Companies & Universities, Smartly, Students & Careers

The Smartly Master Plan: Elite to Open, and Everything in Between

Satellite mission in space from the top looking down to earth

Smartly has the overarching mission to innovate in education, and in that spirit we recently launched a free online MBA degree. From time to time, people ask us: “Why are you starting with an ‘elite’ degree? Why be selective when you could open up the opportunity to those who have difficulty accessing education?” We do strongly believe in democratizing education, and this is a question we’ve thought about deeply.

We just can’t help but borrow a page from Elon Musk and Tesla here. Musk spelled out the playbook of starting with the powerful Roadster sports car to show the world that electric cars could actually rival high-end gasoline cars, and then scaling the business, working his way down the marginal cost curve and building more and more affordable cars.

We were inspired by the idea of proving a disruptive approach at the top and working step-by-step to spread the benefits to everyone. We want to prove to the world that education can be effective and successful when free and online. In that spirit, the MBA is our flagship program to demonstrate the power of Smartly to rival some of the best educational institutions in the world. We restricted the first cohort of our MBA program to students similar to those one would find at top brick & mortar programs to show parity in student outcomes. Keep in mind that we are doing this while offering the MBA for free! We are proving the disruptive power of Smartly at the top, all the while adding programs for more and more audiences, including programs that are open as well as free.

While our pedagogical plan is to branch deeper and deeper into additional degrees, certifications, and courses, we’re also going to continue innovating how education is funded. We are soon launching a hiring engine that pushes the cost of education to the companies hiring newly-skilled graduates. Beginning with our MBA students, companies can browse and hire top business talent, and the recruiting fees these companies pay fund the MBA program. Our interests are aligned with those of our graduates: we are only paid when they are achieving successful outcomes, and not with an upfront tuition. This benefits all parties: the student, the employers, and the government guaranteeing these loans (just maybe not the banks). As we add additional programs, we will continue to innovate different models of funding education with the belief that it can be free, open, and online. Smartly is not just another online university, but a whole new approach to education.

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Companies & Universities

Sexual harassment in the workplace: A story of silence

Asian professional woman in the workplace

The following is a guest post by Ellen M. Zavian, a sports attorney and professor at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Ellen teaches courses in Sports Law, Entrepreneurship and Leadership and Sports Marketing and has written columns for Conde Nast, Time, USAToday and NFL Insider.

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There are many factors that can trigger sexual harassment in the workplace that are beyond a company’s control. Nevertheless, it is imperative for companies to create and ensure a safe working environment. Many of those seemingly harmless comments or inappropriate behaviors could be avoided, and victims could be empowered with the right knowledge on how and when to take action.

As the first woman to represent NFL players as an attorney, I received many sexual comments over my career, but I can tell you very little about what I’ve experienced because to name names would not do anyone good, especially me. As an independent contractor, I did not have the luxury of being protected by the many employment laws that protect men and women from such conduct.

When I was working at a law firm, one of the partners clearly crossed the line. Instead of filing, I left the firm.  Another time, when interviewed for a team position, the head coach told me, “It would be too distracting to have you around the office.” I withdrew my name from the pool of candidates. Eluding these situations was probably not the best strategy.

As I matured, my skin got thicker, and my ability to confront comments quickly or diminish them with humor became sharper.  It is this sense of confidence and humor that got me through many other questionable times. For example when i was representing the women softball players and the attorney for the American Softball Association was making fun of the women because they were complaining about having to wear male structured catcher equipment (which left little room for their breasts), I gave him an athletic cup (youth size) and told him to wear it for a day. Needless to say, we won that point and got the women proper fitting equipment (which included a helmet with a hole for their ponytail!).

It is for this reason, I wanted to share my story of silence with you… I hope this gives you a voice to speak up and incentive to bring in essential sexual harassment training to your working environment today. This question remains: how do we communicate this information effectively, achieving a greater goal than that of merely legal compliance? We must first look for tools and mechanisms to effectively transmit information to employees and then optimize understanding and awareness so that everyone in the workplace can feel confident and empowered to speak up and take action in circumstances like mine.

