The Case for Decentralized Connected Learning (Part 1: Teaching & Learning Without Regulation?)

Group of people ziplining

Since the future of learning is a hot topic these days (it’s about time), I wanted to write a personal and community development perspective about some of the positive side effects that have been documented by individual adult participants in communities who have created or used systems to connect informally to learn from each other.

 

However, as I started to write, it became evident that I couldn’t get far without addressing the elephant in the room that is credentialing.

 

This is not a commentary on institutions or traditional learning, and should not be looked at in “either, or” terms.  Rather, the focus is on “why not?”, and looking at the positive benefits of encouraging institutional education, while also encouraging people to access each other as individuals to obtain skills and knowledge for  personal growth and take learning into their own hands.

 

When we started the Learning Referral NGO, we got some pushback about credentialing.  At one of our forums, someone even said, “People can’t just teach and learn from each other without regulation.  My mother is a teacher!”  I found this ironic, since teaching is the very behavior we were trying to promote.  However, I also understood that the idea of teaching and learning taking place without certification might be a foreign concept to those who only think of the word “teacher” in the context of classroom management or formal education.

 

While I am quick to agree that I would prefer certified training before a doctor opens me up for heart surgery or before an attorney represents me in a court of law, I also believe that, as a student or learner, there are many instances where I am capable of assessing whether or not I have benefited from a class, course, or private instruction in which I have participated.  I’m also sure I’m not the only one who has ever received a certificate that I would have given back in return for the cash I paid.  So in the case where learners and students are looking for results rather than a badge or degree, above all else, shouldn’t their perception of those results matter?

 

Rather than arguing whether credentials are always necessary, what if we focused on whether learner feedback is helpful—not just for other prospective learners, but also for the instructor?  It’s worth arguing whether evaluation should be based solely on the perception of the participants, but it may be worth arguing whether it should be based solely on certificates and credentialing as well.  They are both simply indicators of knowledge received, the results of which are then measured in multiple ways dependent on many variables.

 

 

I have also heard the argument that learning without credentials is a “waste of time,” as if the lack of a credential somehow makes the skill less actionable. Learning can be actionable or not actionable depending on what you do with the knowledge afterwards. So if knowledge is power, is it a waste of time to be empowered simply because the result didn’t come with a badge?

In many cases, we are told that the end result of the credential is more important than the knowledge itself. For instance, we often hear the statement “studies show people are twice as likely to earn more money if they have a credential or degree. This statistic sounds true enough until you look at it in context. If you consider the demographics of US college students before they attend, you see the majority were already twice as likely to earn more money because most of them started with more resources, which was how they got into college in the first place.  It’s a lot like saying, “studies show people who have money worry less,” and using it as a selling point.

 

Regardless of whether statements like these are true or simply made by those who have a vested interest, it’s hard to argue that credentials have not traditionally been a means for perpetuating inequity (ie: mostly available to those who can afford them).

 

 

The point here is not that credentials can’t have value, but wouldn’t it be empowering for everyone at all income levels if we knew who around us at any given time possessed the expertise we needed and was willing and able to help us learn?  What would happen if this were the case in every community, city, country, or even the world?  That’s the question a couple of college students asked in Chicago in 1971, and the answer they found is as relevant today as it was then.

 

“The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.”

    — “Deschooling Society” by Ivan Illich 1971

 

Read part 2 The Case for Decentralized Connected Learning (Part 2: The Learning Exchange).

 

Contact us to volunteer or Donate and help the LRNGO worldwide directory become a community.

 

Photo Credit: U.S. Army

We Are ALL In the Education Business

In the late 90′s, I finally got my first cellphone. I fought it for years.
Learn to Swim from Peers

Photo Credit: Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig

The idea that I would be on the phone during my quiet time or drive time talking (and probably working) did not appeal to me in the least. Sure there were social benefits, but I wanted time to recharge, unplug, meditate, and collect my thoughts.  In short, I wanted down time.  Fast forward to 2014.

Now, it would be almost impossible to live without this device.  Why is that? (Long live down time, rest in peace.)

