There are numerous options for ecommerce merchants who want to learn new skills that can be applied to their business. Full Sail University is one of those online options. With a physical campus in Winter Park, Florida, the university offers online programs in fields such as web design and development. For this "Quick Query" Practical eCommerce spoke with Ani Gasti, Full Sail’s director of faculty development.
Practical eCommerce: Tell us about Full Sail University. What degrees do you offer that would benefit an ecommerce merchant?
Ani Gasti: "For the ecommerce merchant, there are some really obvious degrees I think. We’ve just graduated our first class of students in our master’s degree for marketing. So, definitely, Internet marketing is an area that makes sense for an ecommerce professional. We offer that both for the bachelor’s and the master’s level, but it is offered online only. There are some other areas or degree areas that make sense I think for ecommerce merchants such as web design and development and visual arts for graphic design. But really I think any of our degree areas make sense for someone in the area of ecommerce because nowadays you’re using all those tools for marketing. You use music and video and games and all the different multimedia that we teach at Full Sail in some way or another in all areas of ecommerce.
PeC: The Internet marketing degree focuses on things like SEO and social media and analytics. Who are the experts that you call upon to teach those topics?
Gasti: “We have to meet our accreditation requirements, so in our master’s degree we have to have people at the doctoral level teaching or at least half of the faculty must be at a doctoral level. All of the faculty in Internet marketing are full-time, living in Winter Park or the area of Orlando. Many of them have a shingle that they hang out there and they’re working as consultants. So, they’re practicing Internet marketers themselves and so the students are involved in the process. They’re helping out these faculty members who do consulting work. So, it’s really good experience and it’s very applied every day.”
PeC: What do you do to ensure that the online learning experience is just as good as a traditional education?
Gasti: “One of the things we did right at the beginning when we were considering going online, we thought, ‘Well, let’s do our due diligence and research the existing learning management.’ So, you may be familiar with terms like eCollege or Blackboard and with all due respect to those entities, they didn’t deliver education in the way that we like to deliver it. So, we bit the bullet and decided to build our own online learning platform. And what we’re able to do there is address some of the major weaknesses of traditional online education. Two of the big ones are a sense of isolation on the student part and the perceived limitation of what online education can be. And so, in designing our own learning management system, we built it in such a way that the students are quite connected to their instructors, to one another and to the school itself. So much of online education is more like a digital correspondence course. We built it to deliver education using all the multimedia tools online that we use on campus. I’ve had many students say actually that they are more engaged and connected in this online degree of Full Sail than they ever were in their previous classes somewhere else.”
PeC: Many ecommerce merchants are so busy with their day-to-day operations that–if they have something they need to learn– they may go to YouTube and search for a tutorial. That’s absolutely free. Or they take a single course offered via a site like Lynda.com. What is the advantage of Full Sail over either one of those options?
Gasti: Well, first of all, let me say that I think those options are terrific and we use them. We use those in our courses. We have courses in which the students–as part of their course material–get a lynda.com account, and our faculty members have their own YouTube channels and we use the existing free stuff out there as well. But it’s only part of the picture. The role of education, I think, is to put it all into perspective. I like to use this example. One could say, ‘Why study French literature? All the French books are already out there.’ But the education part is first teaching you how to speak French and read and write it and then to learn what is the purpose, the meaning and the history of all of this. That’s what we do with all of our degrees. We teach the tools, but then we put it into a greater context and give a perspective and a sense of what the value of all of this is and what is my role in this for the student.”
“With Internet marketing, I think there’s been a history of people learning parlor tricks. You learn what’s the latest tricky thing to do with SEO, for example, and that’s great. That may help your business to a certain extent, but we believe Internet marketing is a profession. So, yes, learn the tools and the tricks, but you also need to be a strategic thinker within your field, your industry, in order to make a mark and be the most successful that you can be.”
PeC: Anything else you’d like to share with the ecommerce merchant?
Gasti: “The whole world is becoming more interactive and more collaborative and marketers need to make sure that they’re doing that as well. One thing that we have done at Full Sail is to have an extensive use of web 2.0 tools and use them as educators ourselves. Our students use them as learners in the projects that they do, and our graduates–our working students–use these tools as professionals. I just want to thank them for being the backbone of our economy–the small businesses that are keeping things going. At Full Sail, we do what we can to provide the education, training and resources for our students to follow that same entrepreneurial path. Our goal is not just to have graduates, but to have happy, successful graduates.”