To see corporate training solutions for your company, visit https://smart.ly/corporate-training.

 

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Companies & Universities, Company

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business adopts Smartly

Hariri Building at night

Image courtesy of Georgetown University McDonough School of Business

Today, we’re proud to announce that Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business adopts Smartly, a new mobile learning platform, to teach all incoming MBA students fundamentals of Accounting, Statistics, Economics and Finance

Washington, D.C.: Pedago, a new innovative mobile learning solutions provider to educational institutions, companies and individuals, announced today that its flagship platform Smartly has been adopted by Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business to teach key subjects, including Accounting, Statistics, Economics and Finance, to the incoming MBA Class of 2018 before students even arrive on the Georgetown campus.

McDonough selected Smartly after extensive evaluation by faculty and existing students. McDonough recruits outstanding students from around the world, regardless of whether they have studied business as undergraduates. Selected preparation courses are designed to allow McDonough to provide the proper foundation for all of students so they hit the ground running when they begin their opening term with Structure of Global Industries and Financial Reporting Fundamentals courses.

“Smartly is a next-generation approach to online and mobile learning,” Prashant Malaviya, Senior Associate Dean, MBA Programs at McDonough, said, “and we are delighted to be able to offer our foundational courses to incoming students in this format.”

Students will be able to access Smartly’s MBA Preparation Program through a McDonough-branded web-portal and mobile app that provide access to a curated list of six courses that prime students in key areas needed to succeed in the internationally recognized MBA program. Faculty receive access to an extensive reporting tool that allows them to track student progress and better identify patterns associated with the class as a whole.

“We’re excited to have this new relationship with Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The business school is known for its excellent faculty and smart students, and it’s a validation for Smartly,” said Pedago co-founder Tom Adams. “And as we’re also based in D.C., we’re hoping this evolves into a broad partnership.”

About Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business
Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, the premier destination for global business education, provides a transformational education through classroom and experiential learning, preparing students to graduate as principled leaders in the service to business and society. Through numerous centers, initiatives, and partnerships, Georgetown McDonough seeks to create a meaningful impact on business practice through both research and teaching. All academic programs prepare students to be “global ready” by providing a global perspective, woven through the undergraduate and graduate curriculum in a way that is unique to Washington, D.C. – the nexus of world business and policy – and to Georgetown University’s connections to global partner organizations and a worldwide alumni network. Founded in 1957, Georgetown McDonough is home to some 1,400 undergraduates, 1,000 MBA students, and 1,200 participants in executive degree or custom programs. Learn more at http://msb.georgetown.edu. Follow McDonough on Twitter: @msbgu.

About Pedago LLC and its platform Smartly
Pedago revolutionizes online education with interactive courses and lessons that make learning effective and fast. Co-founded by Tom Adams, Alexie Harper, and Ori Ratner in 2013, Pedago is on a mission to reinvent online and mobile learning. Inspired by a desire to bring Active Learning practices to an educational technology sector dominated by passive video lectures, Pedago makes learning dramatically faster and more effective with highly interactive lessons available on any device. Pedago is based in Washington, D.C. Pedago’s first platform is Smartly, a learning platform that is transforming business education. Developed in partnership with experts from leading business schools, Smartly offers a broad range of carefully-crafted business courses, designed to make learning fast, convenient, and effective.

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Companies & Universities, Inspiration

Why you should explicitly state your company values

Did you know that 80% of Fortune 100 companies tout their values publicly?

When I say “company values,” you might picture hokey corporate team-building exercises. But for many successful companies, values—or professed, enduring beliefs—go beyond words on a T-shirt or mug. They serve as a behavioral compass that guide the entire company from day to day. 

As Skylar and I, the content developers behind the Developing a Corporate Philosophy course, were researching this topic, we asked a values-driven company for its insights: meet Buffer, a social media management company that not only boasts a compelling values statement, but strives to uphold it. Here’s Courtney Seiter, a Content Crafter at Buffer, on the company’s values:

Have Buffer’s values contributed to its success? If so, how?

