The importance of industry-focused teaching

It's crucial to teach students a combination of academic and practical skills to produce employable graduates, says Trine Falbe.

For new graduates to survive in the fast-paced world of digital media such as the web, it's crucial that educational institutions set their focus on the industries they train their students to work in. Sadly, this is rarely the case.

There are great benefits to gain from an industry-focused education that concentrates on both academic and practical skills. For one, graduates have a clear competitive advantage when they apply for jobs. Secondly, this approach is actually fun for both students and teachers. When it comes to motivation, having fun is a core element.

Being industry-focused means two things: keeping up with the industry and involving the industry. I'm fortunate to teach at an academy with industry focus as a declared goal. It imbues our curriculum and it's something I, as a teacher, strive to implement throughout all of my classes. To illustrate this further, let me explain how we teach at IBA Kolding in Denmark.

The course is called multimedia design and lasts two years. It's an alternative to university, so the prerequisites are similar, but the focus is different from university.

We teach people how to make digital things, and we teach them how to make the right things for the right people and communicate it the right way, all with a combination of theory and practice.

Engaging industry

We do several things to ensure the industry focus. In addition to keeping up with current trends and technologies and implementing these into the daily classes, we invite smart people from the industry (Aral Balkan and Jeremy Keith to name a couple) to do workshops with our students and teaching staff. By doing so, we get fresh ideas and inspiration and an insight into current practices that we can bring into the classroom.

Furthermore, the students work with many different companies in various projects throughout the course. Some are real clients, meaning that the students have to function as project managers as well as developers and designers. Other projects include agencies that the students can get professional feedback from.

We call these projects 'real life' projects, because that's exactly what they are; a chance for the students to work on projects similar to the ones they will be working with as future professionals. Our projects have included companies like Bianco Footwear, web design agency Klean and a vast variety of local businesses.


Lastly, on their fourth semester (which is one and a half years into the course), the students do a mandatory 12-week internship, which is something that prepares them for the future in areas that we as an educational institution cannot.

My hope is that more colleges and universities related to the digital world will take on this industry-focused approach. In fact, I don't think it's too much to ask of an institution to meet the same standards as their future graduates will meet out in the real world. The first step is to start thinking of a curriculum not as a more or less permanent thing, but as a reflection of the current industry requirements.

And teachers shouldn't worry: it isn't rocket science to teach with an industry focus. If you teach a profession that you love and have passion for, why wouldn't you want to constantly look for new tendencies, technologies and directions? And why wouldn't you want to do projects with inspiring clients and agencies?

Seeing the light

Sure, it means reading a lot, engaging with smart people on social media, going to conferences, joining networks, and experimenting on side projects, but it's all worth it because the benefits vastly outweigh the work involved. To me, the most rewarding thing about being a teacher is seeing the light in the eyes of a student who realises: "This is what I want to do with my life and my time". That realisation will be their core motivator for their career from that point on, and it will take them places they didn't think they could reach.

But it's not just about teaching the newest stuff, it's about leading the way and teaching students that they need to be on their toes to keep up with the fast pace. That, combined with allowing students to do what they love and having fun while doing it, will make a difference, and, ultimately, will improve the industry that we love.

Words: Trine Falbe

UX consultant Trine Falbe teaches user interface design and user experience design at the multimedia designer program at IBA Kolding in Denmark.