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How to teach digital courses

DIT_logocol2013_webThis week I had the pleasure to be an external examiner on  DIT's (the Dublin Institute of Technology) Postgrad Dip in Advertising & Digital Communications. A strong digitally focused part-time course now in its 5th year,  its USP is the close relationship it has with industry - the course was developed by DIT and IAPI (the Industry of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland), and 75% of its lecturers are currently working in advertising in one form or another.

Needless to say this is right up my street - after all, our own MSc Digital Marketing was similarly developed with industry to teach the digital marketing skills employers need, and we too have strong links with practitioners (including guest lecturers, a mentorship programme with DigitasLBi, live client projects, and more).

DIT invited me to be an external examiner late last year, after finding me using Google then checking me out on LinkedIn - Personal Branding (and on-page SEO) FTW!

How to teach digital courses - DIT and RGU

My conviction (and I'm quite obsessed with this) is that you can't teach digital courses from books. I do not use any books in my teaching and instead constantly research and read reputable industry blogs from which I upgrade and refresh my knowledge in real-time, directly putting it into professional practice (both in my teaching as well as when doing digital marketing for this site or side projects / clients).

CC image courtesy of ChowKaiDeng on Flickr

Professional practice is also central to DIT's course (most of the lecturers are practitioners). I was very impressed by their pioneering approach, and it's clearly been a success both for them and industry (employers recruit directly from the course).  And DIT have been doing it for 5 years! Wow!

I observed a fulsome and well-rounded, practice-focused teaching and learning experience when examining the course outputs.

The student course work and types of assessments were wide-ranging - from beautiful creative playbooks to media diaries where students note down all advertising they saw in a week, analysing its perceived effectiveness.

In another assignment (a group work), students worked as an 'agency' creating a real live advertising campaign proposal and pitch focusing on current (and highly relevant) communications issues (NSA / online surveillance and privacy; childhood obesity; PMMA (a highly toxic MDMA-like drug)).

How different is the DIT course from RGU's MSc Digital Marketing?

It's rare that I would recommend a postgraduate digital marketing or communications course other than ours - however the DIT's course is probably one of the best - if not THE best, for anyone looking for professional development in digital advertising on a part-time basis (it is taught evenings with the very occasional weekend).

digital advertising
CC image courtesy of Will Lion on Flickr

The course is also distinct and different enough from RGU's MSc Digital Marketing - we're not really going after the same target audience. The DIT course largely focuses on Advertising, and is aimed at professionals wishing to upskill in this area in a digital context. There is a creative and an executive stream - the exec stream deals with client liaison, media planning / buying and so on, and generally the course content covers the knowledge and skills you need to work agency-side.

In contrast, we only look at advertising (paid media) in a few sessions - our approach is all-encompassing and we teach strategy, organic digital marketing, digital content creation, measurement and evaluation, digital PR / content marketing, etc.  And our aim isn't specifically to produce graduates to work agency-side or indeed in Advertising (though this is an option for them - we do have a lot of 'soft skill' training and they work on live client projects and have agency guest speakers and workshops).

Finally, unlike DIT's course, our MSc Digital Marketing so far has largely attracted business / social science / creative graduates who want to know (and learn!) how to get into digital marketing. Our students are at the start of their careers and we haven't really had any  professionals wishing to transition into digital yet  (though we do offer a part-time study option).

Final words

In conclusion, then, my visit this week has only served to confirm that what we at RGU are doing is absolutely the right approach to teaching digital courses at University.

digital transformation
CC image courtesy of Bryan Mathers on Flickr

Industry engagement and a focus on practice are extremely important to ensure our graduates are equipped  to work in the real world when they leave.

However the academic environment is crucial - our role is to provide quality control, and to teach strong strategic and critical thinking (alongside the more practical 'tools of the trade' and real-life scenarios). After all, data analysis, measurement and evaluation are academia's bread and butter!

An approach to teaching digital that combines strategic critical thinking with the 'tools of the trade' and stuff that matters in the real world (client liaison! soft skills! self-education! How To Google It! GTD!) will ensure that University courses in digital marketing, advertising and communications remain highly relevant to the needs of employers and the marketplace.

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