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, Students & Careers

From cave walls to computers: a brief history of learning

Old picture of filming of students watching someone teach

Since the mass adoption of formal education in schools across society, understanding around items such as class size, curriculum development, and teaching tools have advanced significantly, but the format in which content is delivered to students has barely evolved for thousands of years. The lecture-based approach to education has spread across civilizations, continents, and cultures. Let’s take a trip back in time and I’ll show you how we arrived where we are now.

Forty thousand years ago, carvings of rock walls were used as a vehicle for teaching, however it is not until 3100BC that with the rise of trade, government, and religion came the invention of writing, which brought both schooling and education as we know them today to the Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations. A few hundred years later, Plato founded The Academy in Athens, where the Socratic method dominated teaching. This method involved argumentative dialogue between individuals and was led by a teacher who was trusted with the responsibilities of guiding the conversation and instructing students about new concepts.

Fast forward into the Middle ages: monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church were the centers of education and professors were master lecturers. This eduction style permeated through subsequent ages and was slowly combined with different mechanisms and tools; in colonial times, students had to recite what the teacher preached aided by a Horn-Book (a wooden flat board with parchment on top that laid out a lesson). A few hundred years later, the Magic Lantern, one of the first projectors, was created and then two decades later, our beloved chalkboard!

Now let’s stop and think, what do all these lecture methods have in common? They’re boring! Have you ever been on the verge of falling asleep during a class? That’s because most lessons you’ve taken have probably been lecture-based where you’ve sat and listened passively to a teacher “preaching.” You’ve probably interacted through some sort of Socratic discussion, performed some rote-memorization, or have energetically taken notes of what a professor is writing. However, there seems to be a persistent problem, one that technology hasn’t managed to solve in centuries: lectures still predominate the way we learn.

One aspect of education that technology has revolutionized is the expansion of education beyond the elite few and to the masses. With commercial radio broadcasting in the 1920s also came on-air radio education, then television for education in the 1950s and videotapes in the 1970s. Finally, with the advent of the Internet, online education took off and by 2008, web technology was being used to create the first Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which taught learners through videos.

So if you think about it, the format of learning has not really changed, students still sit and watch or listen to a lecture, and still fall asleep, not actually learning as much as they possibly could. And let’s not even mention the lack of individualized attention that a pupil might need to actually improve through instant feedback. What if we combine both technology that allows for open access of quality education and change passive learning into active learning that is self-paced, adaptive, and provides instant feedback? That would be the real revolution! And that’s what we are doing here at Smartly.

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Careers, Company, Students & Careers

The Free MBA Has Landed

Astronauts landing on the moon overlooking The Earth

We’re excited to announce that Smartly’s groundbreaking free MBA program will open its doors to our first student cohort this week!

From the moment MBA applications opened earlier this year, we were overwhelmed by the positive response. Of the thousands of students who applied, we were only able to accept 7% to our first class. We plan to accept students to additional cohorts later this year. 

Our students hail from top undergraduate and graduate schools, drawing from diverse backgrounds spanning engineering and finance to humanities and the performing arts. Many have careers in business-oriented fields like consulting and banking, while others are entrepreneurs, lawyers, and even veterinarians. We have roboticists from Tesla and Amazon (the company), the founder of a tea company that gives revenue back to indigenous farmers in the Amazon (the jungle), and even a student who has beaten cancer twice!

The Smartly MBA is composed of 42 core courses equivalent to the subjects taught in a traditional MBA degree. Courses are organized into 9 concentrations, including Business Foundations, Accounting, Finance, Data & Decisions, Markets & Economies, Marketing & Pricing, Strategy & Innovation, Leadership & Management, and Supply Chain & Operations Management, with optional electives for further study.

Students who finish the program will receive an MBA licensed through the Washington, DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education. When they graduate, students will be matched with employers around the US, opening up job opportunities that make use of their newly-minted skills. 

We’re passionate about expanding access to impactful education here at Smartly, and we believe that a free, high-quality MBA is an important step in this journey. Thanks to all of our learners who have supported and inspired us in this endeavor. We can’t wait to show you what’s next!

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Students & Careers

I Turned Down a Top Business School

Business man holding a puppy

For years, I was convinced that gaining an MBA from a top business school would lead to guaranteed success and happiness.

After all, they take in ambitious, creative, entrepreneurial types and spit out brand new Masters of the Universe at the other end, all guaranteed to progress on to business success, right?! Cue the all too familiar gauntlet of GMAT tests, poring over school brochures and websites, campus visits, ‘meet-and-greets’, and the endless hours of application preparation and submission, each costing on average about $150. In total, I have easily spent in excess of $4,000 simply getting to the stage of hitting the ‘submit’ button on various applications.

