Whether in a formal or informal setting, the ability to conduct research and impart knowledge has always been a crucial part of human life. That led to the establishment of colleges that are now centuries-old and have grown to become institutions. Those institutions might have seemed permanent and too dominant to challenge just a year ago, but the events of 2020 have caused a seismic shift in how people live, and how we learn specifically, such that digital education is clearly going to be the dominant force in the years to come.
This represents a lot of change in the sector, from the kinds of tutors who will be able to succeed in the new model to the tools the students and their teachers will need for an efficient learning process. That change also represents an immense opportunity for entrepreneurs — to make a profit while making a real impact on the future of humanity.
1. Interactive media
An important aspect of elearning is the ability to use a variety of media in communicating information. While traditional education models were largely restricted to text, and in some cases, audio and video, new digital learning platforms can leverage advanced technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to create a more immersive learning experience that will help students understand and retain more of the information which they are taught.
It’s also particularly helpful for training, where students gain experience using complex equipment without the risk of making real-life errors. Flight training for pilots and surgery models for surgeons are two increasingly popular applications.
A recent study by Goldman Sachs showed that education is No. 4 on the list of sectors receiving the largest amount of VR-related investments, shaping the industry to be worth over $700 million by 2025. That would amount to an increase of over 500% in the next five years. As large as those numbers are, they are unsurprising when we consider that up to 97% of surveyed students stated that they would be interested in undergoing a VR educational course. The market will always go where the money is.
2. Flexibility and on-demand education
This is another primary driving factor of the elearning revolution, and it is visible in every aspect of the system. From the fact that students can attend and participate actively in class from anywhere in the world using teleconferencing software, to on-demand classes that allow students to set their own schedules and learn at their own pace, the key is to provide a learning experience that is as tailored to the needs of each student as possible.
This flexibility means that students have full control over their learning process, thus making them more likely to stick to it. Corporate organizations have also been making a push into elearning as part of their training processes. In fact, 41.7% of global Fortune 500 Companies were already using some form of digital training as far back as 2013, and that number has only continued to grow.
This flexibility also reflects in the marketing approach. While traditional institutions are more uptight and reserved, entrepreneurs in the digital learning space can be more engaging by implementing content marketing strategies to attract users, such as the Learn a Course Online course reviews section which helps online learners share their experiences with online courses to help others make the best choices.
3. Artificial intelligence
Education has traditionally been driven by the teacher and student, progressing based on their interactions. Nowadays, advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning/neural networks have resulted in software capable of evaluating how a student is doing based on a variety of criteria and guiding them accordingly to ensure they understand what is being taught fully.
These tools use everything from how students answer quizzes to how long they spend on a page and how many times they look back at certain sections to produce personalized learning plans just for that particular student.
This level of granularity in the education system is unprecedented, giving students the ability to direct their lessons and entire learning experience with the assistance of advanced AI. When combined with the removal of time constraints and a strict curriculum, it is clear why there is such a huge interest in digital learning among teachers and students alike, and why the industry is so ripe for disruption by savvy entrepreneurs.
Education at scale doesn’t have to suck. If you ditch conventional e-learning’s clicky gimmicks, and focus instead on science-backed design principles and powerful human stories, your training will shift from tedious to transformative. Dr. Aaron Barth, thought-leader and president of Dialectic, gives progressive leaders the confidence they need to tackle their hardest people problems using scientific methods. Rooted in education, Dr. Barth founded Dialectic after completing his Ph.D. in Philosophy at Western University, keen on fusing theory with application.
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People are tired. Between a global pandemic, economic crisis, social unrest, & political upheaval, the past year has been physically and emotionally draining for just about everyone, and perhaps most for essential workers.
Across industries, workers struggling with pandemic fatigue are facing burnout more than ever. For leaders, keeping these employees engaged and motivated is a challenge in itself. While some leaders are turning to incentives like gift cards and cash to help support employees, others are taking a softer approach, investing in relationships and focusing on workplace communication.
When the pandemic began, the hospitality industry fell off a cliff, says Liz Neumark, founder and CEO of Great Performances, a catering company in New York City. She knew keeping everyone employed would be difficult until her business could find another source of revenue apart from events, which eventually came in the form of preparing meals for essential workers and people unable to quarantine at home. While some of her employees, such as those in sales or event production, saw salary reductions, chefs, kitchen staff, and other employees making food for essential workers kept their full salaries and got help with transportation as well.
