eMarketing Education: A Challenging Space

By Lyndi Lawson on 2010/01/26

Trials of a Different Nature

When it comes to education in eMarketing, the challenges are generally less homogenous than those that exist in the educational sphere. Due to this field being in its relative infancy, these problems relate to its evolving nature, its conceptualisation, practitioners’ fear of the unknown and (in South Africa and the developing world specifically) to infrastructural issues. This article touches on some of these challenges.

Conceptual vs. Practical Challenges

Broadly speaking, eMarketing is a practical field of study. Most of the current generation of eMarketers have learnt their skills through tactical implementation – essentially trial and error. With online budgets expanding and an international explosion in demand for online marketing, there is a growing call for professionals and less time to allow for on-the-job-learning. This necessitates the development of educational programmes - coordinated either by formal institutions or by practitioners - aimed at filling the gap before it opens.

This raises the question though – how do educators transcribe traditionally practical and tactical learning into the conceptual and theoretical structure generally used in teaching? Even if this concern is one easily addressed, there’s no doubt that while conceptual learning is necessary, there’s no substitute for hands-on practical application.

“Build your empire on the firm foundation of the fundamentals.”Lou Holtz

Regardless of whether knowledge is transferred via theoretical or tactical methods, the greater concern lies in difficulties that educators face in moving beyond an introduction to the subject matter and into the nitty gritty of the field. This is because there is a lack of continuity in the industry and no foundations on which learners’ knowledge can be built. In this instance, agencies educating their clients, lecturers at institutions and corporate trainers face the same problem – a continual need to compensate for this deficit. In practical terms, this translates into courses that repeatedly teach the basics rather than covering advanced technical practice. Quite simply, people need to be taught what eMarketing is before they can be taught how to practice it.

Ultimately, if education informs innovation, this is limiting the advancement of the field as a whole. The obvious solution is to seek opportunities for continuity and to enforce a hierarchy of learning with levels that build on those that precede them. An expansive view of these challenges reveals that this is more complicated than it seems on first look.

Mind the (Generation) Gap

The technological generation gap only worsens the dearth of solid foundational knowledge. In an industry where perspective and context inform understanding, the fact that some of us grew up pre-computers (mainstream ones anyway) and television (certainly in South Africa), some of grew up in the era of Microsoft Encarta (which it took me years to establish had nothing to do with the political party on the television) while the (much) younger generation have been well versed in the Web practically from birth. My 8 year old nephew plays a problem solving Maths game against learners all over the world on a daily basis. There are also degrees of experience between these extremes. A critical challenge facing eMarketing education thus relates to finding a common discourse that will speak to all of these generations and ultimately bridge this gap to ensure that while it may be young professionals implementing the tactics, senior CEOs and directors in the company see the value in what they are doing.

Aiming for a Moving Target

Possibly the most frustrating aspect of this generational disparity is the fact that is not a static one. Technology advances every single day ensuring that the gap only gets wider. There are more tools, more applications and a growing need for marketers to understand them. Even those un-versed individuals who are not struck with fear of the unknown may cower when confronted with not only the varied hardware and software necessary for computer and Web literacy but also the ins and outs of social networking, search engines, online PR …(and the list goes on.)

And to Wrap Things Up

These challenges are by no means small ones and while there are potential solutions to them, these will not emerge or be implemented overnight. Time will solve some of these problems while developing infrastructure will solve others. Critically, practitioners and educators need to collaborate and use their combined expertise to conceptualise creative long term resolutions that will sustain in the light of shifting trends and advancing technology.