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Why your side projects fail

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Why your side projects fail

Everyone in L&D is obsessed with innovation and leveraging new approaches to learning to get better results. In July’s Webinar we teamed up with Comcast’s Eric VanDerSluis to give you some ideas on how to get started reinventing learning content for the next-generation learners.

There is a lot of research out there on putting learners first. When you boil it down, it points to these three important changes going on in people’s learning habits.

1. From instructor-led to self-directed

The most important shift is from L&D-driven, instructor-led training to self-directed development. Degreed’s own research (which we’ve talked about before) says that the typical worker spends 4x to 5x more time learning on their own than from the training their employers provide.

What those people say works best are social learning (both from their teams and their networks), search and reading. Less than 20% of them think courses are essential for learning what they need to do their jobs or build their careers. That goes for courses they find on their own as well as the ones L&D teams build and buy for them (check out Jane Hart’s research here).

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2. From uniform to fragmented

When learners do choose their own learning, another big shift happens: They go from uniform, one-size-fits-all solutions (like LMSs, classes and courses) to a more fragmented, diverse mix. People may end up taking fewer classes and courses. But they replace or augment them with all those other things — like projects, search, articles, videos and conversations with other people.

Think about your own habits. You probably learn a little bit every day just from reading and working through problems with your colleagues. Occasionally, you go to an event (like this one) or watch a video. Every once in a while, you take a class or do a course online.

L&D organizations have to do more than just build, buy and deliver courses. You also need to invest in the content and systems and capabilities to leverage that whole ecosystem.

3. From sometimes to every day

The reason you need to invest your L&D resources differently now is that learning is not an occasional event anymore. People are still learning, they’re just doing it differently.

More than 70%, for example, told us they have learned something for their job from an article, a video or some other informal resource — like Google, Twitter, Quora or Flipboard — in the last 24 hours. People are increasingly empowered by apps like those to learn whatever they need whenever and wherever they want. As a result, the amount of stuff that people read has actually tripled since the 1980s.

You cannot fight that. And more enlightened, forward thinking employers aren’t trying to anymore. Instead, they are beginning to reinvent how they design and deliver learning experiences to empower and channel these new habits. You should, too.

Takeaway:

The big takeaway here is simple: Workplace learning needs to adapt. And sooner would be better. Because even though learners have already moved on, 70% of L&D is still instructor-led.

From evolution to a revolution

Most people in L&D seem to be understanding the need to adapt. The consultants and analysts and pundits do, and so does the industry media; CLO just published an article called “Learning Needs a Revolution”.

Everyone is finally talking about how L&D needs to innovate. That’s good. The trouble is, not enough organizations are actually doing it for real.

Innovations and Technology

Most people equate innovation with technology. Learning professionals have more technology at their disposal now than ever before. Pair that tech with the dozens of new kinds of solutions available for creating, curating, delivering and tracking all kinds of learning, and that’s a stacked toolkit.

It’s exciting to see so many people and organizations experimenting with, and adopting, these new tools.

Innovation takes more than shiny new toys

There’s some shiny new toy every year, though. 2015 is the year of micro-learning and gamification. 2014 was MOOCs and big data analytics. Before that, it was social learning and mobile. Next year, it’ll probably be wearables and xAPI.

Unfortunately, few of these new tools seem to make it past that experimental phase to become a core part of L&D. Mobile is a prime example. Even though 64% of the workforce uses smartphones now, barely a third of employers have any mobile learning program yet, only 19% of LMS shoppers say mobile is a primary consideration and only a tiny fraction of content is accessible on mobile devices.

That’s because technology and content are just tools. They don’t solve problems by themselves. That takes people.

Innovation demands new ways of thinking, working and managing

Yes, new technology and content are essential to making learning work better, faster and cheaper. But they are useless without new ways of learning require new ways of thinking, working and managing L&D, too.

1. Learning leaders need to manage innovation differently. Figuring out how to get the most out of new methods calls for new attitudes and approaches: Embracing diversity over efficiency, moving faster, making smaller bets, and accepting failure.

2. To spread those new approaches, you’ll probably need some new operating practices, too. Recruit for new kinds of skills. Try new team structures. Build more flexible, agile processes. Adjust your metrics and incentives.

Remember: You cannot create a new culture with the same old ways.