The founders of P. Terry’s, an Austin, Texas-based fast-food restaurant chain, give employees gift cards and cash to help pay for groceries and offer them interest-free loans. They also incentivize employees to participate in community and civic causes, including paying hourly wages for volunteer work.
Justin Spannuth, chief operating officer of Unique Snacks, a sixth-generation, family-operated hard pretzel maker in Reading, Pennsylvania, increased hourly wages by $2 for all 85 of his employees. The company also hired additional temporary employees to provide a backup workforce. Spannuth says the move helped persuade employees with possible symptoms to stay at home by easing the guilt that employees can have about not coming in and potentially increasing the workload on their colleagues.
“The last thing we wanted our employees to do was get worn out from working too many hours and then have their immune system compromised because of it,” says Spannuth.
Helping Employees Connect
Andrea Ahern, vice president of Mid Florida Material Handling, a material handling company in Orlando, Florida, says it was difficult to keep morale up when the business was clearly struggling; employees were uncertain about the company’s future, and their own. To help ease the stress, the company held a wide array of picnic-style meals in the company’s parking lot. It was a light distraction that still followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Now, she says, morale has started to rise.
“With the release of the vaccine and the so-called ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ we’re starting to see the industry get a lift in activity, and associates feel good when they know their jobs aren’t at risk. However, it wasn’t always this way.”
These kinds of events can, of course, also take place virtually. Company leaders across industries are encouraging staff to treat Zoom as a virtual water cooler. But while casual online gatherings after work can help colleagues maintain friendly relationships, they can also contribute to “Zoom fatigue”–the drained feeling that comes after a long day of video calls, which often require more concentration than in-person meetings.
Matt McCambridge, co-founder and CEO of Eden Health, a primary/collaborative care practice based in New York, says while his teams hold regular virtual water coolers, they switch it up. For example, the company hosted an interactive “dueling pianos” virtual event over the holidays, as well as a magic show.
Better Communication From the Top
Communicating support work-life balance at a time when many people are remote and facing trauma is critical. Neumark notes that when her catering company was pivoting and in the process of providing hundreds, if not thousands, of meals, the team was relying mostly on sheer adrenaline. Months later, now that the novelty is gone and fatigue has fully set in, the boundaries she set are crucial.
One rule, for example, is weekends off, unless there’s an urgent, unavoidable request. “The weeks are still so intense, and people need their private time right now,” says Neumark.
It’s essential that leaders understand the issues their employees may be facing and not try to gloss over them, says Dr. Benjamin F. Miller, a psychologist and chief strategy officer of Well Being Trust, a foundation aimed at advancing mental and social health. “When your boss is pretending that everything is OK, it doesn’t create a conducive work environment for someone to talk about having a bad day,” says Miller. That’s one reason virtual water coolers often fail, he notes. While they’re great at getting people together, there’s little benefit if people can’t speak openly and honestly.
It’s also OK to tell employees that you, as a leader, are not having an easy time. Showing vulnerability doesn’t show weakness, Miller adds. You’re setting an example that shows that it’s OK to be honest and acknowledge that not everyone is not having the best time. If you aren’t aware that someone is in a crisis, he says, you may lose the opportunity to reach out to that person and help.
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As an educator with 30 years of experience in North Dakota’s public schools, I’ve witnessed students enter my classroom with varying degrees of readiness. In an effort to create more equitable instructional opportunities, I have started to integrate scaffolding into my regular classroom activities.
According to Pauline Gibbons (2015), a scaffold is a temporary support a teacher provides to a student that enables the student to perform a task he or she would not be able to perform alone.
The goal of scaffolding is to provide opportunities for accommodating students’ individual abilities and needs as they learn and grow. It is important to note that scaffolding is fundamental to all effective and equitable teaching, and that the edtech resources many educators currently have access to support the integration of scaffolding into instruction.
Here are four scaffolding techniques I use, and some of the resources that support them
If you want students to internalize new information, you need to expose them to it several times. Robert Marzano found that it was critical for teachers to expose students to the same word multiple times to enhance students’ vocabulary. When exposure is coupled with an explicit comment about the word and its meaning, vocabulary acquisition doubled.
1. One technique I’ve used to design supportive instruction in the areas of vocabulary and reading is practice, repetition, paraphrasing, and modeling. If you want students to internalize new information, you need to expose them to it several times. Robert Marzano found that it was critical for teachers to expose students to the same word multiple times to enhance students’ vocabulary. When exposure is coupled with an explicit comment about the word and its meaning, vocabulary acquisition doubled.1. One technique I’ve used to design supportive instruction in the areas of vocabulary and reading is practice, repetition, paraphrasing, and modeling.
