Meet our Newest Content Developer

John Riehl, one of Smartly’s newest content creators, is a former Air Force officer and current sailing instructor who knows a thing or two about computers.

John Riehl, one of Smartly’s newest content creators, is a former Air Force officer and current sailing instructor who knows a thing or two about computers. He’s writing a new computer science curriculum for Smartly, scheduled for release in 2018.

In this post, we catch up with John to learn what he’s working on and why he decided to join Smartly. Find out why he believes developers should go back to basics and what distinguishes the Smartly computer science curriculum from others on the market.

1. What’s your name, and where are you based?

John Riehl, and I’m based in Port Charlotte, Florida. It’s about 90 miles south of Tampa, on the Gulf Coast.

2. How long have you been writing for Smartly?

I started in August of 2017. I’m coming up on four months, so I’m still a newbie!

3. What’s your professional and educational background?

I graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BS in Computer Engineering in 1989. I went to school on an ROTC scholarship, so I went on active duty in the Air Force after graduation. I stayed in 26 years, working in a variety of jobs closely related to computer technology—but nothing actually hands-on in terms of building or programming computers. During my time in the Air Force I picked up a Master’s in Computer Engineering along with Master’s Degrees in Air and Space Studies and National Resource Management.

4. How and why did you start writing for Smartly?

After I retired from the Air Force I wanted to get back to my technical roots in computer science. I came across Smartly, and it seemed like the perfect fit—share my knowledge and with the next generation of IT professionals while working from home on a flexible schedule. I appreciated Smartly’s innovative approach to education and was (and am) excited to play a small part in equipping the workforce of tomorrow with the skills they’ll need to succeed.

5. What are some of the subjects that you’ve written about in Smartly?

I’m working on a new curriculum for Smartly—Computer Science. What’s interesting about the course is that we’re striking what I think is a great balance between theoretical underpinnings and practical application. There are a lot of online courses for computer programming, but most of them focus just on the practical aspects—how to arrange instructions in a particular programming language to get a program to run. When it comes time for the learner to expand in a new direction or handle a novel situation they’re not as well-equipped as they would be without some fundamentals under their belt. On the other end of the spectrum is a typical four-year computer science program, which builds an extensive theoretical foundation at the expense of time (and money) getting the student to market, as it were.

6. Why do you think it’s important for students to understand computer science?

It’s not an overstatement to say that IT has fundamentally changed the world we live in. Given its impact, it’s important for those involved with building IT capabilities to get things right. A programmer without the right fundamentals is like a chef who doesn’t know what his or her ingredients taste like. Both can follow a recipe and put something together, but the result might not be very good. In the case of computer programs, it could be very bad indeed. Here’s a story about how not knowing the fundamentals created an unintended result. Imagine if that counter had been for something related to scheduled maintenance on a nuclear reactor.

7. What’s the hardest concept you’ve had to communicate (so far), and what was it like to try and distill it for the Smartly platform?

In general, the toughest part for me has been figuring out what the right level of detail is for a concept. For example, when you talk about digital videos you can range from “a video is a series of still images” to “here are the technical details of each of the over 100 different video compression formats in use today.” Finding what the learner needs to know, narrowing the scope down to the most important elements, and presenting it in a way that doesn’t make it a rote memorization exercise is always a challenge.

8. What do you admire about Smartly learners?

It seems to me that Smartly learners are self-starters who are willing to break with convention to improve their knowledge and marketability. They could “play it safe” by getting the standard college degree. Instead, they see an opportunity to be part of a new approach. Those kinds of people will take that same spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship with them into the marketplace, making things better for all of us.

9. What do you do to keep your learners in mind?

I must confess that I’m still working on this. Too often I’ll assume that a concept is obvious—after all, it’s obvious to me! I rely extensively on the Smartly review process to identify when I’ve leapt too far. I do my best to keep the lessons interesting. Having taken many online courses myself, I’m well aware that it’s very easy to get distracted with email, Facebook, etc. if the material is dry.

10. Anything else you’d like to mention?

I can’t speak for other content developers, but one great side benefit for writing educational content is the learning I do along the way. The process of articulating concepts that I have in my mind forces me to think through them in greater detail than I did when initially learning them. There have been a few times when things I thought I knew turned out to be based on bad assumptions and mental short-cuts that I shouldn’t have been taking. Bottom line—the work is fun and fulfilling from a personal perspective, and rewarding from the perspective of doing something that will have greater benefits down the road.

To our pioneer class: Congratulations on your graduation, MBAs!

After comprehensive academic study, extensive case study discussions, and rigorous exams—they’ve done it.

After comprehensive academic study, extensive discourse in our case study discussions, and the completion of rigorous exams, they’ve done it—graduated from a new elite MBA program that’s the only mobile-first degree system.

Smartly’s MBA is aligned with curricula taught at the world’s most prestigious business schools, and our students are selected through an admission process modeled on those of top institutions. Graduates will enjoy the gains from their studies over a lifetime. Indeed, many already point to real world gains from the program.