Ask yourself: have you ever gone a day without your smartphone or mobile device?  If you unplugged from the net and social media, how long would you last–two days perhaps, a week?

Let’s make this a multiple choice question.

With no mobile device, would you feel:

A. Isolated
B. Uninformed
C. Vulnerable
D. All of the above

For many, the answer is D.

In the end, I needed a cellphone because I couldn’t wait to know things any more.  I needed to reach people wherever I was, at times to keep in touch for social reasons, but more often to get things done or grab a quick update from someone to assess and learn what needed to be done next.

As I write this blog, I’m finding it interesting that there are some keywords I just can’t avoid.  This is not for SEO purposes (sorry Google), but rather because I can only describe what I’m saying by using these words and they keep popping up.  Do you see a pattern yet?

The fact is, I can’t talk about connecting with other people without using the words “know” and “learn.” (Well whaddaya know?)  If you think about it (“think”–there’s another one), it’s engrained in our social language.

In fact, I hate to admit it, but it’s no longer just me on the continuous learning bandwagon.  How many times have you seen the word “webinar” in your email box lately?  There sure seem to be a lot of free classes these days.  And how many seminars have you gone to this year?  It seems like a lot of expense to put those on, doesn’t it?

I went to a couple of free business strategy meetings and M&A seminars earlier this year, and I learned a lot.  I’m not being facitious, I really did.  It was a valuable experience, and I couldn’t help being struck by how much they had to educate me in order for me to become their future customer.  And that’s when it hit me:

We are all in the education business now.  Every one of us.

Whether you’re educating your future customers, current customers, peers, co-workers, employees, investors, the press, the general public, or friends and family; if you want to stay relevant, people need to understand what you’re doing, how it works, and why it’s important.  Things are moving too fast for people to pay attention to anything if they don’t understand its value.

I also equate this idea with the reason we received so many questions recently at Lrngo from users wanting to know how to promote their expertise and themselves as speakers; which became the subject of two Lrngo blogs earlier this year.  So many people with expertise wanted to gain speaking experience and promote themselves by giving presentations, webinars and classes on their topics, that we had to dig in and come up with the information.

This trend isn’t as much about 15 minutes of fame as it is about survival of the fittest.  The consultant, service provider or company that doesn’t stay ahead of the curve by educating their target market on why they are needed and what makes them different won’t be around very long.

As we shift to the reputation economy and social media shines the spotlight on the expertise of individuals, the move toward constantly educating and re-educating each other is not likely to subside any time soon.  In the words of Denis Waitley, “<you can> never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise.”  You have to stay ahead of the curve.

In late 2014, I finally joined Twitter. I fought it for years. It’s amazing how much you can learn from one sentence.

Follow me on Twitter @davidcbrake

Starting Your Online Tutoring Business

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Step 1: Look into all of your options before starting your own online tutoring business

There are few things to consider before making the big decision, and I’ll go through them one at a time.

1. Going at it on your own is not the only option available. TeachersToGo.com; Eduboard.com; Tutor.com; tutorvista.com; there are many established online tutoring companies that allow you to work for them. Starting your own online tutoring business will require marketing, choosing your own payment system, and more. However, I hasten to add that none of these steps are insurmountable obstacles; in fact, as I hope to demonstrate, none of the steps are even particularly difficult. It is also important to keep in mind that tutoring companies and websites like the ones mentioned all charge a sizeable comission (generally from 20-60%). This means that you will make less money working as a tutor for one of these companies than if you successfully create your own thriving online tutoring business. To get more information on this subject, here are two superb websites to check out:

http://blog.tutorhub.com/2013/07/17/online-tutoring-a-do-it-yourself-guide-for-tutors/ – a good site to get both general information about tutoring, as well as recommendations for specific computer programs to use during your actual tutoring sessions.

https://education.skype.com/resources/577-21-things-you-absolutely-need-to-know-before-you-hire-an-online-tutor – this site provides a look at online tutoring from the customer’s perspective, including a detailed examination of the pros and cons of hiring a tutor from one of these tutoring sites.