2. Teacher modeling is another great scaffolding technique. Model thought processes (think-alouds) and skills every time you teach new vocabulary or critical thinking. This includes reading aloud to your student picture books and novels (including texts above grade level), so you can model correct pronunciation of new words and reading with prosody.
I like to use Flipgrid when using paraphrasing with teacher modeling. With Flipgrid I can record myself instructing students and giving directions, as well as provide written instructions. Another nice feature of Flipgrid is that I can attach files, upload video from digital platforms, link from Google Classroom, Wakelet and more! Finally, I can group students as needed by topic or readiness and invite co-teachers to my grids and topics.
3. Integrating digital content into lessons is another learning scaffold that I use regularly. I use Discovery Education Experience regularly, and one of the best things about its high-quality digital content is that you know students are accessing safe digital assets that are multi-modal (audio, pod-cast, text, video and more). This provides students multiple ways to experience the content.
Even more exciting than the vast number of assets, is the convenient way they are organized in Channels curated by topic, asset type and more. Frequently-used channels in my planning for students include: English Language Arts, Audiobooks, and SOS Instructional Strategies. To model paraphrasing with students, I love to use the SOS Instructional Strategies Six Word Story and Tweet Tweet. Once we use these together several times, students can be gradually released to use them for repetition and paraphrasing of new learning, vocabulary, and to summarize text.
4. Also, I like to use augmented images and video to further scaffold instruction. One tool you may find helpful to support this is ThingLink. This tool makes it possible for teachers to share content by augmenting images and videos with information and links. ThingLink makes it easy to create audio-visual learning materials that are accessible in an integrated reading tool. All text descriptions in an image or video hotspots can be read in over 60 languages. Finally, it is an easy-to-use platform for students to show their learning and understanding as a creative productivity tool.
With all the diverse learners in our classrooms, there is a strong need for new scaffolding strategies and with the latest edtech resources, it really is easier than ever to do. But most importantly, at the end of a scaffolded lesson, the educator has created a product that promotes educational equity, delivers a higher quality lesson, and built a learning experience much more rewarding for all involved.
Jessie Erickson is the District Assessment Coordinator for Grand Forks Public Schools, and holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a Specialist Diploma in Educational Leadership. She is the NE Director and President Elect for the North Dakota Association of Technology Leaders, is a Discovery Education DEN Ambassador, a member of the DEN Leadership Council. She is certified educator, trainer, or ambassador for several edtech platforms including Flipgrid and a Breakout EDU.
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At Newcastle this year, we’ve been beyond fortunate to have an incredible Student Union exec, a team of formidable and inspiring Sabs who have not only worked their hardest to support their fellow students through what they couldn’t have known would be one of the hardest academic years ever due to the pandemic, but who have also somewhere found the reserves of energy to engage with another critical and timely issue, decolonizing the curriculum. Their Decolonise NCL campaign has to date included a series of online events attracting a seriously impressive array of speakers, as well as pulling together resources and pushing the University to pledge a commitment to decolonisation and anti-racist work at all levels. It’s simply awe-inspiring.
Their work has got me thinking about the place of decolonisation in what’s commonly called ‘study skills’, and how it impacts on the role of Learning Developers. I wrote a while ago about coming to understand the related and tricky value of emancipatory practice, a related concept, which I feel is the defining Learning Development value, but even at the time felt I was only just beginning to get a handle on it. Since then, my Leeds colleague Sunny Dhillon has written eloquently both about his ambivalent feelings about emancipation in LD as well as questioning whether universities can feasibly decolonise themselves. Working on projects around student induction this year, at the time of the Black Lives Matter protests, I’ve also examined ways in which an uncritical approach to inducting students to our academic community could be oppressive. The Student Union campaign has prompted me to further this thinking and tie these disparate threads together in the context of my own profession.
To this end, I offered to contribute a session to their programme of Decol NCL events, NOT because I have any expertise in this area, but because I wanted to pick up the challenge they had thrown down and explore how this ‘well-meaning middle class white woman’ might begin doing her own anti-racist work within her professional context. I’ve since taken this discussion to a meeting of my own profession of Learning Developers in Scotland (ScotHELD). This post draws together some of the questions and avenues I explored in those sessions. Our NUSU sabs talk about brave spaces as well as safe spaces, about the need to let people take risks to step outside their comfort zone, and I’d like to take that idea up and step out.
“…universities remain white middle-class spaces. They require students to adopt particular ways of being and doing – those which conform to middle-class practices that define success in higher education – ways of writing, speaking and the use of academic language. Universities measure a particular type of success that is possessed by those from white middle-class backgrounds.”