We congratulate our pioneers on their accomplishment and wish them the very best in their endeavors! But enough of us and our excitement, let’s hear from our students themselves:

Smartly makes it easy for you to demystify the business world. It presents concepts and knowledge in ways that are applicable to any field and can help you have a greater understanding of the world around you. There is no reason not to use Smartly to better yourself. I can’t believe I went to two universities for undergraduate and graduate school, and never learned what Smartly offered.Erin Pellegrino (Cornell University ‘14, Harvard University ‘16, Smartly Summer ‘16)

Smartly’s flipped classroom model was accessible to me everywhere I went, even if I only had 10 minutes. The format engaged me more than most classes I’ve taken in person. I’ve had the chance to get to know amazing classmates, and I feel better equipped to tackle real-world problems with the knowledge I’ve gained.Sachin Doshi (Duke University ‘14, Smartly Summer ‘16)

Finding out about Smartly and deciding to apply is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had taken the GMAT, done really well on it, and been considering applying to MBA programs but was wary of the time commitment and the student debt involved. And because I’d started and failed with multiple startups in the past and trying once again with another startup as a stubborn entrepreneur, a traditional MBA was simply too difficult of a choice. Thanks to Smartly, on top of having a degree, I now understand many of the business mistakes I had made in the past, how to assess my own strengths, and can see where I can improve my chances for success as an entrepreneur. If only Smartly had existed before I’d started my other companies… but then perhaps I wouldn’t appreciate it as much.Raphael Mun (Carnegie Mellon ‘08, Smartly Summer ‘16)

This MBA will put you at the forefront of business innovation because that’s exactly what it will be to employers.Chance Carpenter (Stanford University ‘15, Smartly Summer ‘16)

The Smartly program is an excellent tool for learning the skills needed to excel in business without attending a traditional university. After just a few courses, I already felt more confident at work and had a better understanding of company operations and business development. I would highly recommend Smartly to anyone looking to improve their skills in finance, accounting, marketing and management.Jennifer Argote (Dartmouth ‘10, Smartly Summer ‘16)

As a single mother of a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, working a full-time job and a part-time job on the side, this program has made the impossible possible for me. I don’t currently have the time or the money to go back to school, but Smartly’s flexibility has allowed me to achieve this great accomplishment without having to compromise my employment or sacrifice time with my family.Aleisha Matlock (Northwestern ‘15, Smartly Summer ‘16)

I loved Smartly! As an undergraduate engineering major with very little business knowledge, I found the coursework to be straightforward and do a great job of teaching application of the concepts. I have already found myself applying my knowledge every day in my current job!Katie Ernst (Duke University ‘15, Smartly Summer ‘16)

Smartly is the future of education; fast, effective and mobile. If a traditional MBA doesn’t fit your lifestyle, give Smartly a look.Ian Lee (University of North Carolina ‘12, Smartly Summer ‘16, Carnegie Mellon University ‘17)

Smartly was an amazing experience! The platform’s ability to deliver content in bite-sized, case study-based, at-your-own-pace approach really helped me engage with the material and take a lot away from this program. I know I’ll put the skills I learned here to use on the job. All that and a debt burden of $0!Pavel Gurevich (UC Berkeley ‘10, Smartly Summer ‘16)

I loved the Smartly program and recommended it to all my friends. I have never experienced interactive learning the way the Smartly program provides. I was able to understand concepts without reading hundreds of textbook pages. Highly recommended this to anybody who has an interest in learning and wants to take their career to the next level!Lindsey Allard (Dartmouth College ‘14, Smartly Summer ‘16)

Smartly has given me the opportunity to not only work alongside incredibly talented classmates from around the country but also to solidify concepts in a tangible and meaningful way, wherever I am, all via smartphone. Thank you, Smartly!Brooke Gerstein (Cornell University ‘15, Smartly Summer ‘16)

Smartly is the Amazon Prime of MBAs. There’s no reason not to sign up for it. It’s free, the content is highly detailed and memorable, and you get to expand your network with people from top 10 schools. Coming from taking finance courses at Wharton, I found the content of the courses to be of similar caliber.Yash Jain (George Washington University ‘14, University of Pennsylvania ‘16, Smartly Summer ‘16)

Learn more about applying to Smartly’s MBA: https://smart.ly.
Learn more about hiring students from our program: https://smart.ly/hiring.

 

Statistics is music to our ears

Two Smartly content authors join forces to give you this sweeping ode to statistical correlation: The Correlation Song.

Here at Smartly, we’ve purposefully built a team of polymaths: our business knowledge and experience extend from corporate governance to market research to advanced statistics and beyond. Our educational backgrounds are equally broad: we’ve got a Ph.D. linguist and a Ph.D. mathematician cum classicist, a philosopher, a handful of historians, a quartet of computer science wizards—the list goes on. We even have a Ph.D. archeologist (Indiana Jones, anyone?).

So I guess it’s no surprise that our team’s other skills and interests also run the gamut: from marketing associate Karina’s expertise in fashion to co-founder Alexie’s mastery of Italian to content creator Ray’s homemade doll houses.

For Ellie and I (both members of the content team), our other skill is music: Ellie as a shredding bassist and gifted singer on the San Fran scene, and I as a Latin Grammy-nominated recording engineer and composer (hi, Mom!) based in LA.

