Ensuring quality is the biggest challenge in digital education: Ian Dodson

Last Updated: Sun, Dec 30, 2012 20:22 hrs

So far, digital education is imparted largely at workshops and industry events. Very soon, it will become part of mainstream management curriculum

Digital education has been relegated to sporadic workshops and networking events. What made you start Digital Marketing Institute (DMI)?
Digital technology has transformed businesses and personal lives of people who run them. Unlike the evolution of telecommunication, television or radio, digital has grown phenomenally within a short span of last 12 years. This has created turmoil as consumers have grown far ahead of businesses, making it difficult for companies to relate to the consumers. This gap is characterised by a lack of skilled workforce that can figure how to reach this growing consumer base by tweaking business models from time to time. Be it McKinsey in the US or UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau, more and more people are staring at skill shortage in the digital world. Companies now understand the importance of moving beyond outsourcing and building digital capabilities internally. So it was no shocker when we could not find faculty members for Digital Marketing Institute campuses in Dublin and London. In early 2008, we collaborated with digital practitioners to formulate a syllabus. We started our first class in September 2009 with just 10 students in Dublin. Within the next six months, we were running more than 15 programmes. While peers saw it as a strategic move, for us it was something that had to be done.

We are supported by Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, eBay, Microsoft, PayPal, among others for our membership events, which facilitate knowledge sharing in peer networks. It is a healthy interaction between providers and practitioners. Also, in last 18 months, we have focused on building partnerships to run our programmes across the globe, such as Pearson in the US or NIIT in India. Usually, we start with a basic diploma in digital before introducing specialised courses.

You started DMI in the year of recession. That was the time when advertisers were tightening their purse strings. What kept you going? Also, as a digital practitioner, what did you learn from the slowdown?
Booming economies tend to hide a multitude of sins. And marketing is no different. Companies were spending in the traditional calendar in a budget bound method and did not pay enough attention to metrics or to the swing in power and influence towards the consumer. With the downturn, we saw a move away from a tokenistic approach to the web where companies simply created websites. As the downturn challenged all spending decisions, organisations had to take a more mature view of digital channels and actually start applying proper ROI metrics to their spend. The web, for several years before the downturn, has had very sophisticated mechanisms for delivering highly transparent and analytics driven marketing which works effectively in downturn.

Paid online learning has not taken off in a big way in any market globally. Isn’t it ironical then that online-based education is one of the four pillars of your institute. Can it substitute classroom learning?
The delivery of online education is skewed towards free content. Online learning has immense potential to increase participation in markets where classrooms are not available owing to undeveloped infrastructure or skill shortage. Online learning is not a substitute for classroom learning. It complements classroom training. For instance, high school teachers in the US are using Khan Academy (a not-for-profit online NGO) to do away with the monotony of classroom lectures. Students are encouraged to go through online lessons on various topics on the website. Next morning, teachers help students with problem solving.

In the last couple of years, there has been an explosion of online courses. The real challenge here is to maintain quality. A majority of online courses are examples of glorified content management. Telling students to go through PPTs is the worst style of imparting online education. Learning will always be a social experience. Students from Egypt, Mexico, Venezuela and Scotland, who have no access to peer networks and classrooms are taking our online post graduate programmes.

Currently, we are rolling out a social learning system that will marry what social media offers with online learning. To achieve this, DMI has chosen to work with local partners (who know what works best in their respective markets) in serving digital practitioners across the globe. Following global standards and paying due diligence to local market dynamics go hand-in-hand as we spread our network to other countries. In our programmes, principles of social media and search marketing are taught with the help of local case studies.

Rather than talking about how online learning can transform education globally, the industry needs to do away with the old fashioned computer-based training for social learning.

Training through digital media may be difficult in the absence of long history and relevant case studies. How does an institute come up with a relevant syllabus for the ever-changing digital market?
We allow the industry to formulate the syllabus of our programmes. Besides faculty members, more than 150 digital practitioners log on to our syllabus system (with details on individual learning items) on a daily basis. For instance, if Google makes an announcement on changes in its search algorithm, the users mark the development with priority.

While some changes are introduced in the syllabus instantly, a few are done over 31 days or so. By the end of every quarter, DMI takes a score of these modifications. This is how we achieve persistent global standards that facilitate local expression and variations. We work with business and IT lecturers in universities colleges to formulate their digital marketing syllabus.

Digital is yet to become a part of mainstream marketing education. In five years, we hope to see this become a reality.

How can a sound digital media strategy help a company in crisis management?
A large number of books on crisis management teach to centralise all control whenever there’s a crisis situation. So only one person (usually the CEO) is allowed to address the issue. Digital media allows you to devolve responsibility to every level of an organisation. Culturally many companies are averse to this approach. At the same time, there are organisations that run crisis mock-up programmes to test the addressability skills of employees. Many organisations are doing a good job by serving customers through the digital channel. For one, Southwest Airlines addresses each customer query on social media. It takes courage to do something like this.

Today, children in the age group of 14-16 hardly use email and so many colleges have stopped providing email ids. These people will carry their social media consumption habits to workplaces in future transforming both internal and external communication.

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