Learn-By-Doing in Advertising, Statistics, Economics and Marketing: A Case Study

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A National Symposium

November 16–17, 2018

Stetson University
Miami, Florida


It is very common to hear that there is a gap between what is taught in the classroom and the skills demanded by the labor market. The industries related to marketing and advertising, in general, value curricula that emphasize practical experience. Internships prepare students for their first job and give them authentic, hands-on learning based in real situations. Knowledge and understanding of economics and statistics are also assets in any professional environment. Organizations appreciate the technical skills and critical thinking competencies developed in these types of courses.

Faced with this educational reality, educators must understand the labor market as a latent variable in the design of academic curricula. External expectations require a capable and adaptable curriculum, one that is relevant to students, makes them more employable, and leverages their willingness to use and adapt to technology.

Dewey’s model (cited in Ruiz, 2013) established the idea that learning happens through practice and real experience. This model supposes that when students experience a real-world problem, they will search for a solution and, consequently, acquire knowledge and learning in the process. This is the basis for the pedagogical model of learn-by-doing, where knowledge is created through transformative experiences (Kolb, 1984).

Challenges in Contemporary Post-Secondary Education and the Learn-by-Doing Model

Students seeking innovative learning experiences nourish post-secondary institutions. The current generation of young students wants and needs to contribute, share, and disseminate experiences and real practices within their disciplines. Practical learning or learn-by-doing has several modalities and names, including internships, supervised practicum, work internships, applied learning, authentic learning (Monereo et al., 2012), and experiential learning (Kolb, 1984), among others.

Testing acquired skills and competencies (Sublett & Mattingly, 2005; cited in Maben, 2010) is a significant part of the experience of internships and practicum. That is, practical learning situations offer students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in different classes (Maben, 2010) and to exchange ideas. To expose students to dynamic environments, and to require them to solve real problems, is an effective way for students to gain self-confidence, to acquire and apply knowledge (Maben, 2010), and to gain competencies and skills necessary in the workplace. Bradshaw and Harvey (2017) emphasize that the demands of today’s labor market make it imperative for students to feel “comfortable” in facing the possible complexities of life and real-life problems. The learn-by-doing practices, then, provide useful and viable alternatives to traditional post-secondary learning, and help students develop competencies and generate knowledge.

It should be noted that the assignment of real clients to students generates motivation in the classroom and is typically very well received. It gives students an opportunity to learn outside the classroom and move their learning beyond hypothetical situations to real situations. The spaces that allow learn-by-doing or “experiential learning facilitate the cycle in which the student experiences, reflects, thinks and acts” (Kolb & Kolb, 2009, p. 298).

The competencies developed through internships and other learn-by-doing practices aim to cultivate a complete and integral graduate who seeks to achieve success in the real-world. The activities that add value to this educational experience are diverse, from conducting initial meetings with work teams, to preparing proposals, doing research, presenting results, analyzing studies, and writing reports for clients. All these activities integrate technical skills (hard skills) and non-technical skills (soft skills). Effective communication, teamwork, the use of technology, leadership, research, ethical sense, innovation, and critical analysis are some of the skills that students gain through an apprenticeship based on the learn-by-doing model.

Grupo Elemento 360: The First Learn-by-Doing Project

Grupo Elemento 360 is a communication firm run by student volunteers and supervised by the faculty. The firm was started to enable educators to provide students with practical experience. The focus of the firm is integrated communications, and currently the services most requested by customers have been the creation of content and the management of social networks, event planning, promotions, and advertising campaigns.

The firm works as an advertising agency, but with some important differences. First, faculty mentors participate in all administrative and creative plans. Second, students manage the processes and projects of the firm and interact with clients. Students work as a team in the development of strategies and creative works for specific projects, or complete campaigns begun by their clients. The team has weekly meetings with their mentor, contracts with clients, and provides orientation for new members. The firm, as most communication agencies do, uses planning, creative, media, and campaign briefs. In addition, each team member has a job description and is placed within a chain of command. Members of Elemento 360 must comply with a work schedule requiring a minimum of 160 semester hours, and are subject to periodic evaluations by the mentor and the work team, including at the end of the semester. The tasks depend on the client. The firm serves a wide range of clients, including student associations, administrative offices of the university campus, professional associations, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and local and non-profit organizations.