I am a small animal veterinarian and I’m at the stage in my career, and life, where I am acutely aware of the question, “Where am I going next?” Not completely enamoured of the usual, predictable and ‘safe’ options, and, to be perfectly honest, somewhat disillusioned with much of my current profession, I looked towards an MBA as being the answer. I have entrepreneurial ambitions, specifically within the tech sector, and so it seemed logical that formal business training, with the plethora of additional advantages that attending a top school offers, was exactly what was called for. I know for a fact that I would find the experience of spending 1-2 years in a major seat of learning and culture with equally ambitious sorts from all corners of the globe a wonderful one indeed. And so it was that my journey to business school began.

Coming from a non-traditional ‘quantitative’ career such as veterinary medicine, I was keen to bolster my familiarity with the core MBA curriculum and came across the Smartly app. Instantly drawn into the simple, immersive, bite-sized, and beautifully presented lessons that had a fun, game-like feel I found myself a dedicated user, powering through all of the available lessons and eagerly awaiting any new material developed by the Pedago team. It was, therefore, an easy decision to put my hand in my pocket and pay for the service* when the full version went live. It was that good!

Fast forward to earlier this year: I finally had that which I had been fixated on for so long: an offer from a top school! So what I did next took a lot of thought…

I turned my acceptance down!

The principle reason for this huge decision was simply the prohibitively inflated cost of studying for an MBA, with my projected expense easily looking to be in the region of $120,000 once the $90,000 of tuition was added to reasonable living expenses. Whilst it is no secret what the cost of an MBA is when students apply, such numbers seem unreal until such time that you are staring at a loan agreement. ROI uncertainty and the realities of staggering debt to pursue my dream aside, I had to really ask myself if there was another way to obtain the same level of top MBA knowledge without bankrupting myself. Smartly once again came onto the scene offering a full MBA degree, with its clear curriculum, simple and intuitive interface and impressive catalogue of ever-expanding content. Oh, and it’s significantly more attractive price tag! With my application submitted I now eagerly await their decision on whether I shall be one of those admitted to their new online MBA.

*The Smartly MBA is now free for consumers, so feel free to apply today!

Author Info: Chris Queen is a small animal veterinarian living and working in Dubai and also a massive nerd, interested in the power of technology, including virtual and augmented reality, to revolutionize education. When he isn’t caring for pets or writing, he can be found running, swimming and cycling towards his next Ironman race or jumping from a perfectly good plane in the name of skydiving. Chris’ blog can be found at www.thenerdyvet.com and he can be found on Twitter at @thenerdyvet

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Companies & Universities

Corporate Training Programs: What Are They Really Worth?

Young man surfing in waves

Companies in the US spend over $160Bn a year training their employees, but, are they really getting their money’s worth? Probably not!

More often than not, corporate training involves disengaged minds. Throughout a typical absurdly long training video, employees often text, read the news or catch up on work, but rarely give the training their full undivided attention. You probably know it by now… your required compliance training material is profoundly boring and really doesn’t influence the workplace environment or improve employee productivity. As a learning or training manager you are looking to justify the thousands of dollars assigned to your attempts to educate your employees.

What about those skills that you actually want to see in action? How do you keep your employees from hampering their coworker’s productivity with questions they should know the answer to? Or avoid having your managers improvise trainings unsuccessfully? In order to increase your employees’ productivity and intellectual growth, you should encourage ongoing learning. It’s your duty to enable this through the right methods and channels. Here are a couple tips that will make education in the workplace more effective:

  1. Make ongoing learning part of your company culture. As an employee, it’s hard to keep up with work, exercise, family, and on top of that, education and skills development. When you make learning a priority for the company, employees will make it a priority too.
  2. Articulate to your employees that training is for their own personal development, not for the company. These are skills that will be with them going forward in your company or at any other.
  3. Allow them to learn on their own terms, be flexible about their time, schedules and preferences. Some people would rather learn on their commute to work, or in bed right before going to sleep. Let employees fit training into their schedules by setting expectations and deadlines, but not mandating how and when training should be consumed.
  4. Reward success. Track your employee’s performance and acknowledge their achievements.
  5. Make it quick, short and sweet. Employees can’t handle hours-long lectures or videos, especially when they can’t stop thinking about their to-do list.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong… 46% of training hours were delivered by an instructor in a brick-and-mortar classroom setting, and 90% of new skills are lost within the year. Maybe it’s time to start investing some of that $160Bn in better learning solutions. And yes, a lot of training is being done online nowadays, particularly compliance, but does online actually mean effective? Not necessarily, sitting back and watching a video online might as well be the same as sitting in a classroom and watching a lecture passively. The effectivity of learning both on and offline comes from the interaction with the material and concepts. So, if you want a combination of flexibility and effective learning, try an online, interactive tool!

1,2 Training Magazine, 2015 Training Industry Report. 2 Wall Street Journal, “So much training, so little show for it.”

 

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Companies & Universities

Sexual harassment in the workplace: A story of silence

Asian professional woman in the workplace

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.

Ellen M. Zavian, is a Sports Attorney and Professor at the George Washington University and teaches courses in Sports Law, Entrepreneurship and Leadership and Sports Marketing. She has written columns for Conde Nast, Time, USAToday and NFL Insider.

 

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