The Radical Learning Exchange

Houston Language Partners Initiative

A learning exchange seminar at the public library.

I decided to come up for air this week long enough to write another blog.  (Yes, it’s been a while!)  I’m going to approach this topic for now from my perspective when dealing with a select few who, for whatever reason, don’t get the idea of free learning exchange.  The overwhelming majority I’ve encountered so far have been enthusiastic, but on those rare occasions when the idea has been met with disdain or indifference, I always wonder why.  What is it that bothers them?

The idea of learning exchange as it pertains to languages between adults has been around for years (if you’re reading my blog, chances are you’ve already heard the phrase “language exchange” across the internet), and the idea of a time bank barter system for services has been around at least since the early 1800’s.

Yet, most people today don’t think in terms of bartering services (or if they do, they have problems finding others who do), and almost no one thinks in terms of bartering knowledge other than languages (except on LRNGO of course!).  So why is that?

When I originally introduced the idea of a peer to peer language exchange community matchmaking program to a local library recently, the idea was met with “we already have a class for that.” “Really?”, I said, “that’s awesome.”  I soon found out she was referring to Spanish and English classes.

She couldn’t fathom, no matter how much I explained it, that 1. there could be a structure for people to match up and learn from each other 2. practicing one-to-one could bridge the disconnect between learning of the subject matter and the actual use in real world situations and 3. people would voluntarily match up to teach their native language in exchange for learning a second language from another person.

In short, I was unable to convince her of the value of learning exchange or to understand the dynamic of bio-feedback that is different when people learn from each other one-to-one.

“Of course, it doesn’t mean the classroom isn’t valuable,” I said, “in fact for many subjects, a structured curriculum is most highly recommended for a basic foundation.  However in those cases, people also almost always benefit from practice and additional feedback of one-to-one learning.  This is why tutors are so popular.” (Blank stare.)

The same week, I had another person tell me that language exchange sounds like a crazy idea because we would be trying to change people’s behavior, so he would need to see data to show that anyone would do it.  (I started to tell him about the 16 million users who at one time were doing it regularly on LiveMocha and other websites too numerous to mention, but decided to drop the subject when he said he had never heard of eBay.)

Finally, I got a very interesting response from a program coordinator at a large church when we talked to her about the idea of bringing a language exchange matching program for Spanish and English to their split congregation as a fun social and educational bridge.  “No thank you,” she said, “we like things the way they are.”  (It was the second part of that sentence that surprised me.  You can draw your own conclusions.)

So why does the idea seem so heretical to some to create a structure for people to match up and learn from each other?  At first, I thought perhaps it was because the idea that one can learn outside of a classroom (ie: the idea that learning takes place everywhere–insert annoying Alanis Morrissette song here) in some people’s minds competes with traditional learning—but as I poked and prodded the uninitiated nay-sayers, it became evident that was acceptable.  They generally got the idea of personal tutors, mentors and coaches—at least as classroom supplements, if not substitutes.

No, as I drilled down to the root of the issue in the case of the people above, it became evident that they started to feel uncomfortable when we removed both volunteerism and currency from the transaction.  They “get” the volunteering and they “get” paying, but for them, bartering knowledge was just a radical concept.

Daniel Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational” offers some insight. Ariely argues that we live in two worlds simultaneously: The “Market World” where everything is rooted in the exchange of money, goods, competition and cost/benefit analysis; and the “Social World,” where we do favors for other people, and volunteer for charity and community organizations.

Ariely has a useful example to illustrate what happens when you mix the market world with the social world: A day care center was discontent that parents picked up their children late, so they introduced a fine to solve the problem—but instead of reducing the rate of late pickups, the rate rose higher.

Why? By introducing a fine, the day care center switched from the “Social World” to the “Market World,” and the parents felt it was ok to pick up their children late because they paid for it.  For the people I mentioned above, the concept of trading and exchanging knowledge took their social world and their market world, and turned them upside down.

