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Theory vs. Practice: A New Approach to Marketing Education and Training

by Jake Athey  |  
August 9, 2017
  |  1,436 views

The ivory tower is a symbol of academia—and an implicit critique of the isolated and often aloof nature of scholarship. It seems only appropriate to talk about why the ivory tower is failing marketing graduates in a publication called MarketingProfs.

Since ancient days, education has grappled with a problem: Should people be taught how to think, or should they be taught how to act?

Although I have immense respect and gratitude for the professors who mentored me, I believe marketing programs teach too much theory and too little practice. With some unconventional changes in marketing curricula, we could balance the two and better prepare marketing grads to succeed in their careers.

An Ancient Debate

The theory-versus-practice debate goes back to classical Greece, where philosophers and sophists clashed. The philosophers emphasized inquiry and dialogue. The sophists promoted rhetoric and technique. We remember the philosophers (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle) as heroes, and sophists as frauds.


We don't know which approach was "better," though. Consider Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), who studied ethics and political philosophy with Aristotle. He went on to build the largest empire the world had ever seen. Did his philosophy "degree" make a difference? Who knows? Without it, perhaps he still would have conquered his way past the Indus River.

I raise that example for this reason: Today, as in the past, it's impossible to look at a person's success and attribute it to any one educational experience.

That said, we can look at the education offered at American universities, talk to recent graduates, and observe how they adapt to life in a marketing careers. What do they (and we) wish they had learned?


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Jake Athey is VP of marketing at at digital asset management (DAM) software provider Widen Enterprises, where he has worked with CRM, campaign management, DAM, email, blogging, and social media management platforms.

Twitter: @JakeAthey

LinkedIn: Jake Athey

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  • by Monica Fri Aug 11, 2017 via web

    HI Jake,
    Your article provides a wonderful solution to the age old problem of theory vs practical know-how. For that reason, I chose a Digital Marketing course where theory is intertwined with creating presentations, formulating ideas and forging scenarios based on a "training company" that had it's own website and facebook page. It's working well for me at the moment. If I could add 1 thing it would be practical help on Analytics!

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