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Review: Kevin Carey’s The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everything

End of CollegeThis review first ran in the March 29 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everything

By Kevin Carey

Penguin Publishing Group

$32.95

Penguin Publishing Group

$32.95

So who wants to be a billionaire?

You just need to build the Netflix-Amazon-Facebook of higher ed, with thousands of courses available online free of charge for everyone from Albania to Zimbabwe.

Udacity and Coursera are two companies looking to do exactly that.

“From the moment Coursera and Udacity were created, people began asking how they would make money,” says Kevin Carey, author of The End of College.

“This was in some respects the wrong question to ask about an Internet start-up, because the idea was that if you create a free service so elegant and spectacular that the whole world flocks to your virtual doorstep…you will figure out a way to make billions of actual dollars through the sheer force of attraction and scale.”

There’s huge and growing demand for higher education around the world as the ranks of the middle class swell. The global market for education is pegged at $4.6 trillion. Venture capital investment in education technology companies grew from less than $200 million in 2008 to more than $1.2 billion in 2013.

It’s not just Silicon Valley start-ups that are aiming to reinvent colleges and universities.

MIT and Harvard joined forces to launch edX in 2012. It’s a nonprofit that offers hundreds of free online courses custom-built by experts in technology, learning design, education services and videography.

“You don’t hold the rank of America’s best college for almost four centuries without knowing when the time has come to follow the crowd so you can lead them,” Carey says about Harvard’s move to give away courses. “Harvard and MIT are helping to build a new and unprecedented institution: the University of Everywhere. Educational resources that have been scarce and expensive for centuries will be abundant and free”

And that’s good news for people like Battushig Myanganbayar. Battushig was a 15-year-old high school student in Mongolia who took an edX course on circuits and electronics, earned a perfect score and got an offer to attend MIT as a 16-year-old freshman.

“It may be hard for Ivy-obsessed parents and students to believe, but there are actually a large number of very bright students in America and around the world who don’t realize they might successfully apply to an elite college or university,” says Carey.

“Instead of waiting for applications to arrive, colleges will be able to conduct extensive searches of data that students and parents choose to make available. Colleges will be able to analyze that data and make informed judgements about who is most likely to come to campus and thrive, both during their college career and afterward.”

Tech companies are also reinventing the college credential so employers can start making similar searches and judgments.

Instead of paper transcripts and a diploma or degree that’s framed or filed away, our kids could graduate with badges for their online profiles. Employers could click on the badges to learn where they earned their credential, their marks on tests plus a portfolio of their projects and assignments. The badges could also be searchable online for employers who are looking for specific skill sets.

“Rather than guessing what a vague credential like bachelor’s of computer science from Big State University at Anytown means, employers can use digital badge metadata to find exactly the person they need,” says Carey.

These are still early days but Carey and the people he interviews see major changes on the near horizon.  Some institutions will thrive, others won’t survive and new ones both real and virtual will be created.

We could soon find ourselves being “educated in digital learning environments of unprecedented sophistication” as artificial intelligence make online courses adaptive to our individual learning styles with “personalized, individual education to large numbers of people at a reasonable price” delivered by colleges and universities.

“While an education in anything to anyone anywhere may sound utopian, an education in most things to most people in most places is a concrete, realistic goal that can be accomplished using existing technology in the near future,” says Carey. “The question is not whether it will happen but who will make it happen.”

And that will have profound implications for anyone who works in postsecondary education, lives in a community where colleges and universities are anchor institutions or has young kids who are may bound for postsecondary education in the next decade.

Review: Bill Tancer’s Everyone’s a Critic – Winning Customers in a Review-Driven World

CriticThis review first ran in the March 16 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Everyone’s a Critic: Winning Customers in a Review-Driven World

By Bill Tancer

Portfolio /  Penguin

$32.95

Put a restaurant like Founding Farmers in the Lister Block and we’ll be lining up down James Street North.

Founding Farmers in Washington, DC tops my list of favourite restaurants. The farm-to-table meals are outstanding, the service is always friendly and the bill won’t bust your credit card.

But don’t take my word for it.  Check out the 14,000 reviews on OpenTable, the 5,200 Yelp reviews and the 2,380 reviews on TripAdvisor.

I never travel without first doing my homework on OpenTable and TripAdvisor. I rely on review and reservation websites to steer clear of tourist traps and discover great restaurants like Founding Farmers.

And I’m not alone. By one count, 80 per cent of us now check online reviews before we buy. That’s good news if you’re a small business owner with a small advertising and marketing budget but a big value proposition for customers. It’s bad news if you’re selling a lousy product and service and coasting on brand recognition to bring customers through your doors.

“Online reviews represent the first acquisition channel that is merit-based versus cash-based,” says Bill Tancer, author of Everyone’s a Critic and the general manager of global research at a marketing services firm.

“For the first time in business history, aggregate opinions of quality can trump brand, marketing and advertising spend. A small start-up retail business, restaurant, hotel or product manufacturer can vault above its competitors in customer acquisition simply by providing excellence.”

Online review sites deliver more than customers. All that feedback offers a blueprint for success. What are you doing that wins over and turns off your customers? What’s the competition doing to earn five star reviews? And what business gets lousy reviews but has customers lined up out the door? Deliver a better product or service and you’ll win dissatisfied customers who are waiting and hoping for something better to come along.