2.  It is also important to mention that there are a number of websites that are not quite tutoring websites, but still sites that you might be interested in. It is worth exploring the web to find the right fit for you. Here are two of these more esoteric options:

www.Fiverr.com – on Fiverr you create a “gig” and then post it on the site. For example, your “gig” could be an offer to help with math homework. If someone is interested in your services, they will contact you via the website. Upon successful completion of the “gig” for a client, you will be rewarded with $5 for your services; hence the name of the site. (This may be an issue when it comes to reasonable rates, but might be an ok place to practice.)

www.Fittytown.com – similar to Fiverr but different in that each “gig” must cost exactly $50. This obviously means that the tasks that you are offering to complete must be more valuable.

3.  One concern you might have is about the concept of online tutoring itself, the idea that online tutoring is simply not as effective as face-to-face. It is true that online tutoring has a negative side. For example, it limits the ability to observe what are called paralinguistic cues – ie: body movements, facial expressions, and other forms of “physical speaking” that communicate information nonverbally. It is important to remember, however, that such difficulties are not insurmountable; mainly all that is required is getting comfortable with having conversations via video. It is also important not to overlook the huge benefits. For example, because tutoring online doesn’t require any of parties involved to travel, tutoring online is a huge timesaver. This means that new possibilities begin to emerge. Consider face to face tutoring for a moment: when both the teacher and the student have to spend time driving to a specific physical location, it doesn’t make sense to have a ten minute tutoring session because of the time lost in transit. In the online tutoring format, however, suddenly it becomes feasible to have these shorter, daily tutoring sessions.

Step 2: Get the Necessary Hardware

You will need a computer with a decent internet connection, a microphone, and a webcam. Generally speaking most computers today come packaged with both a microphone and a webcam. However, you might want to replace both the packaged microphone and the webcam if they don’t perform well.

If you are just starting out in online tutoring and need to purchase a computer, there are many affordable options to choose from, from refurbished systems to new desktops that are expressly built with the consumer on a budget in mind. The following is by no means a comprehensive list of sites, but simply a few of the many places to check out. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but make sure that, before you purchase anything, the system is capable of smoothly running video chatting applications. Just like the microphone and webcam, keep in mind that you now need a much higher level of performance since you will be using it for your business.

http://www.pcworld.com/product/collection/1646/top-10-value-desktop-pcs.html – A great website following the familiar “Top 10” schema.

http://abc13.com/archive/8781766/ and http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2374269,00.asp – These pair of articles will begin to give you a basic understanding of the value of refurbished computers

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2371334,00.asp – This is a good article to check out if you’re interested in specifically purchasing a laptop (rather than a desktop) on a budget.

Step 3: Choose a video communication service and accompanying software

Determining a video chatting platform that you will use to communicate with your students is a crucial step. If you are just starting out as an online tutor, I would recommend either Skype or Google Hangouts. Both are free, reliable, and easy to set up. Google Hangouts is especially notable because it allows easy integration with a variety of third party applications. Click on this link and follow the instructions to download Skype: http://www.skype.com/en/download-skype/skype-for-computer/. Click on this link to and follow the instructions to download Google Hangouts https://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/.

There are also numerous other video conferencing options to consider. Here are a few of the many other options available.

Vsee (free)- this is a good alternative to skype or google hangouts. Users typically praise its reliability and wealth of collaborative features, which include application sharing, file sharing, and desktop sharing.

Facetime (free)- Although it only works between Apple products, Facetime is known for providing one of the best user experiences: it is easy to set up and the call quality is generally excellent. However, it lacks some of the more collaborative features of some of the other widely known services.

Oovoo (free) – At one point endorsed by the House of Representatives, this web conferencing software is easy to use and easy to set up. It is also equipped with a robust sharing feature allowing you to share your desktop screen with another.

Webex ($24 per month) – a full-fledged web conferencing solution offering features including desktop sharing and an interactive whiteboard.