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3. L&D teams will also need to build some new capabilities. Explore new tools and technologies. Start experimenting with new methods. Figure out how to segment audiences and solutions. Learn to crowdsource and curate content. Do what learning people do best: Learn!

Takeaway:

L&D professionals have more tools in their toolkits now than ever before, but new technology and content are only part of the solution. If you want different results, you have to do something different.

Webinar_July-04

Comcast’s Chief Learning Officer, Martha Soehren, put that very elegantly.

 

For the full recording of July’s webinar and Eric’s story of how Comcast reinvented learning click here. For more on how Degreed can help you reinvent learning content to check us out here.

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I can excuse everything but boredom. Boring people don’t have to stay that way. -Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr embodied her words to the max. Hedy started her career as an actress in Vienna, Austria in the 1930’s. She later moved to Hollywood and subsequently became the epitome of glamor on the big screen. Her good looks earned her the moniker “the most beautiful woman in the world.”

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Inventive State of Mind

Though she was the standard of beauty at the time, Lamarr wasn’t content. She was a curious person and took an interest in—of all things—torpedo control systems. Her first husband, Friedrich Mandl, was a regular Tony Stark. He worked in weapons manufacturing and often brought Lamarr to his meetings where she absorbed a lot of the information and garnered a wealth of technical knowledge.

True to her words, Lamarr didn’t seem to let herself be bored. Hedy installed a drafting table in her house where she channeled her inner Edison. Two projects she was known to have worked on were an improved stoplight and a water-soluble tablet that would turn water into a carbonated soft drink. *Side note: I don’t know about you, but that tablet sounds pretty awesome. Buy a $.50 water at the movie theatre. Drop in the tablet. BAM! No more sneaking in 20oz bottles of Mtn Dew.

Anyway, Lamarr’s curiosity and desire to learn would lead to a pretty significant invention.

Secret Communication System

The inventive gears really started turning when Lamarr became friends with composer/musician, George Antheil, in 1941. The two made a rather peculiar scientific duo. They hit it off immediately. Their curiosities and ideas flowed seamlessly together and they secured a patent for what they coined a “Secret Communication System.”

Initially Lamarr and Anthiel wanted to the system to be able to protect radio-controlled torpedoes in WWII. The system would change the frequencies guiding the torpedo thus making it impossible for the enemy to jam the trajectory. However, Anthiel and Lamarr’s invention was never used in WWII because the technology to implement it was lacking at the time.

It would be twenty years before Lamarr’s idea was really put to good use. The first most notable use of the Secret Communication System was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Ships in the naval blockade used the technology to communicate without being compromised.
 
Thanks, Hedy

The idea behind the Secret Communication System—frequency hopping—is the grandfather to what we call spread spectrum today. Spread spectrum is what is used to allow secure cellular communication.

Lamarr’s idea was so groundbreaking that more patents have piggy backed off of the idea. Many of today’s technologies including GPS and Bluetooth are possible because of frequency hopping. So next time you get in your car and connect Pandora to your Bluetooth audio, you can thank Hedy Lamarr for that.

 

You just learned about history, technology, and inventions. Track that learning on Degreed. Tweet Braden your thoughts on this article and other interesting inventions you know of.

Define a Rebel?

The word rebel often has a negative connotation. It might bring to memory those years when you were a “rebellious” teenager. “Sorry, mom. My tongue is already pierced. Nothing you can do about it now.” What about the bigger picture; rebelling against evil or oppression? Many of the most influential people in history were considered rebels: they stood strong in the face of their enemies. Aung San Suu Kyi is one of those people.

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original photo via wcleadership.com

Fighting for Burma

I happened upon Suu Kyi’s story while reading through a list written by TIME titled, 16 of history’s most rebellious women. Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest in Burma after she spoke up against the brutal killings of protestors by dictator U Ne Win. Aung started a nonviolent movement for democracy and human rights.  She became a source of hope for the Burmese people as she led efforts to establish peace.

Suu Kyi had a very fortunate upbringing. She spent most of her adult life outside of Burma where she graduated from Oxford University and married and had children. However, when her mother fell ill in 1988, she returned to Burma to care for her.

During her stay, the militant government killed thousands of students, monks and other civilians who were on the verge of a massive uprising. In response, Suu Kyi rebelled against the corrupt government rules and established a new democratic party, the National League for Democracy. The NLD ran against the militants and won by a landslide, but Suu Kyi was never put into office. The militants refused it. Instead, they put her under house arrest.

