Digital Marketing Trends in Education for 2021

Chad Kearns, Vice President of Marketing Services

In a relatively new industry that’s rapidly evolving, it can be daunting for recent college graduates to learn about digital marketing. Unlike many other fields of study, digital marketing has been around for only a few decades. And although the field is still relatively new, as recent events have demonstrated, the world is rapidly shifting to digital and these marketing jobs are needed more than ever before.

But this fast-paced transition can be hard to keep up with, especially for college students who are just learning about what the digital world can offer. What’s current and relevant in digital marketing one semester may completely change the next, posing a great challenge for both professors as they teach and students as they learn about the industry.

So how are future marketers preparing to enter the workforce? What and how are professors teaching? Which programs and classes are offered to help students get a feel for the digital marketing realm? We asked professors from colleges and universities throughout the nation about how they’re preparing students to enter the digital marketing field:

What Marketing Channels Are Colleges and Universities Currently Focusing On?

While many post-secondary institutions have marketing programs for students looking to step into the traditional marketing world, they vary in terms of the digital courses they provide. Some schools provide a few digital marketing classes, while others offer entire digital marketing degrees. But no matter the approach, it’s clear that the subject is becoming more and more prominent at the college level.

“I have fully immersed myself in digital marketing channels and it is my primary focus in the classes I teach. Four years ago, Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University proposed three new marketing concentrations for our program, one of which was a Digital Marketing track… Two new courses were created for this track, social media marketing and web analytics, and the department placed a course previously offered, Internet Marketing, into this track.”
Michelle Carpenter, Senior Lecturer, Strome College of Business, Old Dominion University

“My focus is on both traditional marketing channels and digital. Students need to know the foundations and concepts that are used in both of these key marketing strategies, and how they play a role in the solutions for businesses today.”
Andrew Burnstine, Ph.D., Associate Professor, College of Business and Management, Lynn University

“My focus is ‘Integrated Marketing Communication’ (IMC)- integrating the channels that will reach the clearly defined target. ‘Traditional’ used to be the primary way to reach the target with ‘digital’ as support. Today, digital is marketing … and ‘traditional’ is an important support.”
Sam R. Goldstein, Instructor of Marketing and Participating Faculty, Welch College of Business & Technology, Sacred Heart University

“I have taught a dedicated digital marketing class every year since 1998. We also have an information systems major in our business school for students who want to combine our digital marketing course with more advanced technology courses.”
Mary B. Harms, Associate Clinical Professor in Marketing, Smith School of Business

“I teach marketing strategy with a focus on social commerce, D2C startups, digital AI transformation, and ChinaTech. To be an effective university adjunct professor, you have to be current. Hence, we must make our own lesson plans… I want my students to be relevant marketers coming out of Baruch with job offers coming at them.”
Robb Hecht, Adjunct Professor of Marketing, Baruch College

“Our standard digital marketing courses cover a variety of topics: website design, SEO, paid search, online advertising, social media, and email. At the graduate level, there is also an emphasis on digital marketing strategy. We also offer a social media marketing course both at the undergraduate and graduate level.”
Mark Bender, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of South Florida

What Digital Marketing Topics Are College and University Students Currently Learning About?

Digital marketing embodies a wide range of channels—you’ve got everything from content and technical SEO to PPC and social media. While each marketing channel is equally important, it can be a lot for students to really grasp and put into practice as a whole when they’re limited to only a few semesters of learning. Professors have to be selective about what topics and tools they choose to teach their students within the short time they’re given each semester. Here’s what they’re teaching with the limited time they have.

“Up to date digital marketing strategies and tactics, such as SEO, User Experience (UX), and website/social media analytics, as well as launching, managing, and analyzing a real digital marketing campaign and consulting projects. These projects allow (students) to work one-on-one, with both faculty and professionals in the field to learn about and create solutions for existing businesses.”
– Andrew Burnstine, Ph.D.

“It is absolutely critical that students are able to function in today’s data-driven, technologically complex marketing world. On the one hand, students need to know how to use current tools… However, on the other hand, tools come and go, so students need to be digitally agile, so the theoretical aspects are equally important. We try to balance theory and application by giving them real-world business projects and teach them critical thinking skills in order to transcend whatever tool they happen to be using at the moment.”
David G. Taylor, Ph.D., Associate Professor & Marketing Department Chair, Sacred Heart University

“Our program encompasses all the areas that I think students are required to learn for a successful career in DM. UX is incredibly important from a design perspective. Analytics is a really hot topic with the rise of data importance. And equally important, content development and campaign strategies for digital platforms. We want our students to hit the ground running even before graduation.”
Gerardo Moreira, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Sacred Heart University