In addition to these video chatting platforms, there are also a few other pieces of accompanying software you might need. From online whiteboards to file sharing options, here are a few possibilities:

Google docs (Free)- allows for multiple people to edit the same document, at the same time, and see the results in real-time.

IDroo for skype- An interactive and collaborative whiteboard that works with skype.

Scribblar- similar to IDroo. A collaborative whiteboard that supports text chat.

 

To find more information on helpful software options, check out the following sites:

4Teachers.org: A great source that helps teachers find ways to integrate technology into classrooms.

http://blog.socrato.com/top-5-free-online-tutoring-tools/: Provides reviews of some of the best online tutoring tools.

http://www.teachthought.com/featured/25-tutoring-tools-for-the-21st-century/: Gives a dizzying number of various online products to consider.

           

As a final note on the subject, it is worth spending time learning as much as you can about your video communication service of choice. You will most likely have to guide your clients through the process of setting it up on their computers as well. In fact, if you want to optimize your chances of getting the most students possible, offer two or more of the most popular choices. (Many students tend to stick only to the ones they know, and will insist on not learning a new service or platform, but rather having you conform to theirs.)

Step 4: Get a PayPal Account

PayPal is by far the most convenient pay option available for online tutors. All that a client needs to make a payment is your email address. In order to make a payment, the client then goes to the PayPal website, clicks the “send” button on the top of the page, and then inputs the requisite information. Both you and they will receive an email confirmation recording the transaction. And that’s it.

Here are a few things to take note of in regards to payment:

  1. You will want to make sure to get paid before the actual tutoring session. It will likely be difficult to track down clients after the sessions are completed.
  2. You will want to create a “business” PayPal account as opposed to a “personal” PayPal account.
  3. Your earnings will be taxable.

Unfortunately, believe it or not, not every country accepts PayPal. For those that don’t, here are a few alternatives:

Alipay: One of China’s leading online payment exchange solutions. Considering its reputation as the PayPal of the east, this is the first one to try if PayPal is not available in your country.

Skrill: Formally known as Moneybookers, this service has completely rebranded itself and is now known to be both reliable and efficient. It is also available in Pakistan, a country covered by neither Paypal nor Alipay.

Amazon Webpay: Operates almost exactly like PayPal. Easy to use, and simple to set up.

Step 5: Market Yourself

Marketing yourself can take a variety of forms. Here are a few options, in no particular order:

  1. Check out Google AdWords. For a fee, you can advertise directly on Google. Check out http://www.google.com for more information. This, of course, requires money up front, and is also time consuming to learn. You also really have to be careful about setting the limits and watching your conversion rate, or you’ll spend way too much on leads that may not come through.
  2. Create a Facebook Presence- Create a Facebook profile at https://www.facebook.com/ and use it as an advertising platform to get the word out. Check out the profiles of fellow tutors to get an idea of what are acceptable and unacceptable forms of advertising in the Facebook community. For more information on using Facebook for business, https://econsultancy.com/blog/6249-ten-ways-to-advertise-your-business-on-facebook#i.1f9bbip1djzekf is a good place to start.
  3. Advertise on sites like Craigslist or Gumtree- at www.craigslist.org you can create adds advertising your tutoring service. For a detailed description of how to post ads on Craigslist, check out sites like http://www.wikihow.com/Sell-Items-on-Craigslist.
  4. Um, yeah…create a profile on Lrngo.com. Unlike other tutoring websites which take a fee for their marketing services, Lrngo is simply a medium through which thousands of people worldwide search to find, pay for and trade lessons with teachers & tutors, teachers and tutors who all keep 100% of their own pay. Go to www.lrngo.com to create a free profile. Because there are no fees, it also makes sense to link to the Lrngo profile from your Facebook, Craigslist and other advertising pages.
  5. Word of Mouth- The oldest form of advertising is one of the best. Very simply, people are more likely to pay attention when they are hearing an actual human speak rather than just reading words on a computer screen.

Don’t forget, at the end of the day, you choose who you are willing to teach. I would advise being very specific about the times you are willing to work and also about the clientele you are willing to work with.