Freedom or Death

While under house arrest, the militant government offered Suu Kyi the chance to go free. The catch? She had to leave Burma. I found it fascinating how eerily similar Suu Kyi’s story is to Socrates’.

Socrates is considered to be one of the fathers of Philosophy. However, in 399 B.C., he was imprisoned and sentenced to death because the government took issue with his philosophies. During his imprisonment, he was given the opportunity to go free. The catch? He had to quit philosophy. Socrates refused. To him, life without philosophy was meaningless. He believed death was superior to living a meaningless existence.

 

Like Socrates, Suu Kyi opted not to go free. She would rather suffer through a prolonged and unfair prison sentence than go free and give up the fight for the people of Burma.

Suu Kyi was released in 2010. However, while she was imprisoned, the militant government drafted a constitution that basically forbids her from ever becoming president. As you might expect, that hasn’t deterred her at all. She is still fighting for change today.

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“I think by now I have made it fairly clear that I am not very happy with the word ‘hope.’ I don’t believe in people just hoping. We work for what we want.”

–Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

The Catch

I had an interesting thought come to mind as I pondered the story of Suu Kyi. Does our freedom have a catch? It’s not likely any of us will ever find ourselves in the situation Socrates and Suu Kyi were in. However, we are offered freedom from our struggles—with a catch—every day. Let me explain.

Your Fight

How often do you waste your free time mindlessly swiping through Tinder or taking the latest Buzzfeed quiz? Admittedly, I’m as guilty of this as the next millennial no matter how much I hate to say it. I value my future, and I have plenty of productive things that I believe in that I could be doing with my time, but I repeatedly take the road of least resistance—freedom from struggle if you will—and waste away my time. I can take my freedom and be comfortable, or I can forgo that comfort and put in the hard work necessary to bring more meaning into my life (check out Viktor Frankl’s thoughts on that).

If you don’t want to live in a comfortable state of complacency, you have to rebel against it.

 

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Anything that takes time and energy away from your goals is the enemy. If you remember back to my opening paragraph, many of the most influential people from history rebelled against an enemy. If it worked for them, it will work for you. Rebel against wasting time or doing what’s easy.

Find whatever it is that is stopping you from becoming who you want to become and rebel against that. Try devoting a little more of your time online to learning from quality posts and videos as opposed to liking all the cat GIFs on Tumblr. Or if you’re really brave, take a social media sabbatical until you finish that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand. I promise you won’t regret it.

Let me know how it goes. I’m interested in what you have to say. Leave a comment on this post, shoot me a tweet @bradensthompson, or start tracking your progress on Degreed.com.

 

Isaac Simpson is a Salesforce Build an App scholarship winner for the month of April. Isaac answered some of our most burning questions for our Scholarship Winner Spotlight-

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I have ever received was “it never hurts to try.” Even if you might not succeed, you should at the least try. Because, if you don’t try, you will never be successful. Many people never accomplish anything because they are afraid of failing. You are guaranteed to fail if you never try. So, if you have a goal that you want to accomplish, try regardless of how low your chances of success are because you might succeed.

Speaking of trying, what’s one goal you want to accomplish in the next year?

One of my goals that I want to accomplish next year is to maintain my 4.0 GPA. I want to keep a high GPA for several reasons. The main reason being the fact that I have to work hard at bettering myself to ace all of my classes, and I will have to study enough so that I thoroughly know the subjects of my classes. Furthermore, it is always feels rewarding to succeed.

How will this scholarship help you accomplish your goals?

College is expensive and so it takes a lot of time and hard work just to pay for my classes. I am very grateful for this scholarship because it will help me to earn my Bachelor’s degree by allowing me to spend more of my time focusing on my education, rather than on how I will pay for it.

What’s one thing you can teach others?

If you want to be successful, start working!

What would you like to become an expert in?

I would love to become an expert in Software Engineering.

Congratulations to Isaac for winning the scholarship. Chances are you could use some extra cash to learn too? Apply for the Salesforce Build an App Scholarship– like Isaac said, ‘it never hurts to try’.

