Q&A With Richard Zackon On 'AI For Media, Marketing & Advertising'

MediaPost Sept. 9 will kick off a new “blended learning” course for advertising and media industry pros interested in learning about AI. The course, “AI for Marketing, Media & Advertising,” combines a self-administered MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on AI taught by Coursera Founder Andrew Ng, with a weekly series of live online video discussion groups facilitated by Richard Zackon, an advertising and media industry vet and expert on media research.

In the following Q&A, Zackon explains the inspiration for this innovative approach to blended learning and what participants can expect to get out of it.

MediaPost: What inspired you to create a blended learning course on AI, and why would our readers be interested in it?

Richard Zackon: I’ve done a variety of MOOCs in the past few years, including MOOCs on AI and various data analytic topics, and I’ve found them to be really wonderful training. But the issue I have found is that some people find MOOCs isolating. It’s not like you have classmates that you’re taking it with. People sign up for it with the best of intentions, because they want to learn the topic, but when the time comes to do the work -- because it is not scheduled at a specific time -- other events and demands in life get in the way.

So the thought occurred to me that if this were done with a degree of social interaction, it’s more likely that the students -- the participants in the MOOC -- would engage with and complete it.

I came upon this particular MOOC, because it is a beginner’s course in AI -- “AI for Everyone” -- and after taking it, I felt it was very accessible for a large number of people who are interested in the topic. And we all have a need to catch up on AI, even if we’re not professionals, but particularly if you are a media professional, because this stuff is changing what we do. For some of us, it’s already in our office. For some of us, it may not be in our office, but it’s at our door.

And this particular MOOC by Andrew Ng is a wonderful way to enter the field. So the idea was to create a live, virtual discussion around it to augment the experience and deepen the learning.

MediaPost: You describe it as a blended learning approach that gives participants the best of both worlds: the expert MOOC knowledge and training augmented with the opportunity to socialize it. Are you able to focus it in on media industry-specific things, or is it more just a way to reinforce participation in the MOOC?

Zackon: My knowledge and experience is in the advertising and media industry, so that’s the logical place for me to start.

And the first thing I did was to turn to the [Advertising Research Foundation]’s Young Pros, which is a group of people under 30 who work in the advertising and media field, and the ARF helps support their professional career development. I felt they are a community of people for whom AI might matter most, because they have the longest horizon over which it will make a difference.

Here’s a statistic that is a little bit distressing: roughly 85% of the people who sign up for a MOOC fail to complete it. All of the ARF’s young pros participating in the blended approach completed it. Ten out of ten participants. Now as a statistician, it’s not that big a sample, but it signaled to me that there is something that happens when you add conversation and interaction to the recorded MOOC. It enhances engagement.

MediaPost: AI is definitely hot right now, and it was opportunistic that you found a high-quality MOOC on AI to launch this with, but do you think AI is the most important subject for people in the industry to master right now?

Zackon: No, I don’t think so. It is an important topic, but there’s a wonderful distinction that is attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is that there’s a difference between something being important and something being urgent. Learning AI isn’t urgent for most people in the industry, but it is important. And even among the topics that are important for people to learn, I don’t think AI is the most important one right now. But that could be different in a couple of years, because clearly, it is growing in importance.

But there are other important topics, and there are other high-quality MOOCs. There’s one out of Johns Hopkins University called “The Data Science Toolkit,” which looks at a variety of data science techniques.

It was just a function of my own competence that suggested I work within the analytics space, and while machine learning may not necessarily be the most important thing to be learning, this particular MOOC is very high quality and accessible. It takes a lot of the technical aspects out of the conversation. With a subject like AI, people’s eyes can glaze over quickly, but this MOOC allows for someone to step in a little more gently.

MediaPost: Having gone through a “beta” with the ARF’s Young Professionals group, what have you learned about blended learning? Have you made any changes to the program?

Zackon: I learned something about the size of the number of participants. There is a “too large” aspect. When you’re doing this, you see faces on a screen, and I’ve found that 15 is about the right number. And when we first started doing it, half the screens were black, meaning the participants weren’t enabling their webcam to show their video. At best, you saw their name. People were modest, and didn’t want to be seen. As the weeks progressed, more faces became available. And by the end, people were visible to each other as they would be in a classroom.

For a many participants, this is a foreign way of doing things, and over time, I’ve observed their fear of the technology diminish. For most of them, this was the first time they participated in a MOOC, and by the end of it, they were all interested in doing more.

We also learned what were the most common obstacles to completing a MOOC. It’s not the online lectures, which they can schedule on their own pace, but for the live online video conferencing, there was a phenomenon called “the boss called me in for a meeting.” And that’s just something you have to accept and manage the contingencies. Our attendance was pretty high. It averaged about 85% to 90% per meeting.

But for those who cannot make it, I record the conversation, and they can watch it on their own.

MediaPost: I know you’re a facilitator and not an expert on AI, per se, but now that you’ve gone through this a few times, what have you learned about how AI will impact people in advertising and media?

Zackon: It’s going to be on people’s desks before they think it will be. For some people, there’s a certain sense of “Thank God, I’m at the end of my career and I don’t need to worry about this.” But if you have more than two years of your career in front of you, you will probably be included in some sort of AI project.

1 comment about "Q&A With Richard Zackon On 'AI For Media, Marketing & Advertising'".
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  1. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics, August 22, 2019 at 11:48 a.m.

    Richard Zackon is a bright and talented man who is admired and respected by those he has worked with.  If this class allows you to interact with him you will benefit. 

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