Conferences vs Training vs Self Study – What Is The Best Way To Learn Digital Marketing?

Conferences vs Training vs Self Study – What Is The Best Way To Learn Digital Marketing?

29th January 2014

In the fast-moving, ever-changing world that is digital marketing, the one sure thing is that you always need to keep learning and stay on top of the latest, greatest (or not as the case may be) changes and developments. So the question you’re most likely asking yourself isn’t do I need to learn, but rather what is the best way for me to learn?

Of course there are different options. We’re heading into conference season so you’re probably already being bombarded with a ton of events, not sure which ones to go with! Then there are the multiple training sessions on offer. And if you read all the blog posts, guides and articles shared on social media and popping up on your RSS reader you’d never get a thing done.

This isn’t intended as a post to help you decide which event to attend (sorry!) or provide a training plan but rather help you consider the different alternatives to learning, and hopefully make the choice of which route to go down a little bit easier.


Conference Session

Wide Range of Topics and Opinions

Even at fairly niche event with only one track of sessions, you’re still likely to get a good range of topics covered and when sessions run concurrently you can choose those which are most relevant to you, ensuring that your time is spent wisely.  You will also hear from speakers from wide-ranging backgrounds, all with different perspectives and insights to offer.

Get the Bigger Picture

Because of the breadth of content covered, conferences are great places to get the bigger picture. You are unlikely to get detailed, step by step tips for a specific issue but you will get a good overview of what’s happening in the industry and be on top of the latest changes and updates.  You’ll undoubtedly leave with a lot of notes on tools to investigate further, techniques to trial and content to study and digest.

Hear from the Horse’s Mouth

Conferences are the place to go to hear from those at the coal face. This is where you’ll get the “industry celebrities “, the thought-leaders and the CEO’s , all there to talk about what the latest and greatest developments are and where they believe the industry is headed.

Get to Know the Industry

From the big cheeses to the newbies, conferences are the best way to meet a lot of new people and strengthen your network. As well as the session breaks and lunch, there are always networking events arranged and you will definitely leave with a few more LinkedIn connections.
A lot of conferences also have sponsors and exhibitors, so if you are looking for new suppliers or solutions, it can be a great way to find them – and get a few special offers along the way.

So Who Should Attend A Conference?

Conferences are great if you’re new to an industry as they help you dip your toe in the water and get an insight into what is happening in the wider world.
They are also good for just keeping up-to-date – both with developments and connections – and reassuring you that you are working on the right things and heading in the right direction.

And if you’re a fan of networking, drinking and parties…..well they’re pretty good for that too!

Training SessionTraining

In-depth and Focused

So I’m probably stating the obvious, but training will almost always be much more focused around one topic than a conference, and will dig much deeper into the challenges, solutions and opportunities.

Hands on and Practical

Another characteristic of training is that it’s more hands on and practical than any other event – it will likely include exercises, group discussions and practical activities which will see you get your hands dirty and learn how to actual implement what you’re learning.

Small Groups

The nature of training means that you’ll generally be in quite a small group. This has its advantages as you won’t be competing with the hordes to have your particular point addressed by the speaker and there will be much more opportunity to ask questions and get clarification. For many, it’s also less daunting to speak up in a more intimate environment.

Likeminded Peers

You can be quite confident that the people you will meet on the training will be facing similar challenges to you, as you’re all there to learn about the same thing. This can provide a great opportunity to share experiences with others and make valuable connections.


A number of training courses do offer certification – either on completion of the course or on taking a test. This can be a great way to boost your personal accreditations as well as those of your organisation.

So Who Should Attend Training?

Training is great for practitioners, those who want to learn the nitty gritty of a subject and get hands-on tips for actually doing it themselves.
It is valuable for anybody who wants to understand a particular topic in detail – from an expert in that field who can bring real, useful insights that will make a difference to performance. It is also effective for people who prefer smaller groups, more interaction and the ability to question and probe the trainers to get all the information they need and want.

Self Study LearningSelf-Study

Numerous Resources

There is no limit to the number of blog posts, reports, articles, study guide, tutorials available online, pretty much on any marketing topic you can think of. This gives you the ability to compile a wide range of opinions and content and take in multiple perspective and ideas.

Do it in your own time

Often an issue with training and events is that it takes too much time out of the office, or the event dates just don’t fit in with you. Self-study can be slotted into your life, not the other way round, and ensure that you are doing your learning when you feel you have the time and headspace to take it in and focus on it.

Read and Apply

With self-study, you can immediately put into practice what you’re learning- and also learn relevant information, at the time you need it. You choose exactly what you want to learn – and how to learn it.

Conference Content is Readily Available

From live blogging to slideshare, if you want to get the gist of what’s been said at an event, or by a particular speaker, you will probably be able to find some coverage of the session online. Of course, this is unlikely to have the same detail and explanation as you will get at the live event.

So Who Should Self Study?

If you’re short on time and just want to focus on a very specific area, then selecting relevant resources online around your specific issue can be the quickest and most effective way to get the information you need. Equally, you might not have the luxury of waiting until the next available event to get clued up on your subject.
It’s also great for people who learn by doing – you can implement what you learn as you go along and in many cases teach yourself, rather than being taught by others.

What Wins?

Of course, there is no winner. All have advantages and disadvantages and will work for different people, in different scenarios – and at different stages of your career, all 3 may well play an important role. But if you’re currently trying to decide on the best course of action – or persuade your boss to invest in your development – consider what it is you really want to achieve and which of the options is most likely to help you get there.

What are your experiences of learning? What works best for you?

Written By
Gemma Birch has been working in international search since 2007 and leads WebCertain’s marketing team. She is responsible for managing WebCertain’s online marketing activities around the world as well as organising and programming the International Search Summit.
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