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Digital Skills in a 21st Century Marketing Career

The Importance of Continuing Education for Adult Professionals

I am both a consumer and a provider in the field of adult continuing education. I began my career in marketing 25 years ago, when “direct mail” still meant paper, and “list” meant US postal service addresses. I have both a technical degree (I started out as a programmer) and an MBA, but when I decided to re-enter the workforce after time spent away from my career raising children, it quickly became clear I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I urgently needed to update my marketing skills.

In a recent AdWeek Q&A column, 24 Seven founder and CEO Celeste Gudas talked about the need for current marketing skills, and provided a recruiter’s view about the job market in the digital and advertising sector. In it, she says that for advertising/marketing professionals, digital skills are a must, and that digital jobs are outpacing all others in the marketing field.

So I turned to the University of Washington in my hometown of Seattle, and sought out the most efficient means to bring my professional skills up to par. I enrolled in an adult continuing education certificate program: a three quarter, classroom-based, evening program geared toward working professionals called the “Certificate In Social Media Technologies and Implementation.”

Today, I have graduated from student to teaching assistant at the University of Washington in this Professional and Continuing Education program (UWPCE). It’s become such a popular program that next year, the University is planning to expand the program, effectively doubling enrollment. I firmly believe in continuing education for adults, and I have seen the value from both the student and educator perspective. Several students have told me that listing their UW social media certificate on their resume has been a conversation-starter and a door-opener for them, and has even gotten them job interviews.

Our students have a variety of backgrounds, from journalism to accounting, to sales and marketing. Some are working in the digital marketing arena already, and some are looking to move into the field, whether within their current companies or by searching out new opportunities. They bring a rich set of skills and experiences to the classroom, which are leveraged through individual and group participation in class discussions, presentations and projects.

Successful professional and continuing education programs like the one offered by the UWPCE share some important elements:

  • A curriculum that focuses on both theory and hands-on use of the most current online tools available.
  • Practical and hands-on experience with actual company or organization information. This can be actually working with your current company’s campaigns, or using community-based projects involving local non-profits, start-ups and small businesses that allow students to apply what they’re learning to real life business problems.
  • A strong peer community of students who proactively bring their work experiences into the classroom and support each other in the learning process.
  • Instructors and/or guest speakers who combine both academic and real-world experiences, sharing their own knowledge, tools, and customer case studies from marketing agencies, analytics companies, startups and maverick consumer brands.
  • Use of online technology inside and outside the classroom to facilitate collaborative learning and reflection.

Adult continuing education enriches not only the students, but their employers and the teaching staff. It encourages the cross-pollination of ideas between the working world and academia. I have been continually impressed by the intellectual curiosity, the hard work, and the willingness to share experiences and learn new things demonstrated by UWPCE students and faculty.

ASPE-ROI also offers a continuing education certificate program through St. Louis University:  The Executive Certificate in Internet Marketing. Instead of the semester-based approach like UWPCE, the St. Louis University ASPE-ROI Executive Certificate in Internet Marketing requires that you take five comprehensive training courses in subjects such as social media, Google AdWords, Google Analytics, content marketing and more. Each class is two to three days long, and you can take all five courses immediately, or take up to three years to finish the certificate. Courses are offered in classroom settings all over the country, or in a virtual, instructor-led, live online setting.

There are a wide variety of continuing education models available today. Teaching formats in continuing education programs like those offered by the University of Washington and St. Louis University range from 100% classroom to 100% online and everything in between. Look for programs that share the traits listed above, and I believe you will be enriched and enabled in your career, no matter what stage you are in.

About the Author:
Solveig Whittle is an independent marketing consultant, teaching assistant at the University of Washington’s Professional and Continuing Education Program, blogger and a musician. You can read her blog on social media and the music industry at or follow her on Twitter @shadesofsolveig


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