Last week, we joined forces to give you this, The Correlation Song. Ellie, our top statistics author/editor, was so inspired by her love of stats that she wrote and sang this sweeping ode to correlation. I am honored to have simply helped bring the track to life. We hope you enjoy these warm—and educational!—vibes from the West Coast. And don’t hesitate to share this song with others: being social and being successful are strongly correlated.

P.S.—Make sure to check out our course Two-Variable Statistics, the inspiration for this dope cut.

An Interview with Michael Horn on the future of EdTech

Michael Horn, author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools talks about disruption in the EdTech space.

We are so excited to welcome Michael Horn, author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, and a force for positive and innovative change in the world of education, as an advisor for Pedago. We met with Michael a few weeks ago to talk about disruption in the EdTech space. Here’s what he had to say.

In your book, Blended, you explain how in-classroom learning can be melded with technology to create effective learning experiences; why do you think there was no one doing this until recently?

MH: Until just recently, education had been essentially the same since the printing press. There were the traditional teaching methods for the general populace, mixed with tutoring systems reserved for the elite and for those who had enough social capital.

Finally, disruptive technology—online learning—started to appear. When MOOCs arrived, people conceptualized the online learning movement as video tutorials—filmed, staged lessons. The disruptive innovation theory gave us a way to talk about this new movement more broadly, though, and see where it was going, which allowed us to realize that there, online learning represented a bigger moral opportunity and a chance to think about education in a truly novel way that could benefit all students. The theory gives us a framework to understand that we have the potential to use online learning to transform education in a massive way, beyond these filmed lessons, and create a personalized learning solution for every student at a cost we can afford.

What do you see in the near-term future for EdTech?

Video is just a small part of my vision for what the EdTech world has the potential to become. We need to move toward creating different modalities for different kinds of learning. Learning through games, virtual reality—these are great ideas, but they don’t work for every subject. We need solutions that can be customized based on the subject matter to facilitate active learning.

You talk a lot about disruption—how do you qualify disruption, and how do you see it playing out in the EdTech space?

One of the ways that we measure disruption is through asking the question: does your technology have a low-cost value proposition you can bring to market now, while still improving it over time to tackle more complex problems? There aren’t a ton of these on the market yet in the EdTech space.

Some might suggest that MOOCs are disruptive, but I would disagree. There’s a limit to the amount of dynamic education you can provide through MOOCs and video content because interaction between learners and educators is so limited.

Disruption starts by tackling simple problems, then moves up-market to tackle more difficult problems. That’s why there are so many companies tackling math right now—because it’s rules-based. It’s harder to address higher-end education. I’m excited to see what starts coming out of the EdTech space to tackle these harder concepts.

Last question—what’s one of your best learning experiences?

In all seriousness, my first time trying Smartly blew me away. But, if I have to choose something else, I’d have to say my class with Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School because he combined theory lessons with real-life applications using case studies, so the learning was very concrete.

Want to hear more from Michael? Stay tuned to Smarty’s blog or find Michael Horn on Twitter (@michaelbhorn)! Visit Smartly at https://smart.ly.

The Whole Foods Secret: A Longer Line with Shorter Wait Times

You’re waiting in the check-out line. It’s long. You question: Isn’t a multiple-line system more efficient?

Ask a random group of people about their pet peeves and you’re likely to hear at least one complaint related to waiting in line. No wonder: it can be boring and frustrating, and often seems unnecessary or unfair—think about the last time you waited longer at the supermarket than someone who arrived after you. Nevertheless, we spend quite a lot of time doing it; as much as a year or two of our lives, according to some estimates.

If you’re a business owner, you want to reduce the amount of time your patrons wait in line to a minimum. Like many businesses, you’re probably using a traditional multiple-line system, with several parallel lines that customers have to choose from. If these lines aren’t properly managed and involve a long and unpleasant wait, customers may renege on an intended purchase and even be discouraged from returning to your business. That could mean the loss of a lot of potential revenue.

So, what can you do? You can try a different line system, used by banks, post office branches, and some fast food restaurants: a single line that feeds into multiple cashiers. It’s also been adopted by major supermarket chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. What’s so great about this system?

A key advantage of having one line is that—despite the fact it is longer—the average wait time is often shorter. That’s because the single-line system doesn’t suffer from the inefficiencies that can plague multiple lines. In the multiple-line system, for example, customers may not notice that a checkout counter is open, leading to long delays. In addition, a single-line system seems fairer, since customers who arrive first are always served first.

Of course, there are also potential drawbacks to the single-line system. A single line, for instance, is wrongly perceived by customers as slower simply because it’s longer, which might deter some. And you need enough floor space for the long line you get with this system.

Not sure yet if you should use a single-line system? Figure out the actual wait times at your business before deciding, and learn about other ways to reduce wait times. This is just one small aspect of Smartly’s Operations Management Fundamentals course about how to make any business—large or small—run more efficiently.

To learn more about Operations Management Fundamentals and other ways to make your business more efficient, sign up here

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

Sometimes a meeting that ends in consensus isn’t a good thing! Here are tips to avoid bad decisions resulting from group pressure to conform.

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