This actually bugged me for a while.  Not because these people would never become LRNGO users (believe me, we don’t have room for everybody yet so I’m just fine with that), but sub-consciously I felt like I should be able to get everyone in the world to see the value in this.  I had shown them real people (both through our seminars and on LRNGO) who made lifelong friends through this process, people who had learned and achieved their goals, and people who thanked us for providing a no cost educational opportunity–all to no avail.

Then I remembered what else these people had in common.  They had never tried it.  In all of our speed-friending events and seminars we’ve ever given for learning exchange, the only complaint I’ve ever heard (other than parking) was that the event and time to meet people is too short.  After trying it, even those who don’t find the right match at first realize the value and opportunity that await when they do.  (It’s like “dating for the mind.”)

I remember one of our speakers, a multi-linguist who speaks seven languages (all learned through language exchange) passionately telling people if they try this, they won’t look at learning the same.  I heard from a member of the audience two months later who told me she found a language partner that night, and they were still meeting once a week…and I remembered his words, “Don’t talk about it, do it–it’s all around you, find someone and learn!”  The idea of social learning and learning exchange may be radical, but an idea is only valuable if you do it.

I no longer feel the need to convert those who are uninspired to the learning exchange concept, because I know they are inspired by other things.  Things they’ve done, things they know about, and things they’ve tried.  The next time I try to tell someone about something I’ve experienced that holds value to me, I’ll remember that too is an exchange, and not every exchange is the right match.  (But when it is, it’s magic.)  :-)

If you’re in the Houston area, feel free to contact me.  I would be happy to do a short 15 minute workshop to set up a learning exchange environment in any adult classroom.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire Tutor?

The Prolific Rise of Online Tutoring

The fact that there is someone in the world making nearly 7 million dollars a year tutoring online is monumental news.

Imagine being a tutor that lives like a rock star; a digital teacher making more than a professional athlete.  Envision being the center of advertising and marketing campaigns that would make even national celebrities jealous.

Welcome to the emerging canvas of worldwide online tutoring.  What makes certain famous tutors so exceedingly wealthy, and what does the road ahead look like for the industry?

The Recipe for Digital Tutoring Success

Before reporting on some of the more famous names, let’s take a look at the necessary elements:

  • Skill – A mix of professionalism, personality, and perseverance. The tutors with their faces on billboards are first of all excellent teachers. They have proven to students they can help them show results, and have followings like Hollywood icons because the product they’re selling is extremely valuable.
  • Marketing - Rather than being an asset to an institution or company, online tutors must turn themselves into a brand. Advertising can range from a simple brochure to high production TV commercials, and everything in between. Ultimately, it is spreading the word about results through social media and virtual word of mouth that truly attracts business.
  • Efficiency – Rather than tutoring one-on-one, or in small groups, through current and evolving online tools, teachers can reach multitudes of unprecedented size. This allows tutors not only to teach in their own community, but to charge a small fee to a lot of people at once, which can accumulate to thousands of dollars an hour.

The Balance of Brain Power

The online tutoring frenzy in Asia has taken off like a rocket at the same time westernized education is suffocating itself under trillions in outstanding debt. Two different models, with two drastically different results.

In Asia, students cram into schools with vigor to get ahead—and in fact, they even “cram” after school to keep up. The future ahead looks rather interesting for the west as well, as dominance shifts toward other choices for those college students who are depressed, disillusioned, and distraught about their education debts.

Opulent Tutors of Asia

  • Rose Lee – The so called “Queen of English” is perhaps the most popular English teacher in the Asian world. She now makes roughly $6-7 million a year by helping students prepare for crucial exams that can get them into good universities. Through her self-branding and virtual classroom results, she is a true marketing force of the 21st century – shaping the English speaking Asian culture.
  • Woo Heyong-cheol – This man most definitely took hold of the online education craze, and the obsession of South Korean children to study upward of 8-10 hours a day. Woo is a math tutor, but he is not affiliated with anything official.  He doesn’t have to be.  He is a private entity, and his own brand. He made a decent living teaching math afterschool in South Korea, but now provides 50,000 subscribers with tutorials online earning close to $4 million a year.
  • Richard Eng – This man was a teacher for decades before he became a celebrity tutor who makes millions. By word of mouth alone, so many students approached him for private lessons that he set up his first tutoring school.

