The InterLearn Blog

All posts in the Student Learning category

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Learning from the Negative

I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve had this conversation as a parent with my children.  Sometimes it has been about examples that are in front of my children as teachers or leaders. . .sometimes it’s about me.  I tell them as we’re reflecting on the situation and can find very little positive that happened:  “I’m sorry but you’re going to have to learn from the negative on this one.  You’re going to have to see what not to do and learn to do the right thing.”

I’m sure we’ve all had to do that in our lives.  We see a bad example of something and run the other way. . .or at least decide to do something different.  (If you’re struggling for some negative examples, talk to me…I’ll share some of mine.)  We never want to be the negative example for those around us (ahem, our children…or students or team members).  Yet, given our fallen nature, it does happen.  As we grow in wisdom, hopefully, we have fewer of those times where we are the negative example. 

However, as leaders, we must recognize and embrace those opportunities to teach and develop even in the negative.  For faculty, they need to train students to learn from the negative.  They will likely have leaders “in the real world” that don’t have a positive message or lesson at times.  Yet, they still need to move forward in their own development despite those negatives.  The same is true for team members.  We would not want our team to fail just because we mess up.  We want them to learn and grow even when we miss it.

Learning from the negative requires several things on the part of learner:

  • Humility.  Recognition that we are fallen and make mistakes is vital. 
  • Grace.  Fortunately, we have forgiveness through Christ for this.  However, it’s Christ’s work of forgiveness in our lives that must be remembered when viewing these failures in others. We, too, are fallen, been forgiven (and will need forgiveness again in the future very likely), and need to extend the Grace that Christ extends to us.
  • Reflection.  While it may be easy to get upset at the negative example in front of us, we must logically reflect on that example to really learn from it.  See the situation from the perspective of the person providing the negative example.  What made them act the way they did?  What would have been the better way to act?  What will keep you from acting the same way in other situations? 

There are certainly times where the body of negative work in an individual requires us to pull away from an individual.  However, recognizing that they are in need of growth, just like you, is equally important. 

You may be the one to help them learn from their own negative example by gracefully helping them see their example.  

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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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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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Facebook and the Normalization of the Online Environment

When I started out in what is now the adult and online education field, it was in correspondence programs where students and faculty communicated via U.S. Post (or if the assignment was really late. . .UPS or Fedex). Then these new things called e-mail addresses were being given out to allow us to communicate through something called the internet (“internets” if you were or are old. . .or funny). I and my trusty 14.4k Modem were burning up America Online.

As people figured out what the internet was, the applications for distance education were pretty clear. Even at the lowest level of tech, students could at least stop spending money on postage and paper and submit assignments through e-mail. The really techy people were dreaming about fully “online” courses with high end graphics and multimedia and even virtual reality. As bandwidth capacities increased and newer technologies emerged, fully online education was no longer a dream. It was a reality.

Unfortunately, there were naysayers to this new form of distance education. You regularly heard comments related to quality, inability to “really learn the material,” degree mills, etc. when people referenced online degree programs. From students, you heard questions like, “will my degree be accepted?” “Can I get into a master’s program with an online degree?” or even the point blank, “Is this a degree mill?”

Alongside the development of online learning, you had another movement starting: social media. From the earliest Internet Service Providers that had fora for discussion to the Bulletin Board Systems on up through current day offerings in social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.), social media has moved people online. Go to any place around town where people are sitting around and you will likely find them staring at a smart phone. More likely still is that they are scrolling through their “News Feed” on a social media, smiling, frowning, even laughing out loud (LOL. . .but probably not really ROFLing), commenting, clicking “Like” buttons, etc.

I first decided to care about Myspace and Facebook when I served as president of a Bible college and superintendent of a Christian school. It wasn’t because I wanted to be on the media and use it personally. I needed to access the media when a problem arose. Students inevitably (despite a dictate from the school not to have an account) were on social media and were chattering about the latest gossip or fiasco taking place. After leaving those roles, I had time to start really using social media for personal and business use.

Soon after, Facebook became something grandmothers (and great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers) were doing to keep up with their families. Sure, grandmothers are more likely to type in all caps or to out their secret pet name for you or to have their account hacked by someone who felt you needed to see inappropriate pictures. . .but grandmothers are there in force. They are stalking you like crazy because they had the time to do it.

Now, every segment of society is represented on social media, Facebook being the giant. When that happened, suddenly, people weren’t so freaked out by online education anymore. If a school doesn’t have an online program, it’s weird. Even students in traditional, non-online programs are rambunctious if there aren’t online opportunities for classes.

So, thank Facebook for making online education reputable. Okay, the colleges and universities might have had a little bit to do with it too. And, according to U.S. Department of Education reports, online education has equal or better outcomes than traditional education. I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg had that in mind when he designed Facebook.

How have your feelings towards online environments changed over the past several years? Do you need to get your institution into online education (or MORE into online education)?

If you need help with your adult and online programming, InterLearn has great expertise to get you up and going very quickly. Contact us today at or 918-895-1185.