I love to learn, I always have.  I went from university straight from school, and when I started my career in PR I undertook a year long qualification through the CIPR.  Since becoming Digital Consultant at Twelve PR, surprise surprise, I have felt the need to cement my knowledge with a qualification; every waking hour is currently spent completing assignments for my Digital Marketing Essentials award through the CIM.  (..And yes I am planning my next round of studying already, incorporating two more CIM digital marketing awards and potentially a creative writing MA that I have my eye on…).  So you can see that I am addicted, but how important are qualifications when it comes to digital?  And can it ever outweigh good old fashioned experience?

Source: eatourbrains.com

Perhaps the most difficult issue with qualifications is finding a course that is relevant to you, and covers all of the areas that you are keen to explore.  Both my CIPR and my CIM courses have included a little bit too much on areas that just aren’t relevant to my work, and not quite enough of the things that I really wanted to get to grips with.  But they have inspired me to conduct my own research in the areas that particularly interest me.  It is hard to find a ‘one size fits all’ solution.  But qualifications help you continue to learn, and keep your knowledge fresh; sometimes it is just as important to learn about the issues on the periphery of your job function, so that you can complement this with your direct experience – it is impossible to understand digital marketing in particular without understanding all of the underlying functions and technologies.

A useful way round this is to supplement your qualification with free training – shorter courses are likely to be much more targeted, so you can seek out the courses that will enhance the knowledge you are gaining from your course.  And yes, believe it or not, there are lots of free social media workshops out there.  Make sure you checkout relevant industry exhibitions, like Social Media World Forum and Internet World, as they often offer free seminars to complement the exhibition.  Otherwise Mashable does quite a comprehensive roundup of social media events, which often includes free training… you just have to be prepared to dig around.

Qualifications are an amazing way to consolidate your knowledge, but they can never replace experience – immersing yourself in social media is a must if you wanted to keep up with the latest advances, and it helps to make sense of your studying!  So make sure you get out there and do…use as many social networking sites as you can, reserve half an hour a day to read up on the latest news in the sector…and do consider a digital qualification, because it does help you to see the bigger picture amidst all of this doing and reading and learning.