Casey Collins of Monroe, Ohio is the featured winner of the Salesforce Build an App Scholarship for the month of May. We asked Casey to tell us a little more about himself and his goals for this winner’s spotlight.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“The best advice I’ve ever received is to always do more than what is expected of you. Whether it’s at work, school or any other area. Going the extra mile is a small way you can pay forward any kindness you’ve been shown in your life to others.”

What’s one goal you want to accomplish in the next year?

“In the next year, a goal I want to accomplish is to to reduce my mile time. This scholarship will help me achieve my goals through giving me the opportunity to continue my education at Miami University of Ohio.”

What’s one thing you can teach others?

“I can teach others the power of the 3 p’s – pleasant attitude, patience, and perseverance!”

What would you like to become an expert in?

“I’d love to become an expert in public speaking. My goal is to work in an environment where I’d be able to present often, and I’d love to do so in an effective and captivating way.”

 

Congratulations for Casey on the scholarship. Chances are you could use some extra cash to learn too! Check out our scholarship opportunities and apply here.

Information overload is a real problem for many Internet users. Daily sifting through websites, emails, news feeds and social media can be overwhelming, especially when a lot of time is wasted filtering out the junk. So whenever we decide to search online for a particular thing, we’d like to be able to cut the extraneous noise and exert as much control as possible. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the skills needed to perform powerful online searches, and thus rely on results that often barely skim the surface of available resources.

If you want to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your search skills, here’s a quick and easy guide on how to find just about anything online.

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Master Google’s Advanced Search Features

If you’re not sure how to use Google search operators to produce targeted search results, you should pause for a moment and download this handy Power Searching With Google reference guide. Follow the tips and you’ll dramatically reduce the number of irrelevant sources you review, and increase your chances of finding quality data. One of my favorite techniques lets you limit your search to a specific type of file. For instance, if you use the format:

[filetype:.pdf]

the search will return only PDFs. So let’s say you’re trying to find financial information about a company. Using this search operator can significantly narrow and improve your search, since many financial documents, such as tax returns, are often stored online as PDFs.

Google also offers powerful filtering options that allow you to further customize your searches. Another option is the Advanced Search interface, which has a lot of these features built in. And if you truly want to become a Google search Jedi, take Google’s Advanced Power Searching class for free online.

 

Know Where to Get Free Data

There will be times when the information you’re looking for can’t be uncovered through a Google search. In fact, the majority of data on the Web is stored in databases that can only be accessed through customized search interfaces or specific queries. Some of this data is locked behind pay walls or sites that require registration and login, but a lot of it is open and free to use. Here are some tips and resources to help you find this kind of data.

  • Delve into all of the free government datasets that are available online. You might be surprised by the vast array of public data that has been collected at the Federal, State and Local level. Gov and Census.Gov are good places to start if you’re new to this and want an idea of the kind of information that’s available. The Sunlight Foundation is another good source for free government data and research tools.
  • Peruse huge public data sets from groups like Freebase, Socrata, Data Hub, Knoema and Amazon Web Services. In addition to the information you find there, you’ll be exposed to other networks of datasets, and eventually gain a feel for where to find particular types of info when you need it. Buzzfile is another good site to check out. It provides comprehensive business information and allows you to build lists.
  • Start thinking of social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn as massive databases that can be mined for info unique to their respective platforms. There’s a lot of data from these sites that might be missing from your usual Google search results. For Facebook search tips, check out this tutorial. For advanced LinkedIn search tips, read this.
  • Sign up for newsletters that provide updates when new data and resources become available. A couple of my favorite providers of this info are ResearchBuzz and beSpacific.
  • Bookmark lists of free data for future use. Here are a few to get you started:

 

Deep Web Research and Discovery Resources

30 Datasets and Public Information

Comprehensive List of Open Data Portals from Around the World

Legal Resources

19 Sources for Consumer Research Data

122 Data Sources

 

See What the Academics Are Up To

Nowadays it’s fairly common to find summaries of scholarly articles on blogs and news sites. Nevertheless, most academic research remains hidden from general web searches. If you truly want to dig deep with your online search, you’ll need to know how to tap into these sources.

The first place you should visit is Google Scholar. This freely accessible search engine allows you to search for physical or digital copies of scholarly books, articles, court opinions, dissertations, and more. If you find a particular scholar who’s an expert in what you’re researching, you can explore all of their related research. You can also track a particular topic and receive email alerts when there are new developments in the field. Google Scholar offers several other search tools, so there are plenty of options for customization.

