The InterLearn Blog

All posts in the Adult Learning category

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You Don’t Have to Know It All (and you can’t know it all)

One maxim that I share with team members here at InterLearn is that “you can tell clients that you don’t know.” That is, I want them to know that they don’t have to know it all.  

According to some, the human knowledge base is currently doubling every 12 – 13 months.  The expectation is that it will reach a 12 HOUR doubling state with the expansion of the Internet of Things (all the appliances connected to the internet).  So, from a very practical perspective, it is an impossibility to know everything.  

Before you stop reading as you think this is a point that you already know, stop and think about your personal practice.  Everything from the way you delegate to the way you hire team members to the consultants you hire is affected by this conversation.  You may practically recognize that you don’t know everything.  However, unconsciously, there are areas where you think you know more than you really do.  When you unconsciously think you know everything about something (or that you know better than others), it keeps you from delegating tasks that “someone else couldn’t possibly do as well.”  It affects the team members that you fail to hire because they have abilities equal to or better than yours.  It keeps you from hiring consultants who could 1) take some of the man hours that your team has to spend to accomplish work, 2) know how to do it better/have more expertise than you, and 3) save you money by doing it more efficiently and quickly than you could do it. 

So, rather than feeling like you have to know it all, develop your vocational certainty around the concepts that you SHOULD know.  Have the attitude that you are going to make you the best you that you can to support those who you lead on your team.  Then keep learning and bringing in those that can support your learning.  

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. . .and then never give up on learning more and developing resources that help you know (including other people). 

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The Truths We Ignore about Faculty (and how to embrace those Truths)

I’ve seen it time and again…examples of exceptional teachers in higher education and some dismal failures.  We look to faculty to be the deliverers of our message and mission to the students at our institutions.  We hire them educated in their field of study and ask them to pass on the body of knowledge to our students from our institutional perspective.  

However, there are truths about faculty that we often ignore.  When we do, we do our students a severe disservice.  Here are some of those truths:

Adjunct faculty members and non-terminally-degreed faculty may be your best teachers. Maybe.  This is not a guarantee.  However, because they often have their “day job” to support them, they are often doing this because they want to give back, because they have a passion for it, or because they really have a good knack for it.

  • Embrace the Truth:  Don’t be afraid of using adjuncts liberally. Connect them with your full-time faculty in discussion groups about the field and what is happening.

In getting their education, faculty often miss the practical experience out in the field because the ivory tower is not field-based instruction.  As noted in the previous point, adjuncts are often employed in their “day job.”  Their job out in the “real world” hopefully aligns with their advanced degrees that they’ve put to use informing the field and letting the field inform what they’ve learned in their program.  However, many times those pursuing higher education faculty roles are not experienced in what the field is doing.  Instead they have the perspective of what the research has shown (at best) and an outdated perspective they gained in the ivory tower.

  • Embrace the Truth:  Connect faculty with field-based experiences through your field-based adjunct faculty in discussion groups about the field and what is happening.  Encourage your faculty to engage in field-based projects to gain more personal “real-world” experience. 

Faculty without accountability equals anarchy.  Without accountability to policies and standards through faculty assessment and reviews, faculty default to their latest whim.  We hope that they have a standard of decorum, but allowing the faculty to do what they want could be akin to telling a teenager to “behave” while you’re out of town for the week with no other adult supervision.  Will your place be standing when you get home?  How many times will the police be called to your house by the neighbors?  

  • Embrace the Truth:  Establish strong relationships with your faculty, first and foremost.  Leadership of them through relationship will allow for trust to be built between you and them.  So, even when you haven’t specified something that might arise, they will know you well enough to do what you’d prefer.  Develop an assessment process that holds faculty accountable for the things that your institution values.  Assure that they know the standards you have and that they adhere to them.  In the accountability system, find ways to catch them doing the right things exceptionally.  And a final point, if you don’t have it implemented, don’t implement a tenure system that avoids accountability for faculty.

Faculty are educated in their field of study, not to be teachers.  This is probably the biggest truth we ignore and I almost wrote the article just about this.  Most individuals reading this article are probably working with teaching institutions.  In those institutions, we expect faculty to know how to teach when they enter the academy.  In adult and online programs, where we use more adjuncts, we’ve figured out that we better do some orientation.  However, I rarely see much beyond an orientation for even that group.  Further, I rarely see even an orientation for traditional side faculty where they are expected to know how to teach.  Faculty, at best, come out mimicking the methods of their instructors.  That is a complete wheel of fortune model though.  Sometimes you get the $10,000 slot (in a few, rare instances).  However, “bankrupt” is all too often an outcome.  Faculty (may) know their content, but they are not often prepared to be good teachers.  

