Uni versus non-uni skill providers – a response to ‘Educrastination’

Is university enough? Deakin University’s Michael Valos and Shweta J Nambiar consider the state of e-learning in the Australian marketing sphere in response to Fiona Killackey’s recent Marketing mag feature.

This is a response to the recent article in Marketing magazine by Fiona Killackey, ‘Education or educrastination? A deep dive into modern professional learning’

Hourglass wood

This certainly is a timely article, for two main reasons: firstly, the increase in e-learning, which can be seen as a self-paced mode of individual learning without the need to attend a classroom with other students at a fixed time. Secondly, the increasing need of employers, especially small to medium-sized employers, who seek graduates with hands-on technical skills that can immediately be productive in terms of social media monitoring tools, online communities, search technologies and advertising through social media platforms.

E-learning: blessing or curse?

E-learning offers a wide range of benefits such as 24/7 access, integrated rich media, self-paced assessment, location-agnostic access and avoiding the need to commute in increasingly busy capital cities. Basically it’s an extremely flexible option open for all.

On the other hand, the hitches of digital learning can put you in situations where there is lack of peer support as a motivator – a lack of personalised interaction with the mentor or teacher to encourage students to work through difficult areas. 

Fiona Killackey mentions the criticism that students can be “lured by strong Facebook advertising or promising webinars” into programs of dubious quality taught by unqualified teachers, where once the money has been obtained there is no motivation to encourage the student to complete the course. The skills of cynicism apply to any online offering and not just education, and as a result buyers need to be wary.

However, this in itself is not a major negative in a free market. The offering of short courses, if done diligently, enables the student to access skills they wouldn’t otherwise have obtained. In a world of fake news, cynicism towards any overhyped offering is expected to exist. It’s likely that the critical analysis we teach students in university helps in this regard. In terms of marketing students, enrolling in an online course would be considered a high-involvement decision and it is likely that a university-based student would look for credible websites and online sources to justify their choice.

After all, it’s in their university curriculum to study and understand a buyer’s behaviour!

The role of the university

Unfortunately, the pace of change in social media platforms means academic staff who are not hands-on with tools on a daily basis can only provide broad perspectives and not prepare students for the latest iteration in software. Also, there are so many different social media and digital marketing skills for an academic to become familiar with. On this basis, university lecturers teach skills and assesses students on critical analysis, problem-solving, independent research, team building and innovative thinking.

If a student has these foundational perspectives through the assessment as part of teaching rubrics, they are more likely to make successful choices about short courses that make them more employable. Typically, industry bodies have hands-on practitioners as opposed to academics or teachers – including the AMI, General Assembly, ADMA etc.

A recent Deakin master’s student was completing a thesis, studying programmatic advertising. For her study, she interviewed an organisation that said, “Don’t just be an expert in this single technology, building a career on it. Instead, get some deep timeless perspectives on how digital makes an organisation competitive.”

Later, when a particular skill becomes a commodity – such as SEO or programmatic – you will be prepared to continue your career without having your skill set made redundant by machine learning or new versions of the technology.

We hope universities can develop self-awareness and critical analysis within students so they can seek out a reliable supplier and not just accept a single one-stop shop. Finally, the risk of non-university programs is the inability to accurately assure the quality of learning and assess the skills being transmitted.

From an international student perspective, what we also find in a university with digital recordings of lectures and digital interactive exercises is that, like a traditional setup, a digital platform has the advantage of ‘rewinding’. We (especially international students) often make notes in class as the professor is teaching. The chances of missing out on something is not as great when a student can rewind, and its’s a good way to review material as well.

This touches on the self-paced nature of digital learning because in any class each student is at a different level of competence and having people in a room together with one teacher is really a shotgun approach. Personalised teaching based on the needs and time commitments of the student is superior.

We hope that universities use guest speakers in the way we recently had Gemma Holt, owner of Arlo & Co., tell the students about the differences between recent changes in the advertising of Facebook and how the communities within Instagram and Facebook differ in how they respond. We also had Branka Misic, CMO of an online superannuation provider Gig Super, who provided the students with insights into the use of LinkedIn, she has been listed recently as one of LinkedIn’s top eight Australian Power Profiles in marketing and advertising.

In conclusion, based on our perspectives as a postgraduate student and an academic, we agree with the majority of points made by Killackey. Nevertheless, we believe students need to acquire long-term, ‘hit the ground running’ skills from multiple sources and need to be clear on the role of university and the role of the digital technology skills provider. We see a lot of benefits from computer mediated education both within formal accredited degree programs and for short courses, many of which are in fact free and provided by technology vendors. It’s up to students to research industries and universities to inform them on how to build a portfolio of soft skill and take on a hands-on experience.

Dr Michael Valos is senior lecturer in marketing at Deakin University and Shweta J Nambiar is a master of marketing student at Deakin University

Read Killackey’s original article here: Education or educrastination? A deep dive into modern professional learning »

Image credit:Edwin Andrade