What Will You Study During a Masters in Communication?

Postgraduate degrees are often seen as being either incredibly technical ways to enter a career in academia or exercises in nebulous chin-scratching. In recent years, career-minded students have been able to take on highly practice-based postgraduate courses aimed at nurturing their future in the world of business.

The popularity of business-orientated masters degree programs is not particularly surprising. Business-orientated programs are both academic and vocational. While a student might learn plenty about the history and theory behind a subject, they will also learn how to successfully implement what they have learned in practice. Popular with career-oriented people, practice-based masters degrees can be studied for in all sorts of subjects. One such subject that has a great many practical applications in business, politics, and consulting is communication. Communication courses teach students how to manage one of the most crucial elements of any executive role – the exchange of information. 

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Speaking of the exchange of information, many business orientated postgraduate degrees can now be taken online. Taking on the challenge of starting an online masters in communication can be a real turning point in your career. Learning how to develop visual strategies, manage public relations crises, work with big data and integrate new technology into your communicative practice will help broaden your skillset and could lead you into a lucrative new specialty if you work hard.  

Learning online can take some getting used to. Although there is usually plenty of support from professors and course convenors, you’ll need to be extra proactive to build a network of like-minded peers to support you (and be supported by you) during and after your study. Luckily, many universities offer online platforms specifically geared towards this kind of social nurturing, and students are encouraged to meet over video conferencing software and pick each other’s brains. 

Let’s take a quick look at some of the most important things that you’ll be studying if you choose to take an online masters in communication. This is by no means an extensive list. You’ll be expected to specialize in a field of your choice – which could lead to you studying some subjects not on this list at all. 

The Science of Communication

When studying for an online masters in communication, you’ll need to develop a thorough knowledge of the science behind communication. This can involve learning about how digital platforms have evolved and how they are structured. It can involve learning about the scientific methods of data analysis necessary to be a modern market researcher. It can involve learning about the ways in which scientific acumen and artistry can be combined when creating effective communications strategies.

You won’t need to be a scientific genius to succeed during an online masters in communication, but you will need to be able to think processual and empirically. Being able to take a step back and examine the processes behind successful communication strategies is essential. 

The History of Communication and Media

All innovation stems from an understanding of what came before it. As a communication student, you’ll need to take a deep dive into the history and evolution of human communication and its role in society. The history of communication is a fascinating one indeed, but you won’t be able to learn everything. Your historical learning is necessarily tied to your specialization. If you wanted to specialize in communications design, you might study the evolution of marketing from the early Roman fish oil branding found at Pompeii to the latest in guerilla marketing techniques. If you were more keen on getting into political campaign management, you would be better off studying the ways in which innovative political campaigns have shaped American political history. 

History has a hand in shaping the future – the interpretation of history is, in essence, a future creation practice. Putting historical knowledge into practice isn’t just about picking and choosing which communication methods were most successful. Instead, it is about understanding patterns and indications of mass change in communications history so that you can correctly build your own practice. It is not always focused on identifying where people went wrong or were successful either. Understanding the motives behind poor or wise decisions can be just as important as identifying them in the first place. 

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The Psychology of Communication

Professionals in marketing, public relations, politics, and almost every other communicative field are very often fascinated by psychology. Students working towards an online masters in communication will have the opportunity to study the psychology of communication in depth. 

In popular psychology, communication is an issue that tantalizes many. Perhaps this is because of our innate desire to understand and to be understood – two things that most of us find just out of reach as we drift through life. When studying for an online masters in communication, you’ll be taking a more empirical look at the psychology of communication. You’ll be applying psychological theory to practical models of human networks. You will learn how marketing communication and the close study of consumer psychology go hand in hand. You’ll touch upon specialist fields such as industrial-organizational psychology in your quest to understand the reasoning behind successful communicative practices. If you are working in public relations, you may want to delve deeply into the ever-expanding field of mass psychology.

Getting the Most Out of Data

We live in the age of data deluge. Modern online masters in communication students need to learn how to build professional, effective communication strategies in a world absolutely awash with information. Big data has been very heavily hyped in all communicative fields for a few years now, but that doesn’t mean that it is at all straightforward to build successful marketing, public relations, or market research strategies using it. 

You will be learning how to draw up useful and practical data harvesting parameters, how to use big data to hone further research, how to use data analysis software to project trends, and much more. The harvesting and use of data is hypercritical in almost all communicative fields. You can learn how to make the most out of the current crisis of accumulation.