  • Embrace the Truth:  Recognize the commodity that you’ve “purchased” (the knowledge base of the faculty member).  Recognize that they have that but that the rest of their abilities may not be up to the standards that you have.  Then meet with all of your faculty to discuss good teaching and learning based on philosophy and theory that your institution has as part of its conceptual framework* for its programs.  Then train EVERYBODY that has faculty status. Don’t let them back in the classroom until they have gone through your training.  As noted above, assess for the things that you’re wanting to see in the classroom.  Then keep developing and training every year.  For faculty that are good at what they do, use them as mentors for more inexperienced faculty.  Set up content discussion groups and teaching methods groups.  

*If you don’t have a conceptual framework for your programs that you actually use to affect course development and delivery, back up to this step.  If you need help with this, call us.  

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Taking Back the Power

I recently had an interesting experience with my son.  He’d been participating in a club at school where the leader (a staff member) was generally demanding (and somewhat oppressive in my humble opinion) of those involved.  Meetings had been scheduled for every morning before school and a strict regimen was required of those involved.  For those wanting to be part of this club, strict adherence to the mentality of the leader was a requirement and questioning the authority was severely dealt with.  Schools (particularly private, Christian K-12 schools) are known for their totalitarian structure, of course.  

At the beginning of this term, my son made the decision on his own that he would rather do something else with his time even though he had enjoyed his time in the club.  However, for several weeks, the leader was unaware that my son was not going to continue in the club.  Various “threats” of penalties for not attending meetings floated back to my son through the grapevine from the leader.  Finally, my son spoke to the leader of the program and let him know that he would not be participating in the club any longer.  There was an element of shock on the part of the leader.

As my wife and I processed the situation with my son, we recognized what had happened:  my son had taken back the power of the relationship.  Instead of a situation where this leader had methods of controlling my son in his school career and levying penalties if he did not comply as requested, my son chose to remove himself from the situation.  In doing so, this leader no longer had power over him in the same way.  He gained freedom as a result.  

Before we get too far in revolutionary discussions though, think about the positive side where you choose to give up your power.  There are times, of course, where you choose to be involved in a situation for the positives inherent in the system.  As a citizen of the United States, I subject myself to the authority of the governing bodies within the U.S.  In doing so, I gain the rights of a U.S. citizen.  As a member of the local golf club, I agree to pay the membership fees and follow the club rules and gain access to unlimited golf, unlimited use of the workout facilities, and use of their pool during the summer.  As an employee, I submit myself to my leaders in order to accomplish the mission of the organization and, hopefully, receive a paycheck.  As a student, you submit yourself to the rules of the school and studies of the courses in order to gain an education.  

However, there are times when you need to take back the power.  Taking back the power is not just a revolutionary idea.  It must be a management idea.  It comes down to what you choose to give your attention and efforts.

It might not be a person from whom you need to take the power back.  It might be a process, a hobby, a practice, a group, a habit, really anything that holds undue sway over you and your actions and keeps you from accomplishing what you’re supposed to accomplish.  Here are several personal examples of how I have taken back power:

Personal Relationships:  There a number of individuals who have simply become a negative in my personal and professional life.  In some cases, I have limited my opportunities to be around them by just finding other relationships to develop.    

Television:  I’m fairly selective in what I watch on television not only for content (read that, I don’t watch smut) but also for the time investment.  I am a science fiction nerd and would love to watch through the entire Doctor Who series.  I’ve watched a few but, frankly, I don’t have the time to invest in watching that entire body of work.  

Accreditation Teams and Boards:  As a more professional example, I’ve chosen not to continue serving as an accreditation team member.  In so doing, I have freed myself from the time commitment and the obligation to not serve schools with my professional services as a consultant.  I also rarely serve on boards for similar reasons.  

The result of taking back the power, as I noted for my son, is freedom…freedom from the negatives of the situation and freedom to be about what you need to be about.  Recognize what has power and control in your circumstances and decide on the value of those circumstances. 

Is the submission to the circumstance and loss of power worth the benefits gained?  If not, make a change in the power structure.  Take back the power in your life to refocus and accomplish what God wants you to be about.  

