new conceptually. It's clear now that the more angles they get absorb the information, the stronger their Inbound learning experience will be.

+1 (GET BONUS!). Have Fun! It's inbound marketing!

Bringing the Inbound Certification Course into my class was all of the above, and furthermore, it was fun change of pace!

I repeated it again in the Fall ’15 semester with an even higher pass rate. Who knows where it will go from there? And just for the record, yes indeed, I have adopted Brian and Dharmesh’s book too!

The Inbound Certification Class can be a powerful addition to most marketing classes. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.


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