Finding meaning in data is one of the core practices that you’ll be diving into. It will be part of your core curriculum, and the research you do in this field should influence your practice and theoretical writing later in the course. There are plenty of examples of industries where making meaning out of data has taken a front seat in recent years. A good online masters in communication should set you up to feel right at home in this new data-driven world.  

Embracing Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking involves the analysis of multiple factors and outcomes in order to achieve long-term goals. This kind of driven thinking doesn’t always occur naturally: it is easy to get swept up in short-term tasks and immediate solutions. During the core curriculum modules of your online masters in communication, you will learn how to apply strategic thinking to your practice. 

Strategic thinking is vitally important in any business. You need to be able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. This isn’t just an exercise in selective blindness – instead, it is about learning how to make long-term projections and trends into account when setting and achieving goals. It involves the communication and implementation of risk mitigation processes and the creation of long-term goals that allow for nimble reactions to changes in the market. 

Strategic communications planning involves a great deal of forward-thinking and collaboration. Senior staff must work efficiently with colleagues in order to identify potential hurdles and work out long-term contingency plans for them. Strategic thinking involves the management of tactical thinking. Think of tactical solutions as geared towards immediate challenges, whilst strategic solutions are geared towards your company, organization, or client’s aims and ethos. 

Crisis Management

Every good online masters in communication will include at least one module or seminar series dealing with crisis management. Crisis management is considered to be one of the most important aspects of public relations – one of the largest communicative fields. No matter how good your strategic planning is, you are bound to face some sort of communicative crisis during your time in business or politics. Crises can take many forms:

  • Natural disaster
  • Technological crisis
  • Confrontation
  • Malevolence
  • Organizational misdeeds
  • Rumors

In dealing with each of these kinds of crises, communication is key. The study of crisis communication has been very influential in the development of business strategy. Some public relations agencies specialize in crisis communication – offering their services to organizations in need of emergency public relations assistance. Good crisis communication strategies rely upon a company being able to define and manage the kinds of crises that they may face in the future and then being able to build tactical contingency plans that can be set into motion should a crisis occur. 

Integrating Technologies

This article has already touched upon the huge influence that technology is having on communicative fields within business and politics. During your online masters in communication, you will learn how to successfully integrate emerging technologies into your practice. You will learn this by studying not just the technology itself but the driving social, historical, and scientific factors that drive the development of new information and communications technology. Your education can’t prepare you for the exact developments in technology that will emerge in the future, but it can prepare you in such a way that you have a pretty good idea of why such technology is emerging and how you can utilize it. 

Marketers have always been very quick to integrate new technologies into their practice. In the early years of the new millennium, marketers were swift to research ways in which mobile technology could influence communicative structures. Now, we think of marketing and mobile devices as rather inseparable, but a great deal of research went into this seemingly inescapable merger. 

Likewise, marketing researchers were amongst the first civilian advocates for the commercial use of complex algorithms for data harvesting and analysis. Algorithms are now ubiquitous communication analysis tools that have, in many people’s eyes, become far too relied upon. No matter what you think of their use, it is hard to argue that algorithms have not become successful tools in marketing – a powerful weapon in the ever expanding communicative arsenal. You’ll learn how to appropriately adapt to new shifts in technology to drive innovation and communicate more effectively during your online masters in communication. 

Communication Design 

Communication design encapsulates a set of skills and disciplines that will prove very useful no matter what communicative field you decide to pursue a career in. Essentially, communications design is the effective planning and implementation of aesthetic graphical, verbal, and written elements that achieve the aims of an organization. Although that might sound like a needlessly complicated way of saying ‘communication design is the art of designing to a brief, it really isn’t all that simple. 

During your online masters in communication studies, you’ll learn about some of the nuanced ways in which good communication design can be pursued. This will be backed up by your studies related to the history and psychology of marketing, advertising, and communication. 

Studying communication design, you’ll learn about effective aesthetics and how to use market research data to find out what affective aesthetics you might want to employ. You will find out about the longstanding intersections between art and business communication. You’ll see examples of unsuccessful or short-lived aesthetic trends in marketing and learn how to avoid running into design dead ends. 

Using all of the information that you learn, you will be in a far better position to go into a career-ready to create and implement a visual strategy. Cohesive visual strategy is especially important today, considering how fractured and disparate multi-platform marketing initiatives can seem. In the social media age, giving off the right visual cues can be the success defining factor behind a good marketing and advertising campaign.