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Bridging the digital literacy divide

Bridging the digital literacy divide
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First Published: Sun, Mar 04 2012. 08 42 PM IST

Not to be ignored: Integrate Facebook and Twitter in your work.
Not to be ignored: Integrate Facebook and Twitter in your work.
Updated: Sun, Mar 04 2012. 08 42 PM IST
When Anne Klein shut down its designer line in 2008, Eileen McMaster was among the fashion professionals there who found themselves without a job. After years of working long hours, she took some time off, turning her attention to improving her health, becoming a Pilates instructor and wellness consultant along the way.
Now, with signs that the struggling economy is improving slightly, she is looking to get back into the fashion industry. To help strengthen her position in the job market, she returned to the classroom last year to develop expertise in social media that she can layer on top of her deep marketing and corporate communications experience.
Not to be ignored: Integrate Facebook and Twitter in your work.
“I didn't have the social media savvy in the way I do in other areas of marketing,” says McMaster, 44, of North Babylon, New York, US, who signed up for the social media marketing boot-camp online courses at Mediabistro.com. “When I left fashion, social media wasn’t even something we were doing in the industry. Fast-forward four years, and if you are a brand and you are not on social media, you are missing a huge audience.”
For mid-career executives, particularly in the media and related industries, knowing how to use Twitter, updating your timeline on Facebook, pinning on Pinterest, checking in on Foursquare and uploading images on Instagram are among the digital skills that some employers expect people to have to land a job or to flourish in a current role.
“Six months ago, Pinterest wasn’t on everyone’s radar,” she says. “Because I am taking these courses, I am not behind.”
Pamela Tate, president and chief executive of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, based in Chicago, says digital literacy, including understanding social networking, is now a required skill.
“They are essential skills that are needed to operate in the world and in the workplace,” she says. “And people will either need to learn through formal training or through their networks or they will feel increasingly left out.”
For most people looking for a job, she says, it is vital that they understand how to use LinkedIn and other social tools to network and present themselves online. “If you don’t have a LinkedIn or Facebook account, then employers often don’t have a way to find out about you,” she says.
To help bridge the gap, major universities, community colleges and online educational businesses from Lynda.com to ed2go.com offer continuing education classes in digital media, including social media skills, Web design, search optimization and Web analytics.
The University of San Francisco has an advanced social media certificate that can be earned in an eight-week online course. New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers courses where students can also earn certificates within its business programmes.
Harvard University Extension School has a social media marketing course aimed not at mid-career executives, but at younger marketers who need help learning how to integrate social media at their companies.
At Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs and a professor who has been teaching digital journalism and skills for more than 16 years, began teaching continuing education classes in social media in 2010.
With students, Sreenivasan says his goal is to “make them think really carefully about what they do and when they do it on social media”.
“We have to think about social media in a new strategic way,” he says. “It is no longer something that we can ignore. It is a place of business. It is a place where your career will be enhanced or degraded, depending on your use of these tools and services.”
While the classes are meant for working journalists, people from many different fields have signed up. Kate Uraneck, 53, a doctor and emergency disaster preparedness official for New York City's department of health and mental hygiene, says she attended the weekend programme to learn more about social networking tools.
“Within my field of emergency preparedness, social media is taking on a more prominent role,” she says, noting how government and Red Cross officials turned to Twitter and Facebook to get the word out during Hurricane Irene in August in the US. “I wanted to get more knowledge about it.”
©2012/The New York Times
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First Published: Sun, Mar 04 2012. 08 42 PM IST