For the second year, I had the opportunity to teach the Digital Marketing modules at Henley Business School at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. I called the module #HenleyDigital, and some students have engaged with the hashtag on Twitter and other social media platform.


I usually tell my students that I’m quite happy that most of my teaching responsibilities are during the Spring. However, this also means that the amount of work that is concentrated in 3 months is quite intense, especially when marking. It is just in the middle of the marking period that I get feedback on both modules, and this post is about the things that I think worked well, and the things that I’d like to change for next year.


What worked well?


Aligning digital marketing certifications with the assessment


For the second year in a row, I have aligned part of the assessment with online certifications that digital marketing practitioners usually need to take for some roles. Unlike the first year, where I asked students to cover Hubspot’s Content Marketing certification course, I also included some content from Google’s Digital Garage for my undergraduate students and the Academy for Ads for my postgraduate cohort (at a personal level I found the latter more appropriate for university students, so I might ask both cohorts to focus on this one next year). The reason behind this is that within digital marketing there is space for both technical and creatives roles, and I thought having a creative certification (i.e. content marketing) and a more technical one (i.e. Digital Garage and Academy for Ads) would be a good balance for the students, and would also expose them to these platforms where they could expand their knowledge based on their own interest (for example Hubspot Academy just launched a new introductory course on SEO). Even though I don’t require students to actually pass the certification, doing the tests that each of the platforms offers will be beneficial for their in-class tests. A quick survey that I did showed me that 33% of my PG class and around 30% of my UG class managed to get at least one of the certifications, which is not bad!


How can I improve this even further?

I would like that 100% of my class manages to get at least one digital marketing certifications from any of these providers. Both of my classes develop a digital marketing plan to reach some marketing objectives. During this assessment, they’re able to apply knowledge gained in their lectures, online courses, and readings, and this year I also wanted to give more emphasis to the implementation side of this plan. Namely, if you’re suggesting changes on the website to improve SERPs, then I would expect to see the development of a keyword strategy based on real data coming from Google’s Keyword Planner. Or if you were going to a content marketing strategy, then showing some content where you used what you learned in the certification course and the module would be expected. Next year I’m planning to request each of the students to complete at least one certification that relates to the tactic being used in their report and to award some marks for this.

I also think this will help shift the focus from trying to memorise the correct answers to being able to apply the knowledge gained during the online courses in their coursework and exams. A shift towards more opportunities to apply this rather than just choosing the correct answer (which is the current focus of many online digital marketing certifications) will also allow students to engage in deeper learning.



What are some of the challenges that I faced this term?


Differentiating the undergraduate and postgraduate module


More universities in the UK are now offering digital marketing modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. At undergraduate levels, this tends to be as part of an optional module for a business management or marketing degree, whereas at the postgraduate level some universities now offer an MSc programme in Digital Marketing. The fact that some students taking and UG degree might then follow through one of our MSc degrees in Digital Marketing makes having two relatively distinct modules important. It is into some extent inevitable to have some overlaps, after all, there are critical frameworks like the digital marketing mix, as well as technical elements like SEO, SEM and SMM that need to be covered in any digital marketing module. However, the way I’ve tried to differentiate both modules (and I must say I was inspired to a great extent from what I learned from my PhD supervisor at my previous university) regarding the spread of knowledge in digital. UG students follow a more structured programme of the essentials of digital marketing, whereas the PG students cover the basics, but we also engage in more diverse discussions of the different aspects of digital marketing by engaging with more research articles.


This solves some of the problems of reducing overlaps. However, I found based on the feedback that I received from PG students that there are still some challenges to overcome. The most important of these challenges is the level of depth in which we cover the subject. I found that particularly for my PG cohort, the level of expertise in digital marketing varies among students. I have some students with very technical backgrounds, that were probably expecting more depth regarding SEO and UX, while in the meantime I also have students for whom this is one of the first marketing modules and that they found at times the content to be too technical.


So what is my plan for next year?

I find that having relatively distinct modules is a good thing, so I plan to keep that division going. However, for my PG students, I intend to do an early test to assess the level of knowledge of the cohort and to provide more advanced resources as part of the reading list for those wanting to engage in more depth in a particular subject. In the long term, I also intend to change the module descriptor to set expectations right from the beginning to both tech-savvy students and marketing newbies.


What else would I like to introduce next year in #HenleyDigital?


I found that this year it was harder to get practitioners into the classrooms. Don’t get me wrong, we still managed to get some great speakers mainly in our PG module such as Stuart Bryce, the digital marketing lead at O2, as well as the digital marketing team of Letswapp, a startup that I met during my last visit to the Web Summit in Lisbon. However, several of my confirmed guest speakers either pulled out last minute due to work commitments, or they had to reschedule, and then the weekly planning of sessions would not allow for them to speak.  So what do I plan to do next year?


I intend to make most of these sessions online via Facebook live sessions. Like that the marketing practitioners can still ‘meet us’ in a convenient way at times after office hours, and students can decide to either join live or watch the recording later on whenever is convenient to them. So next year it will be the first time I’ll introduce this during the term, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this works for both of my digital marketing modules.


Overall I’m quite pleased with the feedback received in both modules, and like always the UG class seems to be a harder crow. However, many of the techniques that I’ve learned as part of my journey in becoming a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy has helped in designing activities to build an effective learning environment. I’m sure with time both of our #HenleyDigital modules will only get better and better. So keep watching this space for more updates.


I also enjoyed a lot meeting on a weekly basis so many bright and creative students in both of my classes. I think the opportunity to discuss ideas with them is one of the most rewarding things that I get from teaching both modules.

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