As I’ve written before, my role is often understood as teaching students to write ‘properly’. Implicitly, that means as white, middle class and male. I’d extend this understanding of ‘academic literacy’ also beyond just academic writing to other practices covered by a Learning Developer, from seminar participation to independent study, reading to critical thinking, time management to revision, which are equally situated in socio-cultural expectations of what it means to be a “good” student – the default norm being a white, middle class, male student with all the resources, privilege, cultural capital and opportunities they possess.
“Academic practices are usually presented as neutral, decontextualised sets of technical skills and literacy that students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are seen to lack”
These practices are not neutral, and those of us who teach them must interrogate what it is that we are doing, and whether it is reinforcing a colonial, oppressive education system rooted in white, middle class, western norms of how we should think, act and communicate at university, thereby positioning Black, Asian, working class etc students in terms of deficits to be remediated. While it may be true as Bourdieu says that ‘academic English is […] no one’s mother tongue’, it’s a language closely related to my own RP middle class English, and one I can learn with greater ease and inhabit more comfortably without challenge to my identity and sense of belonging.
“Through taken- for-granted academic practices, constructions of difference are formed, often in problematic ways. The tendency is to project a pathologist gaze on racialist bodies that have historically been constructed as a problem, and as suffering from a range of deficit disorders (e.g. lack of aspiration, lack of motivation, lack of confidence and so on’)”
What I’ve learned from the speakers at NUSU’s events so far: Decolonisation is not synonymous with other concepts such as diversity, inclusion, equality or widening participation, laudable as those initiatives may be. They imply an extension of the status quo, an affirmation of it, additive rather than transformational. Decolonisation, while related to these concepts, demands a fundamental change, a dismantling, decentring, disruption, a relinquishing, restitution, restoration. It has a revolutionary quality. “Decolonisation”, we are told, “is not a metaphor” (Tuck and Yang, 2012). Moreover, decolonisation cannot be achieved simply through inclusion or widening participation measures, as the structures and processes of an oppressive system are ill suited to fundamentally dismantling its underlying issues: “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (Lorde, 18984). To decolonise the HE curriculum means
an underlying transformation from a culture of denial and exclusion to a consideration of different traditions of knowledge. To diversify our curriculum is to challenge power relations and call for deeper thinking about the content of our courses and how we teach them.
How does this relate to Learning Development? Well, by extension, to decolonise the curriculum means not only what we teach and how, but also how we expect students to learn. Lea and Street’s tripartite framework of approaches to the teaching of academic writing offers us a lens to examine our practice. The second level, the academic socialisation model, maps onto ideas of inclusion and widening participation: “ [it] is concerned with students’ acculturation into disciplinary and subject-based discourses and genres. Students acquire the ways of talking, writing, thinking, and using literacy that typified members of a disciplinary or subject area community” (Lea and Street, 2006). These ways also typify the ideal or assumed white, middle class, male member of that community, for whom that system was created and in whose interests it operates. This is Academic Literacy as The Thing That We LDers Teach to students.
A Learning Developer whose primary guiding model is an academic socialisation approach is upholding this status quo. No matter how welcoming the gatekeeper, no matter how wide we throw open those doors and how helpful we are in orientating those we admit within the walls, we are still insisting that students enter on the terms of a white, middle class academy. We are also closing our ears to our students’ experiences; what is just a surface feature and linguistic or practice quirk to us is a troubling challenge to their identity or weighty burden to enact, for some students.
Colonialism assimilates or destroys; this is Learning Development as colonial assimilation. Become like us, or fail. We don’t want the bits of you that don’t conform. But not only does a predominantly academic socialisation approach assume that “once students have learned and understood the ground rules of a particular academic discourse, they are able to reproduce it unproblematically”, it also assumes that those ground rules are unproblematic.
‘Inclusion tends to be more about fitting into the dominant culture than about interrogating that culture for the ways that it is complicit in the social and cultural reproduction of exclusion, misrecognition and inequality.’
The third model identified by Lea and Street maps more closely onto the decolonisation agenda. It not only notes that academic writing is not homogeneous but a multiplicity of practices or meanings, but also acknowledges that these meanings are bound up with epistemology and identity, that they consist of socio-cultural practices situated within hierarchies of power and authority and are therefore contested on unequal terms. I’d like to raise an observation I’ve frequently made when listening to or reading accounts of Academic Literacies as a model, both in Learning Development and EAP. Very often, these accounts focus on one implication of Academic Literacies, that academic writing is not generic or monolithic and therefore our work needs to differentiate multiple discipline-specific discourses and tailor provision, at the expense of the other: that these discourses are situated in hierarchies of power and authority. That critical, radical observation is right there in the model, and yet is frequently downplayed or overlooked.