If you’ve identified a professor as an expert on your research topic, you can also look up their University faculty profile for more info. Sometimes professors will post PDFs of their published articles that are otherwise stored behind pay walls in the journals where they originally appeared.

 

Ask for Help

Let’s say you’ve identified a professor or some other expert on a topic for which you can’t find much data. What’s stopping you from emailing the person with your questions? Or picking up a phone and calling? I’ve done this multiple times, and it’s resulted in the exchange of datasets, articles, tips and interesting discussions. If you’re ever stuck, or would like to go deeper in your research, it’s worth trying. Local and university librarians are another great source for info, and they’re usually willing to help as much as they can. In particular I’ve had success contacting librarians on twitter.

You can also try the new personal research service Wonder. Just type in a question and a team of experienced researchers will send you 5-7 links and a summary answering your question. I’ve been a user for two months and am impressed with the customized research I receive.

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Experiment with free research tools

Developers are constantly coming up with clever tools to help users find information online. Keep a lookout and try the tools you find most interesting. Here are a few I’ve been experimenting with lately:

Proper Channel – Web application that allows people to collaborate on finding the most efficient way to navigate bureaucracy. Provides access to thousands of instructional flowcharts.

Atlas – New platform for discovering and sharing interactive charts. Powered by Quartz. One great feature is that users can download the data behind the charts.

Import.io – Tool that lets anyone, regardless of technical ability, to extract structured data from any website using extractors, crawlers and connectors.

Quandl – Platform that hosts data from hundreds of publishers on a single website, and provides tools that make it easy for users to get data in their preferred format. Their mission is pretty lofty: “to make all the numerical data in the world available” on their website.

Degreed – Online community of learners with platform that allows you to track, organize, share and validate everything you learn. Degreed also provides the Web’s most comprehensive list of free places to learn, so no matter what you’re searching for, you’re almost certain to find a way to learn more about your topic.

 

You can find Jedd McFatter on Twitter. Click the links below to tell us what tools you use to find the best content on the web!

You just learned about research and technology- get credit for it on Degreed.

 

Failed Side Projects

Tell me if this story sounds familiar to you: After four years at a grueling consulting job, Josh decided he was ready to go to business school. In order to gain access to a top 10 business school as he was hoping to do, Josh believed he would need to score a 680 on the GMAT. Though he only scored a 630 on his initial practice GMAT, Josh believed he could improve that score by 50 points or more if he would put in two hours of studying every day after work for three months.

Josh started with the momentum of a boulder rolling down hill. He immediately drove down to Barnes and Noble, bought three $30 GMAT prep books, and studied like a madman for the next three days. However, on the fourth day, Josh had a particularly hard day of work. He cracked open his books, but checked his texts a little intermittently. The next day he checked his texts almost as much as he looked at his textbooks. A month later, studying for the GMAT was little more than a distant memory.

I have seen this pattern repeat itself with a number of side projects: New business ventures that are supposed to be someone’s big break fail to even get a business license. A corporate analyst who is going to learn to code so he can strike out and create his own app barely gets past “Hello, world.” A friend who decides to learn Spanish fails to so much as learn the finer points of “hola.” If you have ever been in one of these situations, welcome to the club. I’ve been a part of at least five, and most people I know have dabbled in at least one.

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Why LeBron Doesn’t Run Marathons

Here’s the good news: You are not an inherent failure. Rather, you have designed your life so as to create the perfect storm of bad circumstances for side project productivity, leading to near certain failure. You have scheduled your day to make it nearly impossible to focus on your passion project. Congratulations!

Recent research has demonstrated that focus works similar to a muscle. If you use it too hard for too long then it gets exhausted and no longer functions properly. In one study, participants were asked to hold their hand in ice water for as long as they could. The catch was that some of the participants had previously been asked to sit through a tearjerker movie without showing emotion. Those who had to use their will-power to hold in their emotions were not able to hold their hand in ice water for as long, demonstrating focus fatigue.

Unless you work as a politician, you are generally expected to exert some mental energy and focus when you are at work. As the day goes on, your focus muscle gets more and more fatigued. When you arrive home from work, you are at a level of peak fatigue.