Step 6: Decide how much to charge for a session

Online tutors generally charge between $30 and $80 an hour. As a proficient tutor just starting out in the online medium, it is often recommended to charge between $30 and $45. Of course, there is no hard and fast rule. Determining your price will take a little bit of research on your own part, examining, for example, how competitors are pricing their lessons.

Step 7: Examine the legal side of going into business for yourself

For instance, in the U.S., if you are self-employed with earnings of more than $600, reporting your income by filing a 1099 tax return is required.

Step 8: Talk to other online tutors

This is something that can never be emphasized enough. In order to really become effective at online tutoring, you’re going to want to learn as much as you can about it from talking with people who are respected in the field. While it is similar to face-to-face tutoring, it is obviously a different experience in a lot of ways. Talking to other online tutors and asking about how they made the transition from face-to-face tutoring to virtual tutoring is a great place to start.

Step 9: Getting used to working for yourself

This one can be a little harder than it initially sounds. Most people, having just started working for themselves, will be immensely productive because of the initial adrenaline rush for about two weeks or so. They will then hit a so-called “unproductive slump”; the lack of deadlines and hard and fast appointments can be difficult to manage. Here a few brief tips to cope with the change.

  1. Stick to your schedule- This is a big one. I know that you feel like you can take a longer lunch break now than you used to and that you feel like you can now run errands during the workday. Resist the urge. Don’t procrastinate. Force yourself to meet your deadlines and stay on task.
  2. Have a definite end to your workday- This will not always be possible, but having a clear end of your workday will help you keep your sanity.
  3. Prioritize- Lots to do and no time to do it? Know which tasks on your agenda or most important and don’t let yourself be bogged down minor tasks. Brainstorming on a lesson plan that you need by the afternoon takes precedent over making a craigslist advertisement.

Step 10: The Practice Run

Still feeling a little nervous about the whole experience? I would recommend two things: 1) Try practicing by tutoring someone in your family or someone who is a friend. If you know someone in your family or circle of friends who wants to learn more about a skill or knowledge you have, teach them a lesson for a half hour or hour to start, then ask for feedback. Realize that this will be different than teaching someone you don’t know, but it can be a helpful place to start. 2) Sign up if you haven’t already and use the Free Exchange on LRNGO.com to make a match and practice with people who want to teach and learn from each other. As you probably know already, you can do this in person or online, and both experiences are valuable for learning, sharpening and refining tutoring and teaching skills. Here are two possible ways that LRNGO’s Free Exchange can help you practice.

  • Use Lrngo to make a match and connect with someone who is interested in learning your subject of expertise, and who will teach you a subject that you want to learn in return. Are you interested in learning a little Spanish or figuring out how to solve a Rubik’s cube, or brushing up on your math skills? You can gain valuable teaching experience in exchange for free learning. For example, let’s say you are an English tutor who is interested in learning Spanish. Use the Free Exchange to contact someone who is interested in learning English but knows Spanish. You can then “exchange” languages. In other words, you will learn a skill you want to pick up, but you will also be able to practice teaching someone an expertise and gain valuable feedback and teaching experience.
  • You can also use Lrngo’s Free Exchange as a resource to connect with others who are interested in getting better at online tutoring and arrange a quick meeting. Even though as a premise you are meeting to exchange learning, you can just as easily see that you are also exchanging “teaching.” In other words, while taking turns learning from each other, you can help each other with the goal of becoming better online tutors, exchanging online tutoring tactics, practicing together, and supporting each other.

In essence, use the Free Exchange on LRNGO as a chance to build up experience teaching without the pressure. Then when you’re ready, you can list as a Private Instructor for a fee. As with any skill, I can’t emphasize enough how beneficial practice is to improving your tutoring ability and calming your nerves.

Remember to always ask the student about his or her goals and reasons for learning at the first lesson (or before). A good tutor or teacher will want to stay focused on how he or she can best help the student, and it’s helpful to know about the student’s expectations and why he or she wants to learn the subject. In the end, the result of helping someone learn and improve should be no different on video chat than it is in person.