Graduation 2008 - Thirty30 Photography | Flickr

Education and Social Media

Graduation 2008 - Thirty30 Photography | FlickrThere’s a lot of discussion in professional social media circles – from publishers, to consultants, to agencies – about education. Clients need it, businesses need it, the public needs it – but so do the professionals working in these very complex, highly unorganized fields.

There’s now very little stringent education directly related to social networking as a business communication tool; while there are plenty of dyed in the wool professionals, the building of a knowledge base accessible through higher education seems slow in catching up. This isn’t even a theory versus practice problem – I think it’s an educational system problem.

How can we create education for new kinds of professionals, when education itself is failing?

This article from MENG Blend on May 17th tells a strong story about the state of education in general:

[…] even though the real ROI of college over time is well-documented, college completion rates are falling rapidly.  On average, four year public schools graduate only 37% of their students within four years.  The story at community colleges, which account for 46% of all undergraduates, is even worse:  just 25% of those at 2-year colleges graduate within three years of the time they start.

Damning, isn’t it?

Colleges in the United States are failing – I shudder to think about Canadian schools as well. I’ve never been encouraged by comments from my peers about their education experience itself. I’m even more worried over how new fields, such as community management, social marketing, and platform journalism (such as journalist-style blogs) would even stand up with curriculum devised for the current college or university model.

The challenge of “complete qualifications.”

A client asked me a few months ago what kinds of qualifications someone needed to do the job I do. I was hard-pressed to explain, that there aren’t many degrees which directly, and solely apply to social media, search optimization, or online marketing.

In order to do my job, and be completely qualified, someone would theoretically need half a dozen degrees:

  • Marketing / Communications
  • Sociology / Psychology
  • Literature / Linguistics
  • Statistics
  • Computer Science
  • Business Administration

That’s a lot of schooling, right? Now, it’s possible to get some of these qualifications in combination – majoring in marketing and minoring in communications, or vice versa.

Does social media – or any of its current derivative fields – need their own degrees?

If so, what does that look like? Could it be a bachelors, an associate degree? Could it stand up to a Masters program, or a PhD? What kinds of components and streams would the 4 to 8 years of education made up of? How much statistics, how much sociology? How much emphasis should we put on statistics, or business admin over the other?

If it’s not its own degree, what programs should it become a requisite part of? Journalism, or creative communications? Sociology? Marketing? Advertising and public relations? There are a lot of programs that could benefit from discrete courses in social networking and web-enabled communications.

What do you think?

I’m still on the fence about a lot of this. Yes, I’m aware I’m using social media and communications as a synecdoche for the rest of the education system – but it’s important to me. Having ended formal education at grade 12 like a lot of other people, my ability to speak about post-secondary schooling is limited. However, as I consider returning to school in the next few years – and as I consider my son’s options for schooling in the future, I can’t help but worry.

How can we encourage education – as a process and an institution – to do better? Where should we start?

  • Niadin Harte

    It might be hard to introduce Social Media Training into a school or university environment because to be current it would need to constantly update, and to get those updates through the curriculum takes time, and it would be more work then t’s worth, however there are several Social Media Training courses that, due to their speciality have the ability to continually update their material and stay relevant that still align themselves with official accreditation standards.

  • Rountree, B.

    Conscientious instructors will update their material to include social media and therefore work to make their courses timely and relevant.
    The process of making courses and programs relevant, however, is a long one. As a result, they could be irrelevant when they are presented as “new.”

    • Ian M Rountree

       That’s part of my concern. I struggle to think how hard it would be to build a course about a mutable subject that would be both relevant, and repeatably deliverable – without becoming, as you say, outdated before release.

      Part of the struggle with the idea of “education” as a system, I think, comes from the idea of uniform delivery and measurement of understanding. So much of this material is heavily subjective.

      Perhaps, rather than “education” per se, networked media communications teaching should look like vocational training instead.