That school was wildly successful for a small scale outfit, but the magic began when Richard decided he would begin an advertising campaign and create celebrity appearances for himself and his tutors. Fast forward to today, and this millionaire is branching out into Japan and China.

  • Phang Yu Hon – Another titan of tutoring, this private physics teacher out of Singapore had hundreds of students, and will soon have a seven figure income. When he first started, people heckled and teased him saying he was wasting his time. Now his perseverance paid off, and he’s the one laughing.

The Coded Path Ahead

These few tutors are likely just the beginning in a market that is expected to reach $100 billion in the next five years. Through the virtual classroom phenomenon, expect to see massive amounts of tutors who teach everything you can imagine setting themselves up with enviable incomes.

There may be a lull in the west right now, but no one can say Americans aren’t good at branding and advertising.  It may not be long before American teachers, specialists, and experts all head into their neighborhoods and online en mass to copy their Asian counterparts.

How to be a Freelance Instructor by Teaching Your Favorite Activity

Teach and Learn on LRNGO.com

This week, I’m going to discuss and present a few options for the uninitiated about teaching your skills.  First of all, I want to stress that one on one instruction between two people provides a level of learning interaction and help/progress that one simply cannot get from a video online.  Most people know by now that you can learn from a video, but it can never be your mentor.

Once someone falls in love with a certain subject, discipline, sport, or any activity, they tend to start devouring everything they can and practice/study religiously. After a while, the question of whether or not to teach the subject they learned and pass it on to others comes up.  Today with all of us connected, there is perhaps more opportunity for freelance instruction than at any time before in human history.

There are two ways one can teach what they love to thirsty modern students and earn money doing it, the physical and digital worlds. Each one has its ups and downs, and both are in a constant state of flux and evolution.  Of course, certain subjects may be more suited to one than the other, but in most cases the best option comes down to individual circumstances, niche, expertise level and access. Let’s explore both.

Real World Freelance Instruction

Most localized freelance instructors, whether activity teachers or extra-curricular tutors, begin small. They may put out an ad in the local paper, or perhaps print out some flyers to give to schools in the area. Regardless, the idea is to start with one single student and go from there.

A local tutor’s biggest money maker is going to be word of mouth. Make sure to print up wallet sized calling cards to hand out at parties, social gatherings, and within the homeschooling community.

The idea is to advertise yourself in unobtrusive ways until you have a student, and then build. Here are some tips to getting started.

Establish Your Fee – Typically most people expect an hourly rate, so give them one. Study up on your competition if there is any. As you get more students and there is more demand for your services, your hourly rate can move up, but until then make your rate average or less for your area.

  • Focus on Your Niche but Stay Open to your skillset – Is it best to pick one thing you are exceptionally strong in, and focus on just that, and that alone? In today’s highly diversifying economy and workforce, there is nothing wrong with getting as specific as possible. For example SAT prep math vs., math in general.  However, you may have other skills which you can develop a curriculum for teaching and for which there is a high demand.  Many college grads find that their minor or other skills they are familiar with are the ones that many others really want to learn.  Once you’ve taught one subject or activity, it isn’t as hard to develop a curriculum for a second.  Just remember how you learned, and then concentrate on imparting that information.
  • Familiarize - Once you’ve chosen your subject or subjects, no matter how practiced you may be, become intimately aware of the goals and needs of each individual you teach.  In some cases, you may work off the traditional coursework that students are being exposed to, and in others you must set the curriculum. You must be able to adapt and diversify according to the demand that comes your way.
  • Lesson Plans – Become a master at crafting them in ways that engage and interest your students.
  • Establish Relationships – Always conduct yourself professionally and in a way that shows you are helpful, and have a 110% service orientated attitude. It’s equally important to form great relationships with students and parents. Always be upfront, transparent, and accommodating.
  • Consider Online Tutoring – Joining the online tutoring revolution isn’t for everyone, but it sure provides unprecedented means of teaching, and reaching students from basically anywhere on Earth. The biggest perk is flexibility, although getting started can be a bit time consuming since there are so many choices. There’s much more involved than simply handing out cards or paying for an ad in the local paper.