Trying to go home and start a new business or learn a new skill is the equivalent of LeBron James going home from a full day of basketball practice and deciding he’s going to train for a marathon. Maybe he could get away with it for a day or two based on sheer determination and motivation but eventually his body is going to say “No thanks, buddy. I’m going to sit this one out.”

 

Learning Vacations and “Vegged-Out Learning”

I am not telling you to despair of learning something new. In fact, quite the opposite! But it’s important to organize your learning in such a way that will allow you to avoid focus fatigue. There are two main tactics for accomplishing this: Dedicated learning times that I like to call “Learning Vacations” and focus-neutral learning sessions that we will refer to as “Vegged-Out Learning.”

I’ll give you an example of a learning vacation. At my current job, we are encouraged (i.e. required) to complete an online Market Research Certification course. For a couple months I tried to study for an hour or two here and there after work. I almost always lost focus and floundered. A more experienced co-worker who had completed the course years previously gave me good advice. “I tried studying after work for a while. It’s not efficient. Just take three Saturdays, study the whole day those three days and knock it out.” I took three Saturdays and set them apart as my learning vacation days. That’s all it took to complete the whole course.

If the idea of learning vacations is you set up time when you will have full focus energy, then the idea of vegged-out learning is to not use any energy at all. One very simple example: I learned to speak Spanish fluently eight years ago. Recently I noticed it was getting a little rusty, and decided I wanted to sharpen my Spanish skills. So I went into Netflix, changed my account settings to Spanish, and upped my Netflix usage a little.

There are now many programs and courses that use gamification to keep learning fun and therefore focus-neutral. The guy from the beginning who was studying for the GMAT, Josh? Eventually he decided that he actually liked the challenge of taking practice GMAT’s, it was just the subject learning that was unenjoyable. So he changed his studying method to be 90% taking practice tests. While not truly focus-neutral, this placed a much needed reduction on the amount of will-power he had to spend on studying. He ended up improving his score by exactly 50 points and getting into the business school of his choice.

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Putting It All Together

If you would like to finally get to the finish line in learning a new skill, then a combination of learning vacations and vegged-out learning will probably be necessary. Both have their drawbacks: You cannot rely solely on learning vacations because you don’t have the time, and vegged-out learning is best for reinforcing previously learned skills and is not ideally suited for the initial take-off of learning about something you previously knew nothing about.

Here’s an example of how you could structure your life to take advantage of both these techniques to learn a new skill. For this example, we’ll assume that the skill you would like to learn is to speak French.

First, set up mini-learning vacations by buying beginning French textbooks or online courses and setting aside six hours on eight consecutive Saturdays to teach yourself the basics. Plan a two-week vacation to France to occur at the end of those eight weeks. Make sure it includes activities that will force you to speak French. Insist on ordering your baguette every morning in French. Plan to put yourself in situations where you will be able to make friends. Add those friends on Facebook and Instagram.

Once you have the basic French skills that you learned from your learning vacationing, reinforce and build on that with vegged-out learning. Of all the time you spend on social media (it’s a lot, don’t lie to me), shift 25% of it to French. Follow French celebrities, politicians, or athletes on Twitter. Connect with the friends you made in France on Facebook. Get lost in French YouTube videos, not language learning videos, but discover French music and comedians and whatever else it is you already like (French cat videos, maybe?).

By using eight weekends, a two week vacation, and a portion of the time that you already spend on the internet, you can learn a new language.

If you want to get over that hump and finally make progress on a new skill or project, it’s time to stop working so hard, and start working smart.

You can find Ben on Twitter.

All learning matters. Get credit for reading this article and track all your progress with learning vacations and vegged out learning on Degreed. Click the links below to share these tips on finally succeeding at side projects.

Innovation is a lot like learning. It works best when you do a little bit every day. Here’s some inspiration.

Image: Guitar Center

Image: Guitar Center

 

The Challenge:

After opening 80 new stores in three years, Guitar Center decided that its old way of training – “paper manuals and campfire stories” – wasn’t getting (or keeping) its 12,000 people up-to-speed fast or consistently enough. But as they looked to automate and standardize learning, the company’s L&D leaders worried that conventional training might struggle to connect with store managers and retail staff. As Guitar Center’s Director of eLearning, Chris Salles, put it, “they’re into music, guitars, gear and the rock & roll lifestyle. It can be a challenge to engage them in career development and learning.