Supervised Practicum in Marketing

Supervised practicum is a required course for students in the marketing major. The purpose of the supervised practicum courses is to expose students to fieldwork and professional experiences within their discipline and offer them the possibility of establishing contacts with participating firms and representatives of the industry. The fieldwork provides practitioners the opportunity to interact with the professional world in a supervised situation in which they can put into practice the skills acquired in the classroom and develop other technical and administrative skills. It also provides them with the opportunity to apply, at a professional level, the knowledge acquired in the area of study. It is for this reason that students are advised to take the course during their last semester of study. The time required in practice is 160 hours.

Student evaluation is based on several rubrics, including rubrics developed for monthly reports, classroom presentations, and reflective essays. Also, the supervisor of the practice center completes a questionnaire at the end of the academic session. The course aims to equip students for their search for employment. It is for this reason that the selection process by the center has to emulate the job recruitment process. To prepare students for this process, they are asked to complete a curriculum vitae, a video pitch, and a video interview. These last two components were established according to the literature in human resources, which indicates that recruitment processes have moved towards the use of technology.

The Creation of a New Statistics Course and Economics

Statistics is a general requisite course for all degrees. It was merged with another statistical course and is available to all students, while economics is a required course in the business department. Economics is an abridged course covering micro- and macroeconomics through a social science perspective.

Since statistical thinking dominates almost every field in science, social science, psychology, business, economics, management, and marketing, it is virtually impossible for students to avoid data analysis during their undergraduate work or professional career. Hence, no student should graduate without a basic understanding of statistics.

Economics is the science that deals with the organization and distribution of limited resources to produce goods and services that seek to satisfy unlimited wants and needs. Why do students need to have discussions on economics topics? Economics, politics, historical events, geopolitical tensions, migration, financial crises involve concepts that are interrelated and interconnected. To understand their world, students need to understand current economic events and how crises can affect them.

How can faculty help students learn statistics or economics? In statistics, one way to help students develop their statistical reasoning is with learn-by-doing strategies in the classroom. These strategies allow students to complement what they have heard and read about statistics by actually doing statistics. For the past two years, activities in the statistics course have been related to research, but with a twist. Students have to tell a story about a data set. For this project, which can be done in pairs, students plan what measures they need to take in order to analyze the data collected by using Excel. Then they use statistics, tables, and graphs to describe the data. A more significant twist is in the accepted forms of presentation, which include videos, animated videos, podcasts, press releases, newspapers, executive summaries, dramatic scripts, digital newsletters, infographics, memes, comic strips, obituaries, brochures, and posters. The project does not involve PowerPoint or Prezi presentations.

In the economics course, activities included classroom discussions of current economic issues in the classroom in which students advocated their own point of view. During class sessions, students tweeted about Puerto Rico’s (PR) economic crisis, and created memes about economic concepts and PR’s economic situation. The “big day” of the course is the economic debate. Three to four weeks before the debate, students select their topic through a Google Forms survey; they are then randomly placed on either the pro or con side of the debate. The simulation prepares them to manage time and develop coherent arguments, but also to find data to support their point of view.

Discussion and Conclusion

Part of the objective of this paper is to present academic projects that follow the learn-by-doing model and develop student competencies through experiences in statistics and economics courses, Elemento 360, and supervised practicum. For the mentors, the two main benefits include the opportunity: 1) to help students select a career area within their major, and 2) to teach a professional discipline. The latter is one of the most challenging areas to teach in the classroom.

According to participating mentors, learn-by-doing happens when students manage customer relationships, anticipate issues, and deal with clients who change their minds, as well as when they research, write, strategically plan, create ads, and plan and produce media events, among other things. The student experience at Elemento 360 involves all these activities. Students work directly with clients seeking solutions and gain confidence in their abilities. They learn to negotiate with others and to receive and give constructive feedback. Consequently, the experience helps them to believe in their chances of success as entrepreneurs or employees in other firms.

Participating mentors have agreed on the positive aspects of these educational projects. Students value the experience and reinforce the knowledge acquired in their courses. As the research suggests, students who enter the workforce must possess communication skills, strategic and conceptual thinking skills, interpersonal skills, and professionalism (Battle et al., 2007; Beachboard & Weidman, 2013).


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Spring 2019: Transforming Teaching Through Active Learning