I believe Buffer’s values have contributed greatly to our success. Our values guide the way we communicate, the way we honor customers, the way we build our product and culture. We’re really lucky that our founders realized at the beginning, when Buffer was fewer than ten people, that values were a pivotal element of success and created them early on.

What motivated Buffer to feature its values on its website? 

Our values are the backbone of who we are as a company, so it feels important for us to be really open about them and share them widely. They’re a North Star for all of us in every action we take, and we’re always looking for more ways we can keep them top of mind. They’re also a key element of how we hire, so we hope making them prominent helps potential candidates see themselves at Buffer and choose to join us!

Your website states that Buffer’s founders were influenced by Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Did Joel and Leo consult any other materials when compiling this list of values?

I know that Zappos’ values and philosophy were a big influence as well.

What was the process behind creating the values statement?

This post on the “untold story of Buffer’s values” goes through the process in some detail; I think it might be the best resource [on “how Buffer’s values formed and evolved” through team surveys and reading Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness].

Does Buffer distribute its values statement to employees? How does the company ensure that its values are upheld?

Yes, teammates have our values in a variety of formats! Many of us have stickers on our laptops with them (they look like this) and some of us use this Chrome extension made by a teammate that replaces Google’s new tab page with one of our values. We each work on upholding the values in many ways, like sharing gratitude in our Slack gratitude room or encouraging a teammates’ self-improvement progress before starting a meeting. We’ve written a bit about how we act on our values here, [such as Buffer’s decision to make its salaries and metrics public to uphold its value of transparency].

How often do people talk about the values statement at work?

“Daily” doesn’t even come close to expressing it. Maybe hourly? 🙂 They’re a constant source of conversation, sharing and aspiration.

How often does Buffer revisit and revise its values statement?

Quite often! We have had six revisions thus far, and we’ve tried to uphold our value of transparency by sharing each iteration (you can find them all on Slideshare). Often we’ll write in-depth blog posts about what we changed and why. We’re undergoing another values revision right now and will of course share it all!

Thanks again to Buffer for sharing their story with us! This is a fantastic example of how a strong public values statement can enhance a company’s culture and operations.

For more information on creating values statements, as well as crafting mission and vision statements, check out Smartly’s Developing a Corporate Philosophy course.

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Companies & Universities, Learning

How Your Team Can Make Better Decisions By Conquering the Asch Effect

two hands writing in notebook

Your team is awesome—you’ve gotten through the four stages of group development (which you, of course, studied in Smartly’s Organizational Behavior: Working in Groups and Teams course), and you’re performing at peak efficiency and effectiveness. You come into work energized and excited to tackle challenges with your team.

And then something happens. The team’s attitude is still upbeat, but you notice that its output is diminishing. Team members are making mistakes they shouldn’t have, and it’s costing you big time… What gives?

Sadly, even the best teams can run into a number of major threats to their effectiveness. Here’s how to deal with at least one of them, the Asch effect.

If you’ve ever found it difficult to speak up with an unpopular opinion, then you’re already familiar with the Asch effect: it’s a phenomenon in which individuals go along with the majority view regardless of their own opinions. Unfortunately, this leads teams to make poor decisions.

Luckily, there are several concrete steps you can take to avoid this effect:

  1. Appoint a devil’s advocate: select someone from your team to provide the alternative position to any major decision you’re making. This helps team members to step out from behind the curtain of unanimity and take a look at a challenge from all angles, helping to avoid costly mistakes.
  1. Change team member roles from time to time. Change forces us to see things from a different angle, sparking creative thinking and problem solving.
  1. Try an anonymous survey: Whether formally or informally, get feedback from group members individually and provide the results to the team. People can’t succumb to the Asch effect if they don’t know how their teammates would vote!