Not every business owner is a fan of online reviews. Yes, there are fake reviewers, extortionists and one-star assassins. Reading a bad review can ruin your day.  But dismissing online reviews could put you out of business, warns Tancer.

“While all these issues might provide a justification for you to ignore what customers are saying about your business online, the fact that 80 per cent of consumers are reading your reviews and trusting this imperfect channel before making a purchase decision should give you pause.”

Tancer offers five rules for earning five star reviews.

The first rule is the most important. Passion drives positive reviews.  “Having a passion to deliver an excellent product or service is very discernible to the customer,” says Tancer. “Those customers who benefit from your passion are most likely to write a five-star review of your business. The secret to delivering on your passion is to make the end point of what you want your business to be as vivid as possible. ”

Build power through transparency.  Tancer profiles Lockbusters, a locksmith company in New York City that earns high marks from customers. “With review sites, I have a whole page that allows me to be transparent,” says owner Jay Sofer. “I put up a link to my page with all my prices, there’s no hidden fees and nothing to hide. I love the fact that I’m held accountable for every little thing that I do. I know that my competition is held accountable as well, and my competition sucks.”

Make reviews central to your online and face-to-face conversations with customers. Savvy businesses are posting and tweeting excerpts to expand the reach of online reviews.  Some businesses are even winning customers by putting one-star reviews front and centre.

Leverage reviews for insight and motivation. Yes, the truth can hurt. But ignoring tough reviews will cost you your customers. “You need to come to terms with one of the first imperatives of online review analysis: bad reviews happen, and you need to deal with them, learn from them, and, if possible, leverage them, or else move on.”

And finally, give us something to write about. “One of the most effective antidotes to commoditization is to provide something that falls outside the equation, something unexpected and memorable.”

Every business is in a war for customers. Tancer makes a compelling case for why you need a strategy for online reviews.

“There is an amazing opportunity for businesses to raise their level of service now that they are armed with what they know about customers,” says Tancer. “The businesses that will win are those that know their end point, embrace transparency and go the extra mile to earn their fifth star.”

Everyone’s a Critic should be required reading for every small business owner in Hamilton.

Review: Amy Morin’s 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

13thingscoverThis review first ran in the March 2 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

By Amy Morin

William Morrow

$33.50

Every night I dump my spare change into a copper tobacco tin.

The tin used to sit on a shelf above the wood stove in grandparents’ family room. Every dime my grandfather put into that tin was hard-earned.

After serving in the Second World War, my grandfather spent more than 30 years installing and fixing gas stations. It was backbreaking blue collar work that left him frostbitten in winter and sunburnt in summer.

A heart attack forced my grandfather into early retirement and we spent a lot of time together during my awkward and impressionable teenage years. We’d go to the Legion for lunch and spend afternoons driving up and down country back roads.

We didn’t do a lot of talking. My grandfather wasn’t one for sermons and lectures. But he taught me some invaluable life lessons and did an expert job of disabusing me of any sense of entitlement or self-importance.

The world owes us nothing, my grandfather would remind me. Everything must be earned. Always put in an honest day’s work. If you believe you deserve more or better, the onus is on you to go and get it.

My grandfather would’ve scored high marks for mental strength from author, college prof and clinical social worker Amy Morin.

“Developing mental strength is about improving your ability to regulate your emotions, manage your thoughts and behave in a positive manner, despite your circumstances,” says Morin. “When you become mentally strong, you will be your best self, have the courage to do what’s right and develop a true comfort with who you are and what you are capable of achieving.”

That’s a winning combination that will make you indispensable at work.

Morin’s identified 13 things that mentally strong people don’t do. Like my grandfather, they don’t feel the world owes them anything.

“We’re all inclined to want our fair share in life,” says Morin. “However, the belief that you’re owed something simply because of who you are or what you’ve been through isn’t healthy.  An entitlement mentality prevents you from earning things based on merit. You’ll be less likely to work hard when you’re busy complaining that you’re not getting what you’re owed.”

Here are the 12 other things you don’t do when you’re mentally strong, according to Morin.

You don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself and indulging in self-pity.

You don’t give away your power. “Giving other people the power to control how you think, feel and behave makes it impossible to be mentally strong.”

You don’t shy away from change.

You don’t focus on things and people you can’t control.

You don’t worry about pleasing everyone. “Attempts to be a nice person can backfire when your behavior crosses over into people pleasing.”

You don’t fear taking calculated risks. “Taking calculated risks often mean the difference between living a mediocre life and living an extraordinary life.”

You don’t dwell on the past and let it distract you from the present.

You don’t make the same mistakes over and over again.

You don’t resent other people’s success. “I want what you have and I don’t want you to have it is” quickly wears thin and diminishes your shot at success.

You don’t give up after the first failure.

You don’t fear alone time. Turn off your smartphone and TV. “Mental strength requires you to take time out from the busyness of daily life to focus on growth.”

And you don’t expect immediate results. Patience really is a virtue.

Morin shows how to build mental strength so you’re better prepared for whatever curveballs get thrown your way at work and on the home front.  “Whether your goal is to be a better parent, to increase your productivity at the office, or to perform better on the athletic field, increasing your mental strength will help you reach your full potential.”

My grandfather would’ve approved and called Morin’s strategies common sense.