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Of Water Tension and Other Universal Laws

In fourth grade, my teacher had us do experiments to demonstrate water tension.  One experiment was to get a very nearly full cup of water and start adding BBs until the water overflowed.  Nearly all the other students in the class did that experiment.  The other experiment that we were able to choose (and that I chose) was to float a paper clip on the top of the water surface.  Since then, water tension has been a very clear concept in my mind and I reflect on it often as I did as I was measuring out a cup of water for my breakfast porridge this morning.  

When I really reflect on the principle, I can go really deep on it.  What if God chose a different way for a particular principle to work?  What if instead of creating a tension on the surface of the water that let some things through and others sink, what if it was a hard veneer?  What if instead of gravity pulling us towards large objects, it pushed us away?  So, if we wanted to fly, we had to fly low near the ground.  Or what if the principle of lift didn’t work like it does and planes didn’t work?  We’d still be stuck on the ground.  

The point is, God set up universal laws the way He did for a particular purpose that He has.  In Proverbs 25:2, it says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”  Part of that searching is to understand the universal principles and laws that God has set up for us.  

It’s not limited to just natural laws.  The way we do business, the way we interact with people, the way we think, they are all things that can be “searched out” and considered.  In part, God will show us a better way to do things if we will take the time to search Him out on the topic we’re considering. 

Search things out.  Find why and how they work.  In the process, you’ll grow to know your Creator.  

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Learning to Sit at the Feet of a Master: A Model for LifeLong Learning

Throughout my life, there have been individuals that I have so greatly learned from that I just wanted to really dive in deep with them and learn as much as I could.  For me, this category has included some ministers, some leaders, some Godly, wise men, a few teachers.  These individuals so grab my attention that I want to be able to just sit at their feet and learn what they have learned and can pass on.  A few of these individuals I know well and still get the chance to continue learning.  A few of these individuals have passed away.  A few of these individuals have changed in some of their perspectives and I am more guarded in what I would choose to learn from them.  

As an example, one of those individuals was Chuck Colson.  He, of course, has passed away now.  However, the things that he spoke about and his level of intelligence astound me.  I actually interacted with him once when I was freshly graduated from high school.  I was at a trade show and he and a group of people came by on their way somewhere while I was taking a break to make myself a quick sandwich.  He quipped, “Looks good,” as he walked by.  I responded, “would you like one?”  And that’s the quick story of how I offered Chuck Colson a Peanut Butter and Honey sandwich.  😀

There are several principles, though, to this mentality that I would suggest for your model of lifelong learning.  These elements make this model of learning work:

– Humility
– Hunger
– Evaluation

Humility.  As individuals grow as leaders and people in general, there seems to be a tendency to discontinue the learning process.  This may be from lethargy (which will cover under the next point).  However, more often I see that it is due to pride/arrogance.  Then when a problem arises for which the individual does not know what to do, instead of learning to do what they need to do, they sit back and “hope” for the best. . .often while all heck breaks loose around them because of their unwillingness to take action based on accurate strategy.  

So, in my thinking, to be an effective lifelong learner, you must be humble enough to go get the learning you need.  Sitting at the feet of a master is the picture of humility.  Don’t be afraid of what it might look like to others that you’re still learning.  Be okay with the phrase, “I don’t know” when asked about something. . .and then work to figure out what you don’t know to answer the question effectively.  In a world where knowledge is doubling every day, you cannot possibly know everything.  

Hunger.  For those Lencioni fans, I promise I am not just trying to steal his model (See Lencioni’s Ideal Team Player).  However, hunger is definitely an element for learning.  Without it, you will not persevere in the process of learning.  Learning will become a checkbox to mark instead of a goal in itself.  You must remain focused on answering the questions in your practice by learning.  You can’t let the schedule reflect a state of lethargy in your learning.  You cannot let yourself get tired of learning.

Evaluation.  As I noted, there are some individuals that have become less desirable sources of information/learning.  This brings up the perspective of evaluation of your sources of learning.  As much as I like television shows like medical dramas, etc., if I chose to only get my health practices from watching those shows, my knowledge base would be severely lacking in its depth and accuracy.  The same is true for the individuals/sources that you choose as learning sources.  Some of those individuals are just not worth my investment in time.  Sadly, some of these “sources” have been in my formal education process.  There are individuals who have been my faculty who were not learners themselves and did not keep their learning up to date.  

