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Digital Marketing Education – What’s wrong?

It's an open secret that I'm passionate about digital marketing education (it's one of the reasons I moved from industry to becoming a lecturer) and there is much work still to do. The digital skills and talent gap - we talk about it in more detail in this Drum post - impedes the growth of the digital economy in a number of ways:

Digital Marketing Education
CC image courtesy of Scott McLeod on Flickr

(1)  It leaves many SMEs /third sector and other organisations vulnerable to spending money unnecessarily, and sees them invest time and resource in the wrong digital channels, following advice from gurus that hinders rather than helps their business.

Real example: One of my industry contacts had to scrap and restart a social / digital strategy for a client, after they had followed wrong advice from a 'consultant' who led them down the wrong (ineffective, not aligned with business objectives, overall wasteful and pointless) path.

(2) The other side of the coin is that recruiters really struggle to find digital talent:  where can they find graduates with a practice-based digital marketing education - e.g. a degree that incorporates digital skills training alongside conceptual theories of Marketing? Nowhere.

Real example: Only this week I was asked if I knew a graduate for a digital marketing executive role. Generally, the challenge of recruitment comes up often when talking with industry contacts.

What's wrong with Digital Marketing Education?

The main issue as I see it is that Universities overall are fairly ill-equipped to provide a modern digital marketing education. Partly, it's the nature of the beast: The industry changes so fast so that Unis would always be playing catch-up.

Example: I spend at least a day per week just keeping up-to-date with what's happening, and run my own site as well as do some work for others to keep my skill set fresh. Much of that I do in my own time / weekends and I take it very seriously indeed.

Digital Education
CC image courtesy of Scott McLeod on Flickr

Regular Marketing lecturers don't do that - they are rarely involved in actual marketing practice, let alone digital marketing. The existing marketing curriculum is largely theoretical and conceptual, and frankly isn't of much use in the real world of digital marketing.

This does pose some interesting questions regarding how to teach Marketing in Higher Education. Questions surrounding academia's relevance to the real world aren't being asked about this subject alone - there were rumbles last year about whether current teaching of Economics is fit for purpose.

In terms of  Marketing, in the US and Canada at least, academics have discussed the need for reforming the curriculum in the light of the digital economy and changing practice:

The rapidly emerging digital economy is challenging the relevance of existing marketing practices, and a radical redesign of the marketing curriculum consistent with the emerging student and business needs of the 21st century is required. To remain relevant to our students and to the ultimate consumers of our output, businesses, the marketing curriculum must evolve with both the changing technological environment and the way marketing is perceived by its own academic architects.

Digital Marketing: The Time for a New “Academic Major” Has Arrived (2011)

RGU_logoI haven't seen much of this happening in the UK yet, unfortunately. In Scotland, for example, only my University (RGU Aberdeen) currently offer a skills-based Masters in Digital Marketing that was devised in close consultation with industry. No other University is currently doing this in Scotland - where there is a digital element, it's actually a bolt on of a few (largely conceptual / theoretical) modules to a traditional MSc Marketing, and I really don't believe that's the right approach. Digital Marketing education isn't about reading books!

And the feedback and data (both qualitative and quantitative) we have so far for our own practice-based MSc Digital Marketing proves we're on the right track. Not only have we received significant interest in our course from students and plenty of applications. Almost equally as important, we have consistently received positive feedback, enthusiasm and nothing but strong support and engagement from the digital industry across Scotland.

Further reading

If you're an academic interested in the discussion surrounding the Marketing curriculum, the two links below are a good starting point:

The Future of Marketing Education: A Practitioner's Perspective (2012)

Innovating the Marketing Curriculum: Establishing an Academic Major in Internet Marketing (2014)



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