 

The Innovation:

Guitar Center began modernizing its training like many other companies — with an LMS and a catalog of e-learning courses. Over time, however, the company’s leaders realized they needed something different. “Outside of the things we were forcing people to take as a requirement,” Salles said, “we weren’t getting a lot of action on our learning site.” Shifting from long-form courses to shorter, more bite-sized ones was a quick, simple win. Yet, Salles acknowledged, the company was still “spending 90% of our learning dollars on 10% of how people actually learn,” a reference to the 70-20-10 model.

In 2013, the company decided to pursue a more enlightened approach, emphasizing informal learning as much as formal training. As Salles described it, “we really were looking to connect with employees in ways in which they want to learn.”  So he and his team started to invest more of their time and budget into tools to facilitate and leverage collaborative learning on-the-job — things like user-generated videos, virtual meetings, online discussions, blogs and simulated practice exercises with live feedback from managers (not to mention a new mobile-ready, cloud-based learning system).

 

The Impact:

Guitar Center started to see results within the first year. Time spent on the company’s learning platform has grown to record levels. More importantly, sales metrics and employee retention have both increased. And Salles says the collaborative approach, enabled by Guitar Center’s new systems, is getting new hires up-to-speed faster and helping all of the retailer’s staff to connect better with customers. That, he says, is “the type of thing we would never be able to put into a formal learning process.”

 

The Takeaways:

Here are three things you can learn from Guitar Center’s new approach to L&D:

  • Connect with learners by re-focusing L&D on how people really learn in your organization. But start by linking your infrastructure and programs to critical business priorities.

 

Your Turn:

Guitar center is not a Degreed client, but we love how Guitar Center’s L&D leaders put learners first. We applaud their agility in changing course. And we admire their grit in reinventing how learning works for their workforce. How is your L&D organization innovating?
Degreed is a new continuous learning platform that can help you put learners first and leverage the entire learning ecosystem. Click here to start making the shift.

Employees are looking beyond what their Learning & Development (L&D) departments have to offer. And they’re choosing to learn in different ways from a much more diverse range of sources. Here’s the upside for you, though: Leveraging new forms and sources of content can make L&D more effective, not to mention more engaging.

Can you hear your workforce? They’re screaming for more diverse options. Truth is, we all learn through a constantly changing, increasingly diverse and incredibly fragmented mix of content, feedback, and experiences – both planned and ad-hoc. So you can better engage learners (and drive performance in the process) by leveraging the entire learning ecosystem to give them more diverse options.

The way to start is to think differently about how you define learning. Most people don’t; over 70% of employer-provided development is still formal, instructor-led training (according to ATD’s latest numbers). L&D is still stuck on classes and courses. Sure, more flexible virtual classes, online courses, and MOOCs are all great steps toward making courses more accessible, but they are not enough.

Here’s why: Fewer than 25% of people have completed a course of any kind in the last 2 years – not at college, not online, and not professionally. However, more than 70% of those same people say they have learned something for their job from an article, a video, or a book in the last 24 hours.

What does that tell you? People like to pick and choose different kinds of content to meet different kinds of learning needs. Even though innovative new forms of content like micro-learning, on-demand videos and gamification are more in tune with people’s habits now, simply swapping long-form courses for those snacks, fun and games still misses the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that learning at (and for) work is not an ‘either/or’ proposition. Learning and development are not only formal or only informal; they’re both. We all learn through a constantly shifting mix of planned, scheduled, formal training along with regular doses of ad-hoc on-demand, social and on-the-job learning.

The thing is, a massive chunk of what we learn is informal – it’s through the books, articles, and videos we consume every day, and the context in which we apply them through work and our interactions with our peers, customers and managers. That means many L&D teams probably ought to think about rebalancing their own mixes.

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Here’s how you can get started and engage learners:

First, give your learners more diverse options – and not just a variety of instructor-led or e-learning courses.

Second, increase engagement by building a learning culture that really values informal learning.

Third (and this is a vital step), engage learners by opening up the line of sight into all that informal learning.

How would it change the learning environment if  your employees could see what their peers were learning about, consume that same content and easily share it with others on their teams? How would it change the learning environment if you and managers within your organization had a line of sight into all the learning employees were really doing? It would probably help you make better, smarter, more targeted investments in learning programs. It would certainly give you more insight into the problems employees are trying to solve.

