Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Three Approaches to Incorporating Industry Certification in Undergraduate Marketing

How to Approach Digital Marketing Certifications

This past September 14-16th, at the Marketing Management Association Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, there were several sessions, including my own, focused on incorporating certifications in digital marketing platforms and techniques in to the Marketing Curriculum in undergraduate programs in business schools.  We teach digital marketing and analytics, social media marketing, marketing metrics and traditional marketing topics at St. Edward's University. However, all of the courses have a digital marketing element and many incorporate industry certification. These approaches are to have the students complete the certification on their own, incorporate a certification in to one course or incorporate certifications throughout the curriculum at The Munday School of Business at St. Edwards's University in Austin, Texas.  There are pros and cons to each approach but the benefits of certification to students are clear.

certification; digital marketing; social media; analytics; adwords

Benefits of Certification

I coordinated the pre-conference workshop on teaching digital marketing with Dr. Janna Parker from James Madison University and Dr. Leila Samii from Southern New Hampshire University. The benefits to certification appear to be indisputable.  Students who receive certifications in industry programs such as Hootsuite for social media management or HubSpot for Inbound marketing get a real world experience and also get a badge or a certificate for their resume or LinkedIn profile.  For digital marketing, where comparatively few students receive this type of certification, at this point certification can be a true point of difference.  The types of certification we discussed at the Conference were Google AdWords, HubSpot Inbound and Hootsuite Platform certification.  The above graphic shows how we have incorporated certifications or 'badges' throughout or Marketing undergraduate curriculum. The three approaches discussed at our presentation and at the conference are outlined underneath this paragraph.

Three Approaches

1) Make certification optional.  In this approach, certifications are optional at the end of particular courses and are mentioned in the course but not integrated.  A benefit of this approach is that students get to choose the certification that are really of interest to them. However, from experience I found that few students take advantage of this option.

2) Use the certification as the final exam.  A colleague of ours, Archana Kumar from Montclair State University, discussed using the Google AdWords Fundamentals exam as a final examination in a retail course where the students promoted an e-commerce website using AdWords. Students took the examination in class and reported a good pass rate by studying for the examination as for any final.

3) Integrate certification in to the course.  This is the approach I am taking this semester with our Digital Marketing and Analytics course.  Students are getting HubSpot Inbound certified because the course focuses on web/mobile design and conversion optimization, email and social media marketing.  The HubSpot modules mirror what is happening in class, although with less of an emphasis on mobile technology. and the general structure of the HubSpot inbound methodology is similar to that used in our class.  During the course the students watch the module and will take the HubSpot Inbound examination.
Students are also studying Google AdWords and getting certified in that program. The AdWords training videos are excellent and include many  Unfortunately, we don't have the time to have them work on a project using AdWords so that might be a more difficult certification project to manage. I will certainly keep everyone posted on our progress.  We just started the process this week and everyone in class became a Google Partner and is ready to go.

How it Works in Class

Using certifications in class is relatively easy.  Each of the vendors has a website where the students sign up for a free account.  Hubspot Academy includes transcripts and PowerPoint slides for its videos, making it the easiest certification to adapt to classroom use. Hootsuite Academy has a series of videos and a learning guide where the students can take notes.  AdWords has a website complete with other resources for getting certified.  With some creativity, each of these tools can be adapted to the classroom.  Students can provide proof of certification to earn class points. 

Pros and Cons

In general, these industry certifications work well.  One clear benefit to the instructor is not having to record all the information or keep it updated. Everything is done by the industry vendor.  However, that means that when the vendor makes changes, the instructor has to be flexible and so does the class. I have had vendors change certification modules in the middle of the semester and it has sometimes been an inconvenience to the class.  Clear communication and using the experience as a learning tool helps ease any problems encountered. Overall, the benefits for the students seem to outweigh and personal inconveniences. 

Industry Certifications Still New

In summary, there are many approaches to integrating certifications in to our Marketing curriculum to benefit our students.  As these industry partnerships are new, there is a learning curve and time will tell which approaches are the most effective.  Do you have any ideas/experiences  on the subject?  For more about our "Teaching Digital" workshop, check out the MMA site.  There is also more detail on my presentation on Slideshare.  For information on certifications, look upHubSpot Inbound certification, Google AdWords and Hootsuite Academy.  If you would like to look at sample syllabi, send me an email at dblatz@stedwards.edu and I can put you on our distribution list.