Freelance Instruction and the Virtual Classroom

Most of the tutors coming online have prior experience with in person private tutoring. They either catch wind of another local tutor making great money, or stumble upon the idea as the momentum within the online education system reaches more and more of our western society.

They start cautiously, typically without any real working knowledge of the industry, and then the desire for extra income streams and the ability to work from home drives forward. The amount of online tutoring companies entering the market makes it easy to find employment and get started with students, but that’s not the only way.  You can use Skype (or one of hundreds of other  platforms) and accept payments through Paypal, or even put up your own website.  Here are some tips to make sure you have a solid foundation to build on.

Basic Supplies You’ll Need

No need to go overboard here and spend huge gobs of money, these are the essentials. On the other hand if this is a serious and long term career movement, make sure to get high quality products.

  • Computer - This is the command center of your business, and should be at least reliable, and a solid  machine that is capable of performing all the tasks you will need it to.
  • Internet Access – This should ideally be high-speed with minimal chances for interruption.
  • Instant Messaging – This could range from any number of internet program choices, but to start I would suggest getting familiar with Skype.
  • Dedicated Email Account – This is one of the major hubs of the business, and should sound and look professional.
  • Online Payment Service – PayPal is the most popular, but some sites will conceal and use your own personal bank accounts as well making it much easier.
  • Headset – Get one that looks good and has an attached microphone you can rely on.
  • Web Camera – Don’t pinch pennies, get a quality web came that will display quality to those who are learning from you.

Baby Steps into the Online Empire

Once you’re set to go and the home office is looking tight and professional, it’s time to plan your approach. For those starting out, there are many choices.  Going solo can be advisable, but there’s nothing wrong with going through a website with requirements either. The upside is you don’t necessarily need any formal education or certifications, although having them can help present you as a validated source for learning prior to receiving positive feedback.

  • Get some experience under your belt working for free or less than you will charge in the beginning (try our Trade lessons platform), learn, and then build. After you’ve made a name for yourself and gotten some experience, then setting up your own private online gig becomes a more viable option. If you have no certification, then consider getting certified by an association in each subject niche.  For instance, if you’re tutoring chemistry and you’re not currently a college student with really high grades, then consider getting certified by the National Tutor Association or another accredited agency.
  • In the online world it is important that for each subject you teach to be as specific about the service you offer as possible. There are established sites that allow you to basically set up a profile and an advertisement, or choose from a list of subjects. The best thing to do is to start small, and incrementally take on more as you learn and get more accustomed to the work.
  • Most places will allow you to set your own wage, but there are others that take most of the guesswork out of the process and take a large cut of your pay. The best idea is to go with a popular site that is getting requests from potential students, and lets you communicate do business with those who contact you directly.  After you get lots of traffic, you can choose to have finances streamlined and simplified for both you and your students.
  • If you are going to be teaching in students’ homes, consider getting some professional liability insurance so that you and your assets are protected.  It’s not a requirement, but it’s also not a bad idea if you are planning a full schedule.
  • After you’ve chosen a site, your profile is all filled out, and you begin taking advantage of any marketing they offer, your job is to study the niche of each subject or activity.  Find out what your potential students are after, and then prepare for the long haul.

Tutoring One Day at a Time

Whether it’s the real or digital world you choose or both, the moral of the story here is to tread lightly at first, learn and adjust, and then build your freelance instruction business.

Obviously there is more to everything than what’s contained in this short blog, because nothing teaches better than experience. If you’re new to the idea and interested in becoming a freelance instructor or tutor by teaching your favorite activity or skills, waste no time.  Start getting experience by trading lessons with others for free here: Trade Lessons on LRNGO, or list to earn money immediately where people can find and learn from you here: Earn money teaching your skills on LRNGO.