Let’s Get Certified


Professional online certifications, such as Google Academy of Ads, HubSpot, and Hootsuite are fantastic teaching tools for the classroom. They provide a quick and entry gateway into digital marketing. But, even the best tools come with challenges incorporating them into a formal class.

At a school like Babson College, where a make-it-happen mindset is not only encouraged, but baked into the curriculum, professional certifications are a great tool to arm students with tangible skills going into the workforce.

Why certifications?

It is important to recognize the actual purpose of certifications. Professional certifications are designed by companies to both educate and introduce their software. Training involves watching several hours of well-crafted educational videos followed by an exam to attain the certification. In most cases, certifications are good for two years. After that, they will need to be renewed.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages to using these professional online certifications in a digital marketing classroom.

Babson Assistant Professor of Marketing Richard Hanna outlines the pros, cons, and how to for integrating professional certifications into the classroom.

The Perks of Certifications

  • Résumé builder for students and table stakes for some jobs—while not a guarantee of employment, many companies want to know that potential employees are well versed in relevant software.
  • Quality is “generally” very good—the videos are easy to watch and follow, have excellent speakers, and are well organized. But, it is important that you always monitor the quality.
  • Opportunity to flip the classroom—if you are teaching a standard, face-to-face class, moving some of the learning to outside of the classroom provides an opportunity to do other things inside the classroom.
  • It’s NOT you—nothing like a change of pace from the regular professor!
  • Students can pace themselves—some of the content would be very difficult to move everyone at the same pace, especially around using the actual tools.

The Downsides of Certifications

  • Overt focus on branded product—well, it’s Google Adwords, not just search marketing you would be learning from Google. Same with the others.
  • Some students will “GAME” the system—while there are tests, students can still cheat if not monitored.
  • Students will be students—many will wait until the last minute to do it, defeating the purpose of self-learning for other classroom activities and potentially being late with proof they completed the process since some certifications take at least 24 hours to process before getting a certificate.
  • Integrating “ain’t” easy—since these training programs are mini-courses in themselves, making sure the whole program integrates or even uses all of the same language and terms (especially when applying proprietary software) that are appropriate can be a challenge.
  • Knowledge vs. Practice—as mentioned above, these certifications are often table stakes but they don’t show the ability to apply the knowledge. So, providing some form of additional practice opportunity either through a simulation or client project is needed.

How to integrate certifications

What role do they play?

The materials in professional certifications will not match up perfectly to your lessons. This is where you can decide if they are complements or substitutes to your previously planned material. While the decision may vary depending on the certification, I tend to lean toward using them as complements.

I will teach an introduction to the material and task the students with finishing by using the certification. The content does the work that would be more tedious in the classroom. However, it is important to know where things differ from your classroom language or plan so you can provide a heads up in advance. I present my students with the benefit of using the certification as the résumé builder.

By flipping the classroom, it allows me more time in class to work on actual practice opportunities.

What topics do you choose?

A few years ago, the options for online training were rather limited. However, today, both HubSpot and Google have expanded their libraries extensively.

I like to use the certifications that provide a specific skill that would be tedious in the class but directly relates to the topic area. For example, I use HubSpot’s Social Media certification in my marketing communications and social media class for students to learn the process of creating a social media plan.

Then, in class, we discuss the use of a plan with a real client project. In my digital marketing class, I use Google Adwords certification to set up students to participate in an online simulation by Stukent (stukent.com) that emulates creating a search marketing campaign.

Do you give class credit?

To keep the students motivated, certifications need to be for class credit. Since most of the certifications have a test, you could use the grade on the test as the grade for the assignment. However, without watching your students take the test, you have no proof it was them or that they didn’t use the internet to support their answers.

If time permits, you can have them take the test in class. I think the best road is to make it a pass/fail assignment with questions from the certifications on your own final exam.

How many?

1…2…3…More? Given the increasing libraries of content, it might become tempting to use multiple certifications in your course.

Personally, I think too many creates an opportunity to lose control. If you’re teaching in a 14-week course, I think the magic number is two. Just enough to give students additional content but not enough to forget who the real teacher in room is. Too many can take away from you and your authority.

Is knowledge enough?

Finally, to borrow a phrase from one of my favorite movies, “Certificates do not ‘maketh’ the digital marketer. …” OK, maybe that’s not how the line goes, but the key is practice is needed to complete the training.

I like to use simulations from Stukent. They have both a social media advertising simulation, Mimic Social and digital marketing/search simulation, Mimic Pro. These can be used in a variety of education levels from high school to higher education. Alternatively, or in addition, if a live client were willing to participate and give students access, that would be even better. But, because that is rare, I love the simulations.

In conclusion, with certifications, the good outweighs the bad. They give students the opportunity to build their résumé with tangible skills while learning in the classroom. Students find value in these skills going out into the job market, and, as a professor, you have some new tools at your disposal.

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