Already employing these tactics? Awesome! You’re well on your way to bulletproofing your team dynamics and decision-making. To learn even more about building and maintaining an amazing team, check out Smartly’s Organizational Behavior: Working in Groups and Teams course!

*photo credit: http://deathtothestockphoto.com

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Companies & Universities, Engineering

Five key principles that make geographically split software teams work

white laptop on wooden desk

The other day, I realized that I have worked on geographically split software teams for the last decade. I didn’t set out intending to do so. When I got my first job out of college as a software engineer, I thought being in the office was non-negotiable. If you ask company recruiters, most say in no uncertain terms they are not looking for remote employees.

But the reality on the ground is that many software companies end up letting most full-time engineers work flexible hours, from anywhere. Yet few companies acknowledge or advertise this explicitly. You can’t get this opportunity by asking for it in your interview, but after you are in the door, the opportunity arises. There are a few ways this happens.

Software companies with heavy on-call burdens, like Amazon for example, end up with an unspoken but widespread assumption that people can work from anywhere because they are working all the time. Since most engineers are contractually obligated to be on-call, and emergency issues arise at all hours of the day and night, these engineers start working remotely out of necessity. Soon, whole teams realize there is no barrier to working where and when they are most productive. On any given day during my tenure at Amazon, maybe half of my teammates weren’t in the office when I was.

 I’ve worked for several startups with surprisingly similar team environments. At one, people preferred to work at nearby coffeehouses with outdoor porches that made it easier to work while smoking. At another, unreliable wireless bandwidth in the office drove people to work from home out of necessity. At another, almost every person employed there lived in a different time zone, because this startup needed a very specific set of skills that happened to be scarce at the time.

Later I went to work for Rosetta Stone, which had three offices when I started, and grew to six offices when I left . Most of the teams I worked on ended up having people in at least three office locations, and as many time zones. Only one of the four bosses I had during those years worked in the same office as me. Not only were the teams geographically split, but once a team is split across two or more time zones, for all practical purposes, this team is also working flex time hours.

 These teams all worked well together. No matter where and when we worked, everyone still was accountable for meetings and deadlines. I never felt particularly disconnected from my team, and I had rapport with and support from my bosses.

Today I work for Pedago.com, a startup company that is geographically split and has been from the very beginning. It is the most productive team I have ever worked with.

Geographically distributed teams can work. How? In my experience, there are five key principles that make all the difference.

1. Shared chat room where all team communication, questions, updates, and banter happen

I’ve used Skype, IRC, and HipChat for this — there are many viable options. In a geographically split team, showing up to the chat room is the same as showing up to work. Conversely, not showing up to chat is like not showing up to the office, with the same professional and social side effects. Knowing everyone will be in one place means you always know where you can ask questions if you have them. And if you are ever away and need to catch up on team discussion, there’s a nice transcript of all the debates, conversations, and decisions the team made while you were away that you can easily read to catch up.

2. Shared “online” hours

These are the hours everyone is guaranteed to be available in the shared chat room. No matter how scattered the team is, there will always be some set of hours that work for everyone. Everyone is assumed to be available during these hours, and if any person can’t make it or needs to leave to run errands, they are expected to notify everyone.

3. Short daily video check-in meetings

If your team uses Scrum as its project management strategy, these are just your daily standup meetings. It makes a huge difference to see peoples’ faces once a day, if only to remember that they are human beings in addition to being demanding product owners or cantankerous engineers. The visual feedback you get from face to face conversations helps facilitate complex discussions, amplifies positive feedback, and the subconscious pressure to announce a socially acceptable level of progress helps hold everyone accountable.

4. Teammates need to be aggressive about helping and asking for help.

However tempting, no one should ever spin their wheels when stuck. Teams should declare that ad hoc pair programming, calls, and hangouts are a part of their team’s working style, and developers should be aggressive about picking up the phone or screen-sharing whenever they get stuck or need to ask a question.

