Minding the digital skills gap: how free online courses can help educators gain ground

Ryan Chynces, senior manager, online education, Hootsuite, discusses bridging the digital skills gap

More than ever, the UK is facing a digital skills gap. A 2021 report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) reveals that 48% of businesses were recruiting for roles that required data skills, but that 46% of the companies surveyed have struggled to find appropriately skilled candidates.

This is certainly the case when it comes to digital marketing. As Mark Wright, winner of BBC show The Apprentice and founder of digital marketing company Climb Online observed, “Facebook advertising, Google advertising – some of this stuff has only been around five to 10 years and there’s a huge skills shortage.”

The business world is counting on educational institutions to help close this digital skills gap, but most acknowledge the barriers the education system faces when it comes to incorporating new technologies and skills into their curriculum, ranging from a scarcity of qualified instructors to access to teaching resources.

Free online education tools can help close the gap

But with the dramatic increase in online learning brought about by the pandemic, educators feel a renewed urgency to use free online educational tools to close the digital skills gap in their classrooms.

One example of an online education tool that schools can leverage is Hootsuite Academy’s free social media training tools. Hootsuite Academy is the education arm of social media management platform Hootsuite, and has offered these tools to professors since 2013. Tens of thousands of students have been able to access Hootsuite’s Social Media Marketing Certification and Hootsuite Dashboard Certification and get ready for an increasingly digital job market.

… with the dramatic increase in online learning brought about by the pandemic, educators feel a renewed urgency to use free online educational tools to close the digital skills gap in their classrooms

Hootsuite Academy also offers sophisticated paid Certification Courses to help students and professionals progress their career. A great example is the Advanced Social Media Strategy Certification Course (ASMS). Building on its connection with the academic realm, Hootsuite co-created ASMS with Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, one of the top journalism schools in the world.

ASMS was designed for social media and marketing professionals who want to learn about strategically scaling social marketing activities, in an enterprise context. Students who earn this certification are sending a strong signal to potential employers that they are serious about social media marketing.

Hootsuite’s Student Programme in practice

Schools like the University of New Hampshire and SAIT Polytechnic are already integrating Hootsuite Academy into their curriculums. One notable example is London South Bank University (LSBU) which offers its students the opportunity to earn the Hootsuite Academy certification, as well as other key digital certifications such as LinkedIn learning pathways and Salesforce training.

LSBU students improve their digital marketing skills, learn directly from the experts, and earn industry recognised micro-credentials. Students also gain access to tools like Hootsuite Amplify, which allows them to create unified content they could then share immediately across their social media accounts, learning brand-building and message-magnifying skills.

Marketing students from LSBU, armed with newly-gained skills from the Hootsuite Academy, have even put these skills into practise by working with vendors who have been displaced due to the redevelopment of the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre in southeast London, helping them to digitally transform their businesses.

LSBU students are gaining real-world experience building and implementing social marketing strategies, which will give them a competitive career advantage once they enter the job market.

Educational benefits of this type of learning

As schools return to in-person learning, people wonder about the staying power of e-learning. There are some key advantages with online, on-demand learning that’ll cement it permanently into the mix of instructional methods. Online courses like Hootsuite Academy’s leverage the adult learning principle of micro learning.

Shorter, bite-sized content is easier to digest and remember, and online training is simply better suited to today’s learning methodologies

Micro learning means the learning is divided into digestible, snack-sized chunks that you consume when ‘hungry’ or receptive. It turns out, this principle of adult learning is actually applicable to everyone!

Both in education and industry, micro learning is an increasing trend. Shorter, bite-sized content is easier to digest and remember, and online training (like Hootsuite Academy’s) is simply better suited to today’s learning methodologies than longer form, in-person learning.

Hootsuite Academy courses were intentionally built to be modular, so that learners can dip in, snack to their heart’s content, and then come back when they’re ready for more. This on-demand, modular approach also lends itself to another principle of effective learning: spacing.

This is a pedagogical strategy that spreads learning and recall out over time. With spacing, instead of cramming learning in all at once, content is spaced out over days and weeks, allowing ‘rust’ to develop between learning sessions and necessitating a mental shaking off of the rust that makes learning more durable.


Digital transformation across industries and sectors has meant educational institutions are being asked to adapt knowledge, competencies and skills at breakneck speed. In order to prepare students in this constantly changing landscape, the education sector needs to leverage all the tools it has at its disposal.

Programmes like Hootsuite Academy offer schools the opportunity to access cutting-edge learning technology, while exposing students to top experts and practitioners.

When it comes to closing the digital skills gap in education, making the most of free online courses is a no-brainer.


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