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Future Proof and Real-World Ready: Skill Development and Project-Based Learning

The past 20 years represent a significant and disruptive shift in business, fueled by the growth of digital pioneers such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google; the development of cloud computing; and the emergence of powerful smartphones. Industry experts have argued that companies that do not embrace these new and disruptive digital elements face the risk of becoming irrelevant and even going out of business. This rapid pace of change makes it even more difficult for marketing educators to stay current and effectively prepare students for future careers. Marketing educators have long identified the need for students to develop the essential technical skills that will effectively prepare them for future careers in marketing. Inherent in the challenge facing educators today is that the technical skills needed to stay current in the marketing field will most certainly change as technology and consumer behavior continues to change. Technical “how to” skills such as being able to navigate paid search (e.g., Google Ads) and paid social media (e.g., Facebook Ads) platforms evolve and change so rapidly that it is not sufficient to merely teach these skills out of a digital marketing textbook or through conceptual class projects. At the same time, it is important for marketing educators to develop in our students those higher-level meta skills that can help prepare them for the myriad career paths they will encounter after graduation. Meta skills involve more generalizable skills such as analytical thinking, creative problem solving, interpersonal relations, and teamwork and communication skills that can magnify and activate other essential technical and practical skills. In this paper, we review the pedagogical literature on skill development and project-based learning (PBL) and detail two live course projects designed to help students develop the technical skills—related to digital marketing—as well as the meta skills, involving creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication, vital to their success after graduation. We detail the process by which we evaluate the impact of the projects through direct and indirect assessment. Our findings suggest that live PBL—projects that embrace current business challenges with real-world implications and actual stakeholders—supports the development of the technical and meta skills necessary for students to adapt to uncertainty and ambiguity and become future proof and real-world ready as they enter the workforce. Finally, we discuss the benefits and challenges associated with moving marketing education from conceptual to real-life projects and highlight pedagogical recommendations for educators who want to integrate live PBL into their courses.