TeachingIt seems contradictory, doesn’t it? How can you teach something that you yourself don’t know well? The truth is, for anything that is an extension of your existing expertise or where you have a reasonable aptitude, the best way to learn something is to teach it.

Back in early September, I received an email from the University of Washington, Bothell campus, asking if I would be interested in teaching a course in E-Marketing. The person slotted to teach the course had dropped out, and I had a previous relationship with the school. I took the opportunity, although I didn’t then consider myself an expert in E-Marketing.

The last time my job title contained the word Marketing in the title was back at Microsoft, in the late 90′s up to early 2001.  At that time, Microsoft barely got the internet, and Mark Zuckerberg was still in prep school. No one at Microsoft talked about social media marketing, content marketing, search engine optimization or a host of other e-marketing techniques.

As CEO of a couple of startups, and then through my consulting practice, I had kept up with most of the new concepts in e-marketing, but I was hardly an expert. Here’s what I learned and some tips if you decide to use teaching as a method of learning a new skill or subject.

  • Read everything relevant to the topic and synthesize it – One of my best decisions early on was to use David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing & PR as a textbook, rather than a traditional college textbook.  I read it cover to cover before starting on the syllabus, and as I read, I investigated many of the links and sources that David referenced in the book.  David led me to another book, Content Rules, by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, which in turn led me to sites like MarketingProfs, Junta42 and The Content Marketing Insitute. The synthesizing generally takes place as I prepare the lectures. I also take notes as I read using EverNote.
  • Call on the expertise of others – Where I don’t have deep expertise, I bring in people who do.  Cal McAllister of The Wexley School for Girls spoke this week on viral marketing, Todd Warren spoke on the creation and use of personas.  Later in the course, I have Matt Youngquist of Career Horizons coming in to talk about E-Marketing in the job search, and Tom Barr coming in to talk about E-Marketing at Starbucks.
  • Learn by doing – Before I teach something, I apply it in my consulting practice. I’ve built Facebook pages, created social media strategies, run webinars, worked on SEO and SEM, and created Content Marketing strategies for clients in my consulting business as I’ve taught these techniques in my class.  This allows me to enliven the discussion by bringing in my own experiences and challenges.
  • Let students learn by doing – I think the academic term for this is experiential learning, but I prefer the simpler “learn by doing”. My students must practice e-marketing either within the confines of an existing business, or by creating a blog or web site, and apply e-marketing techniques to increase their traffic and viewership.

What do you think? Have you ever learned something by teaching it? What new skill could you learn by teaching?

Jim Ewel

I love marketing. I think it’s one of the most difficult and one of most exciting jobs in any company. My goal with this blog is to evangelize agile marketing and help marketers increase the speed, predictability, transparency, and adaptability to change of the marketing function.

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