Designing hands-on learning activities for marketers

gomc_icon_smallA little known fact about me is that, back in 2007, I was in involved in the design and development of the Google Online Marketing Challenge (GOMC). The GOMC is a group-based, hands-on learning activity, where students develop and implement an online marketing plan for a small to medium sized company. It is now in its ninth year, and has attracted over 100,000 students and professors from around 100 countries. So, it is something that I am very proud to have been involved with.


The idea started in March 2007 when Jamie Murphy was talking with one of his recent graduates who had joined Google, Lee Hunter, about real world exercises for marketing students. I joined them very soon after and, a couple of months later, two US academics (Larry Neale and Charles F. Hofacker) joined the team, too. Perhaps counter-intuitively, none of us had ever used search engine marketing. However, we all had, and continue to have, a keen interest in the use of new technologies in teaching and learning, as well as on online marketing.


I am not going to lie; it was hard work. And engaging with a technology that we were unfamiliar with was, at times, quite an uncomfortable experience. Even today we are the first to admit that there is a lot of room for improvement, particularly around simplifying instructions and answering questions promptly.


However, I am happy that we did it because experiential learning (the technical term for this type of exercise) initiatives such as this help to ensure deep learning, help to improve engagement, and help to develop employability skills.


You can learn about (and join) the GOMC here. What I wanted to share in this post, though, are Jamie’s and mine top tips for developing your own experiential learning initiative, for your team or for your students.


Benefit Principle Example
Deep learning The initiative should run over more than one period, and include a feedback mechanism such that participants can use data outcomes from one period to inform decision-making in the subsequent one. Participants should be asked to design and implement their marketing plan, within a set time period. For instance, students can be asked to plan a communications plan, as well as create a YouTube advert to demonstrate their ideas, or set up a blog and produce a content schedule.
The initiative should require participants to explain the rationale of their decisions, and to reflect on the meaning of the data outcomes. The online environment has the advantage of offering various forms of feedback to monitor performance — quantitative (e.g., number of views or number of likes) and qualitative (e.g., comments). Participants can be asked to reflect on the meaning and significance of those indicators, and to use the insights to inform further action (e.g., the content of future blog posts).
Engagement The initiative should incorporate gamification mechanics.


To provide a sense of progress, we should introduce milestones (e.g., submitting the campaign plan by a given date) and specify tangible targets (e.g., achieving 1,000 views). We can also introduce an element of competition, for instance by making progress towards targets visible to the whole group. And we can consider token prizes for the winning teams, though these must reward both desirable behaviour and factors that the participants can control.
The initiative should provide structured guidance and training to participants and facilitators. We can provide links to video tutorials on how to set up social media accounts, and perform key tasks. We can also host guest talks with experienced users of the technology in question, to share best practice and examples.
Employability skills The initiative should develop general skills such as communication or inter-personal capabilities, as well as technical expertise. While soft skills such as team work, written and verbal communication are likely to remain in high demand by employers, hard skills such as familiarity with particular software or social media platform are likely to change.


Jamie and I wrote about our experience in a paper entitled “Learning from simulation design to develop better experiential learning initiatives – An integrative approach”, which has been published by the Journal of Marketing Education. It is available here (though, behind paywall).


Do you like simulations, live projects and other forms of hands-on learning?

2 thoughts on “Designing hands-on learning activities for marketers

  1. Congrats! It must be good to see your hard work becoming fruitful. I prefer hands on learning. I definitely will check this out. Thanks for sharing.


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