Odds are, your learners are already going outside of L&D to learn on their own time (and maybe even on their own dime). And if you’re not measuring and valuing informal learning, then you’re missing a big piece of the picture. Learning cultures thrive when employees are given diverse options, shown that all their learning is valued, and empowered to consume and share learning whenever they need, however they want.

Degreed can help you offer more diverse options and empower you and your learners to leverage the entire learning ecosystem. Let’s get started!

Harriet Tubman was a champion of the Underground Railroad. As a “conductor” on the Railroad, she led roughly 13 trips to rescue family and friends. Born into slavery in Maryland in the 1820’s, Harriet endured more than twenty years as a slave. In 1849 she decided to attempt an escape, and took off with two of her brothers, but on the way the boys got cold feet and returned to the plantation. Determined to make it to freedom, Harriet continued on and eventually arrived in the free state of Pennsylvania.

Finally free after years of slavery, Harriet had a difficult choice to make: stay free and start a new life, or risk losing it all by going back to save her family and friends. Harriet bravely chose the latter.

“…there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home, after all, was down in Maryland, because my father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were there. But I was free, and they should be free.” -Harriet Tubman

The Fugitive Slave Law—which passed a year after Harriet escaped—made rescuing the people she loved in Maryland a little more difficult. The new law made freedom harder to find because it required law enforcement in the northern states to capture and return escaped slaves to the south. Harriet wasn’t about to let the law stop her, she decided to extend the escape route all the way up to Canada, where the law didn’t apply.

A Firm Yet Loving Leader
Harriet Tubman lacked any kind of formal education. She couldn’t write, and she wasn’t the most eloquent speaker- but when it came to leadership and ingenuity, Harriet was one of the best in the business.

Harriet knew what needed to be done and executed with precision even if it meant pulling a gun on her own people.

Harriet-Tubman_640x200“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” -Harriet Tubman 

Harriet carried a pistol on all her trips. The pistol served as protection, but it was also used it to motivate the slaves. On the long, uncertain journey from Maryland to Canada, some of the escaped slaves would become distraught. On the Underground Railroad they barely slept, and they never knew whom they could trust or when their next warm meal would be. If the uncertainty became too much and a slave threatened to turn back, Harriet was forced to pull out the gun and keep them going.

If someone left the group, they would certainly be coerced to give away the people and the safe houses that supported the Underground Railroad. A defector could crumble the whole operation and put many good people into dangerous situations. Harriet was not going to let that happen.

On the other hand, Harriet also understood the importance of being a source of inspiration to the slaves she was guiding. She would tell stories to make them laugh or to remind them of their past difficulties as a slave to keep them focused on finding freedom. She knew the importance of giving the people hope. Even when something didn’t seem right or when she was navigating through unknown territory, Harriet always made an effort to hide her fear or concern. She would never have saved as many people as she did had she not calmed her fears and led with confidence.

A Well-Oiled Machine
Harriet Tubman concocted perfectly orchestrated escape plans. She would mimic bird sounds or sing songs at varying tempos to let slaves know if it was safe to escape out of their cabins at night. She eventually learned that Saturday night was prime time to lead escapes because print shops were not open on Sundays. That meant that even though slave owners knew the slaves had escaped, they couldn’t get the word out until Monday when the reward posters could be printed and distributed.

Harriet was a brilliant leader who was the perfect combination of firmness and love. Though uneducated, her dedication to freeing her friends and family forced her to acquire a specific and valuable set of skills. Ultimately those skills, combined with her leadership qualities, brought about the freedom of roughly 70 slaves via the Underground Railroad. In addition to saving slaves, when the Civil War broke out, Harriet jumped right in as a spy for the Union army. One of her greatest achievements in the war was aiding in the rescue of 700 slaves from South Carolina. Harriet dedicated her life to helping people, and fought to save others until the day she died.

We can all take a page from Harriet Tubman’s book. Whether we want to be a better, more loving friend and family member or a more effective leader, Harriet’s story is one worth digging into a little bit deeper to discover a great example of dedication, leadership, and success.

What are your thoughts on leadership style? What works best for you? Leave a comment below and tell us! You can find Braden on Twitter.

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