5. Everyone on the team needs to buy into these rules.

No exceptions. If even one person refuses to get in the shared team chat-room or doesn’t feel like showing up to the video check-in meetings every day, these strategies won’t work for the rest of the team. Everyone on the team has to buy in, and in particular, managers and team leads need to lead by example, being disciplined about leading discussions and disseminating information only in the team’s shared forums.

But how do you know people are working if you can’t see them?

Simple answer. The same way you know they’re working when you can see them: you talk to them about requirements, check in on progress, look at what they deliver. If you are a technical manager, you monitor deployments or skim the latest check-ins. Software management really isn’t very different with distributed versus in-house teams. The secret to success is still the same: clear direction, well-defined, prioritized requirements, and carefully managed execution.

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Check out more articles I’ve written on the Pedago Blog about edtech. For even more, you can follow me on Medium (@ann_lewis).

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Companies & Universities, Learning, Smartly

The Brave New (Wired) World of Online Education

iphone on table

It is a brave new world, indeed, in which milk, cars, and spouses can all be acquired via the Internet. But for all our advances, the jury is still out regarding the most effective ways to teach online.

Many online learning platforms consist of passive video lectures and podcasts, or universities repackaging classes for the web. To illustrate, imagine you have students who have never seen a pizza before and want to learn how to make one. Working with current online teaching methods, they’d likely not throw the dough, choose the toppings, or get feedback on their work. They would probably have to sit quietly through written descriptions and video lectures online.

The prevalence of this passive approach demonstrates a key challenge in the pursuit of engaging, effective web-based education: the issue of interactivity. While more studies are showing that interactivity breeds engagement and information retention, instructors and platforms are still struggling to employ effective levels and modes of interactivity.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Community College Research Center examined 23 entry-level online courses at two separate community colleges and made some interesting discoveries on this phenomenon. Their assessment was that most of the course material was “text-heavy” and that it “generally consisted of readings and lecture notes. Few courses incorporated auditory or visual stimuli and well-designed instructional software.” While technology that supported feelings of interpersonal interaction was found to be helpful, mere incorporation of technology was insufficient—and recognized as such by the students. The research noted that, “Simply incorporating technology into a course does not necessarily improve interpersonal connections or student learning outcomes.”

The research specifically called out message boards (where instructor presence and guidance was minimal) to be insufficiently interactive to engage students in a way that they found clear and useful. The consensus of their research was that “effective integration of interactive technologies is difficult to achieve, and as a result, few online courses use technology to its fullest potential.”

Another interesting look at web-based learning and interactivity is a 2013 study conducted by Dr. Kenneth J. Longmuir of UC Irvine. Motivated by the fact that most “computerized resources for medical education are passive learning activities,” Professor Longmuir created his own online modules designed for iPad (and other mobile devices). These three online modules replaced three of his classroom lectures on acid-base physiology for first-year medical students. Using a Department of Defense handbook as his guide for incorporating different levels of activity, Longmuir utilized text and images side-by-side and had an embedded question and answer format. From student comments, “The most frequent statement was that students appreciated the interactive nature of the online instruction.” In fact, 97% of surveyed students said it improved the learning experience. They reported that not only did the online material take a shorter time to master than in-person lectures, but the interactivity of the modules was the “most important aspect of the presentation.”

While Dr. Longmuir was reluctant to draw hard conclusions about this particular online course’s efficacy (due to variables in student procrastination, students skipping important material, etc.), there are a few clear points to be taken from both studies. For one, engaging, interactive content is the exception, not the rule, in today’s online learning environment. Both studies suggest the importance of interactivity in online learning—if not definitively in test results (though that’s a possibility), certainly in how students feel about their engagement with the material. This isn’t surprising since research is showing that lack of interactivity in traditional classrooms is detrimental, as well.

While the science behind producing effective online learning courses is still in development, the need for meaningful interactivity in new educational technology seems like a no-brainer. If we hope to teach our students to make that pizza, the most effective way is not to drown them in video clips and PDF files; we should create online learning experiences that mimic—or even improve upon—the interactivity and satisfaction that pounding the dough themselves would provide.

 

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