As someone who is willing to continue learning because I am humble and hungry, I must evaluate not only the sources of what I’m learning but also the content once I’ve received it.  In the evaluation process, I choose to reject sources that are not reliable or that have gone down a path that is counter to my faith perspective (in the cases of faith-based learning).  Once I go through the learning, I need to take the time to evaluate what I have learned so that I can use it most effectively, apply it to what I currently know, etc.  

How do you measure your ability to continue learning?

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Towards a Growth Organization

For a number of years now, the term Growth President has been in the vernacular of college boards, C-Suite leaders in academia, general administration, and faculty. In large part, the term is meant to reflect that leader who is leading the charge to gain students. That leader should be reaching new student populations, developing initiates, and engaging the existing donor base and adding to it. It should be clear that the effective Growth President will create the vision, the team, and the culture.

What a Growth Organization Needs

As most educational institutions at least understand what a vision is, even when they do not use one well, the concept of a vision should be fairly understandable. The vision is developed to show where an institution intends to go. If growth is a goal (and it should be), the vision must reflect the ability to grow. It must speak to what that growth looks like and how the institution intends to get there. Certainly, the President (the Growth President) develops the vision with their own flavor and zest along with the executive team.

While these steps are not necessarily sequential, the next aspect that must be put together is the team that will carry out the vision for growth. Usually there is a team in place. As Jim Collins notes though, the right people have to be in the right seats on the bus. So the Growth President must make sure the team, from the board down through the C-Suite Leaders, through the administration, staff, and faculty are all in the right place on the bus. . .or get them to the right place or on a different bus.

This leads to creating the culture for growth. Peter Drucker, Mark Fields, and Bill Aulet have noted that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast, technology for lunch, and products for dinner, and soon thereafter everything else too.” In other words, establishing the culture is the quintessential thing that the Growth President must doculture-eats-strategy for growth to be sustained. Every team member, regardless of their area, must be focused on growth. No one can say “growing the school isn’t my job,” or “recruiting students is not my job.” Everyone is a recruiter. Everyone is a public relations specialist. Everyone is an innovator for growth. Everyone must have an attitude of looking for new things, new ways of operating, and a sense of personal responsibility for growth. Those who will not be a believer in this culture need to find someplace else to belong.

As I’ve worked with colleges around the U.S. and internationally, I’ve seen some institutions who think the President (the Growth President) is the answer to growing. They are part of the answer. . .but not the only answer. They are just a start. The entire culture must be about growth for growth to be sustained.

What Growth Organizations Have Done

As I’ve watched colleges become Growth Organizations, I’ve noted examples of successful methods and techniques for growth. Here are a few examples:

So many institutions have looked at their programming and determined that they needed to reach new student populations. As a result, the implemented adult and online programming, they added more programs that were needed in the market, and they have seen exceptional growth. One of InterLearn’s clients went from 0 to 500+ students in their adult programs in five years. That has changed their financial status from being in debt and ready to close to excess revenue in the millions.

One college in the U.S. Southwest had identified that one of their growth strategies needed to be adult and online programming. When some faculty pushed back and would not support it, those faculty found themselves “put off the bus.” Today, that college is a leader in the area as a result of that move.

Another institution in the U.S. Midwest implemented a staff contest to generate student leads for its programs. A challenge goal of certain number of leads was set. If they reached that goal, the entire college staff would receive additional days off (with pay, of course) at Christmas. Everyone was encouraged to reach out to people they knew through social media, e-mail, telephone, and in person to help gather leads. They made the goal as an entire organization and had some extra time off at Christmas as a reward.

One president has dinners for community members at his home on a monthly basis to tell the story of his institution. Additionally, weekly he meets with potential donors who can financially support the vision.

One president so recognizes his central role in recruiting that he is regularly giving out his business card with his personal mobile telephone number on it. He talks to people in his community about starting a program at his institution in restaurants, grocery stores, etc.

One institution, in order to raise the initial funds for marketing, cut an already dilapidated budget and worked its fledgling donor base (none of which could give more than $5000). Those efforts allowed them to gather the amount that they needed to really push their adult and online programming to grow.

Each of these examples show the dedication that is needed by the entire organization to be a growth organization. Yes, the President must be a growth-minded President who really LEADS. However, everyone is part of the growth process.

How is your organization working to be a growth organization? Send me your stories and I’ll try to feature you on our blog.

If you need some help working towards being a Growth Organization, let InterLearn help you in your endeavors. Contact me today at (918) 895-1185 or jfischer@interlearned.com.