Similarly, it positions study skills not as surface tools to be adopted at will, but fundamentally entwined with identity, and therefore belonging. Education is supposed to change you, but not to the extent that you can only learn if you become someone else entirely, or fragment your identity, your self. And if Learning Development’s defining value is its emancipatory practice, then it is these more critical implications that we need to foreground, or what we have is a tailored academic socialisation model (Ivanic’s 2004 four tier model acknowledges this better perhaps than Lea and Street’s, separating out writing as a contextualised event from writing as a sociocultural and political practice).
The principal function of student writing is increasingly that of gatekeeping.
Due to the nature of our work, Learning Developers have a special relevance to the project of decolonisation in Higher Education. Decolonisation is often spoken of in terms of adding a more diverse range of authors to a reading list, or including broader topics in a module, mostly applying to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Put a few Black authors on the English Literature curriculum, hire a couple of BAME lecturers and be done with it. But decolonisation applies to the whole system of how we teach, the way we expect students to learn, and how we recognise and assess that learning, a system which, if it’s not designed for you, makes everything harder, if it doesn’t exclude you outright. It forces you to learn on someone else’s terms, and ‘Study Skills’, the core remit of Learning Development, cross-cuts and underpins all aspects of the curriculum at every level, in every discipline.
It’s our role to not only to help students better understand their curriculum, institution and discipline better, but also to negotiate it successfully. Negotiate – it’s a wonderful word in this context, meaning both to find your way through obstacles, but also to bring about a desired outcome through discussion between parties. Negotiation demands dialogue and change on both sides to progress. I’m not sure decolonisation is something Learning Developers can really choose to disengage from or remain neutral on.
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Fit in, or stand out? Serve existing markets, or serve those in untapped markets? As the online marketplace becomes increasingly saturated for entrepreneurs, and the amount of information available to us online leaves us feeling increasingly overwhelmed, we reach a point where we have no choice but to pull back and reassess what is important to us.
What is commonly referred to as the red or blue ocean strategy, business owners can create an offer so unique and differentiated that they can stand out in the market instead of drowning in a blood-stained red ocean.
Here are 3 ways you can stand out in a saturated market online, more so from a humane level rather than a strategic level.
Realize what is true for you, not what is true for others
It is easy for people to follow the cookie-cutter strategies of how things have always been done. But as the world, society, and humans evolve, so does the way we do business.
Many find this challenging because they lack a deep level of awareness and trust in themselves. They’re afraid that if they tapped into their own intuition and deep inner-knowing, it might not bring them the success they see everyone else achieving.
Long-lasting and sustainable success in business comes from doing what feels good to you, every step of the way. While you can achieve success following other strategies, if it doesn’t feel good to you, it will leave you feeling uninspired and unfulfilled.
As humanity evolves into heightened levels of awareness and consciousness, we naturally begin to create a new paradigm of business.
Challenging the status quo is not a common desire amongst leaders. According to Harvard Business Review, 72 percent of leaders say they rarely, or never or rarely challenge their status quo in business.
Leading and serving from the inside out means we learn to know ourselves first and foremost. This can be a fulfilling journey of self-discovery for many, finding their own purpose and truth, which can become largely suppressed when we work in a typical traditional job that isn’t aligned with our highest desires.
To challenge the status quo of business comes with making one fearless and courageous decision at a time.
Gay Hendricks identifies 4 different zones of genius in his book, The Big Leap.
In the “zone of genius,” we can zone in on and capitalize on our innate gifts and abilities that come naturally to us. In this zone, we become in flow and realize what we are uniquely gifted at, often finding ourselves skilled in a specific area more so than others.
In Hendricks’ book, he prompts you to ask yourself what you do you do that doesn’t seem like work, and what brings you ultimate joy, satisfaction, and abundance at the same time.
Ultimately, standing out in a saturated market online is about identifying what comes naturally to you and capitalizing on that unique gift and skill. We often attempt to do things that come naturally to other people, mimicking their steps and strategies while ignoring or denying our truest and inner-most skills and gifts.
To live a whole and fulfilling life, we must enjoy what we do, including how we run our business on a day-to-day basis. By focusing on what feels good to you (and not others), we can ultimately achieve the levels of joy and freedom we are all seeking.
Kelly Wing Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor
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