“Students are required to complete the first segment of Google Analytics Academy; they are also required to create a personal professional website/portfolio, they also work in teams on a semester-long project where they redesign a website and the online presence for a small business or nonprofit, we also have several guest speakers who present educational segments with followup hands-on projects for the students to complete.”
– Mary B. Harms

“Customer Journey, Social Commerce, Data Strategy, Analytics, Content Strategy, D2C product development, Amazon,, Google Analytics, Google Ads, are good topics for students to know about and become certified in. As digital certifications gain in importance, university programs must teach logical thinking along these coveted digital credentials.”
– Robb Hecht

“Right now, we ask students to consider how businesses may consider leveraging mobile and geolocation targeting for marketing purposes in a client-based semester-long project (they are also tasked with SEO, paid search, etc. recommendations for this client).”
– Mark Bender, Ph.D.

To properly prepare students for the “real world,” professors work hard to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate the digital marketing trends their students may witness as they enter the industry. Especially over the last year, the digital realm has seen some massive shifts, and professors want to make sure their students are ready to dive in head-first and tackle similar challenges that might arise in the future.

“We are seeing a difference in the types of jobs available. More traditional marketing roles are more scarce as companies tighten their belts in this challenging economic environment. Companies are actively looking for graduates who can span the worlds of technology and business. Our vision is to produce graduates who are able to traverse these two worlds with current skills, as well as the ability to adapt as technology changes.”
– David G. Taylor, Ph.D.

“Having an online presence will become even more important for brands, there will be an increased focus on agile advertising approaches, and marketers will try to focus more on the brand experience to provide more assurance to customers. To prepare the students, we are adapting our marketing course materials almost in real time to provide them knowledge about how the industry is changing.”
Aaron Joyal, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Daemen College

“What I think has changed is the messaging. Marketers need to understand what has shifted in the minds of their buyers, where the concerns are, what matters now that didn’t last year. As marketers, we’re always looking for ways to make sure our messages resonate. The tactics haven’t changed, but what we use them for needs to change.”
Jerry Rackley, Executive-in-Residence, School of Marketing & International Business, Oklahoma State University

What Advice Do Professors Have for Those Entering the Digital Marketing Field?

As previously mentioned, it’s hard to fit the whole of digital marketing into a few semesters at any post-secondary school. Although professors may not have all the time they would like to get their students ready, they still offer valuable advice to students and recent graduates as they spread their wings and leave the nest.

“If you want to succeed, take on that internship and another if possible, get involved and be a leader in student organizations, and work hard on any student projects so you can build a portfolio that stands out. Build your own personal brand on LinkedIn and become proficient in key social media platforms. Follow the leaders on social media and see what they are doing. Finally, keep writing; content continues to be king. You must be an effective communicator if you are going to be successful in this industry.”
– Michelle Carpenter

“‘According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.’ (1) I say this on repeat more than a scratched disk in a vinyl player and as corny and overly stated as it is, it is highly relevant in the world of DM. The best [digital] marketers are those that can quickly and effectively adapt to the ever-changing industry demands.”
– Gerardo Moreira, Ph.D.

“To become a good marketer, you need to put in the time and the effort. Classes and instruction will only take you so far; you need to get ‘hands-on’ experience as soon as you can. I’d also suggest that they read as much as they can about the field and to seek out experts in the field who make their experience available online for free. Finally, start to attend networking events as soon as you can, as in this industry (like many others), who you know can sometimes be more important than what you know.”
– Aaron Joyal, Ph.D.

“Understand all aspects of marketing: inbound marketing, content marketing, digital marketing, experiential marketing, PR, and a combination of each. Integrate them. ‘Back in the day,’ we would do mass (marketing) to reach the target. Today, we do target so they can reach out to the masses.”
– Sam R. Goldstein

“Students are pretty adept at learning the tools, technologies, and approaches of digital marketing. But many see their professional success hindered because they don’t know how to have a meaningful conversation with someone they just met. Or they don’t know how to write a great blog post. This ability to communicate well is the biggest differentiator I am seeing in the graduate pool these days.”
– Jerry Rackley

Explore Your Options

Just as the digital landscape is constantly developing, so are the teaching and learning approaches in higher education. In the current age, it’s imperative that marketers be familiar with digital tactics. Students interested in digital marketing have many options to choose from and should explore what different institutions have to offer. The world awaits you!

(1) Meggins, L. C. (1963), “Lessons from Europe for American Business,” Southwestern Social Science Quarterly, 44(1) 3-13, at p. 4.

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