Experiential learning in the communications world

If you are communications professional, what experiences in your education created the most impact and helped you in your career? If you are an aspiring communications professional, what classes do you think would help you develop the tools to flourish in your career?

It is my belief that experiential learning decreases the probability of this in the classroom.

For me, as a current communications professional, the answer is easy: hands-on experiences. These included stints as editor of the school newspaper, host of a talk radio show and work on a live newscast during my undergrad years from 1995 -1999. None of the these experiences were part of the class curriculum, but were all extra-curricular activities. One in-class assignment that I do recall being quite beneficial was doing an informational interview with an individual whose career I would aspire to.

Contemplating communications education and for the purpose of writing this blog, I have been reviewing communications curricula on different university web sites. As I had anticipated, I am disappointed to see the lack of communications education out there that I think delivers true return on investment and prepares communicators for the field. Mainly, I sense that there is a lack of experiential learning – the process of fostering learning through direct experience – throughout the curriculum.

I graduated in 1999, yet looking at these different sites today in 2012, I don’t notice much of a difference as to how the sites are presented. This is mind-boggling, especially when one considers how much the communications world has evolved in these 13 years. Very few offer the opportunity to look at students’ blogs, see professors’ feeds on Twitter or offer snapshots of what a class might look like on YouTube. In offering a communications service (and most likely at an expensive price tag), I think a little self-examination should be in order. I won’t point out the ones lacking substance, but will highlight a school that does seem to get it: Syracuse’s Newhouse School for Public Communications.

Here are some other elements that I think should be essential elements in a communications education:

  • Throw out the texts books (or use them very infrequently) – the majority of learning should be hands-on.
  • Extra-curricular activities, visits to professionals in the field, guest speaker presentations and internships should be integrated into the curriculum.
  • Students should be submitting work through the channels they will be communicating in their jobs: blogs, videos and other social media channels.
  • Every new principle introduced in class should be supplemented with real-world application in which students actually utilize the concept. (For example, after the instructor introduces the elements of a press release in the classroom, students should then have to write a mock-press release based on something in current events and then develop a media relations strategy around the announcement).
  • With the exception of some basic fundamentals courses, multiple choice examinations should be kept to a minimum. I would much rather see a student who actually has the ability to communicate using various platforms rather than be able to successfully regurgitate what the textbook says.

About Kevin Anselmo

Kevin Anselmo is the Founder and Principal of Experiential Communications, a consultancy focused on education. He helps brands within academia - whether individual or corporate - communicate with stakeholders. He also teaches communications and public relations workshops to different individuals and groups and just launched an online media training program for academics. Previously, Kevin was Director of Public Relations for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and prior to that managed the media relations for IMD Business School in Switzerland. In addition, he was an adjunct communications professor at Nyack College in New York. Currently based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Kevin lived and worked in Switzerland for eight years and in Germany for two years. He has led public relations initiatives in various countries around the world.
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