What do entrepreneurs do that you could do if you work in education? Part 2: Self assessment

We ship widgets

In my last post I discussed some of the things that I’ve borrowed from entrepreneurial and design thinking. These have worked successfully for me and allowed me to gradually change how I think about my work and allowed me to survive and thrive in a chaotic and uncertain work environment.

Like I also said, this is what has worked for me. I think it could work for you as well, but you need to adapt what I’m saying here to your own context.

I want to do two things to take it a couple of steps further.

One is provide an informal way for you to assess how far down this track you might be yourself. And it’s fine if the answer is “not at all”.

The other is to illustrate what I’m discussing here with some examples of the kinds of resources, tools, and apps that I use. You can find more on this in Part 3.

So first of all, here’s a short self assessment exercise. It’s fine if you don’t know the answer to any or all questions.

Also, my context is education and training that is funded in some way – either though government funding, user pays funding, or some combination of both.

Short answers only please. You can write them in the comments section.

  1. Define “customer” in one sentence.
  2. Describe your particular customer(s) in five words or less.
  3. Define “business model” in one sentence.
  4. Describe your (or your organisation’s) business model in seven words or less.
  5. Define “iterate” in five words or less.
  6. When did you last brainstorm, prototype or iterate some component of your education or training work?
  7. What was it?
  8. What systems have you designed?
  9. What do you use to manage tasks? A task is anything you need to get done for your work.
  10. What do you use to manage projects? A project is any number of tasks you need to complete for a bigger purpose, e.g. enrolling a learner, teaching a course, designing a new resource
  11. List any cloud-based productivity tools you use?
  12. List any digital creative tools do you use?

I’m going to be discussing my answers to these questions in my workshop next week and I’ll post a follow up with answers shortly.

In the mean time, if you are unfamiliar with any of the terminology used in the eleven questions I and you’re interested in what I’m saying I suggest you get online and do some research.

What do entrepreneurs do that you could do if you work in education? Part 1: Ideas, concepts, tools

Build dynamic content

Literacy and numeracy is a tough business to work in due to the increasing demands of… well, everything.

I have a conference workshop coming up soon and I’m going to argue that one of the things that has worked well for me (in terms of daily survival) is training myself to think and act more like an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs have to live with risk and uncertainty. They also have to make decisions based on incomplete information. And then there’s the fact that sometimes you just never get a return on your investment of time, energy, and other resources.

Just like a lot of us in education…

But also, entrepreneurs approach the world through quite a different lens to educators and bureaucrats.

This change in how I think has helped me with my teaching, my approach to course development, and with my business overall.

Keep in mind, I’m not against student centred approaches and all of that goes with that. I’m firmly on the side of student centred approaches and these are central to what we teach and how we work with our students.

What I’m on about here is taking stock of what I do and looking for what is going to help me stay alive and hopefully thrive in my work. So let’s get us-centred for just a minute.

Given that some days it feels like a knife fight, you might wonder why you (or I) keep on working in education. The answer has something to do with making the world a better place and changing people’s lives.

But that aside, here are some of the things that I think entrepreneurs do that I’ve tried that make my work in education better for me. I’m not saying that they’ll work for you. But they’ve worked for me.

Each of these sounds kind of simple, but it’s taken me years to understand what they mean for me. Feel free to adopt, adapt or ignore.


  • The customer: This is not as simple as it sounds in education. I know who my customers are.
  • Business model design: I know what’s under the hood. I know how revenue is generated. I’m very clear on how my business model works and how the components fit together. And by implication I know how the components can be taken apart, remixed, and put back together again.


  • Design thinking: I have my own version of this but when it comes to developing courses and materials, maintaining them over time, and updating them – I have very explicit processes including brainstorming, prototyping, and iteration. This allows me to create content that is dynamic and evolving.
  • Systems thinking: Over time I’ve designed a very effective system for managing the professional development and training that we deliver. In a nutshell, there’s a list of over a hundred things that have to happen from student enquiry, through the training process, up to when we digitally archive a student’s file after graduating… and these have to happen for every single person regardless of when they start. I have another system for understanding our quality assurance processes and others for teaching and explaining key concepts and various aspects of our training.

Tools and apps

  • Project and task management: I use a cloud-based project management software application to run all aspects of student and learning management. It’s highly customised and means we can work from anywhere with a small team. The software runs the system. And it’s scalable and I could duplicate it for other courses if I needed to.
  • Cloud based productivity tools: I use Google Apps now for all email, word processing, and most spreadsheets. These tools work across all devices and platforms and I’m not chained to any one computer, device, or physical location.
  • Other digital creative tools: This is a relatively new area for me. Here the tools move away from productivity and into graphic design and audio visual recording. I have a drawing tablet and stylus that I use for illustrations, a microphone for recording audio, a camera for video, and a range of different software applications for editing, mixing, and mastering various kinds of digital media.

I’d be interested to know what works for you. Let me know in the comments.

Using the Speak to Communicate Progression to Assess Confidence

speak to commThis is a bit rough and ready, but I wanted to get down some thoughts on using the Speak to Communicate Strand that have been rattling around in my head for a while now.

Here’s the problem

  • Lots of tutors and trainers notice an increase in the levels of learner confidence that they see over time with regards to speaking and communicating, but they don’t know how to measure this or talk about it in a robust way.

For example, from a classroom training point of view, if you’re working with a group, particularly if the group includes older adult students who don’t speak English as a first language, and you notice that many are withdrawn, shy, won’t make eye contact, struggle to participate and so on, you’re likely to make at least a mental note that they are lacking in confidence.

From an employer’s perspective, you might observe that some workers dislike making small talk on the factory floor, or actually hide behind pieces of machinery so that they don’t have to engage in any kind of interaction.

Another scenario, might be that a trainee cannot deliver a clear set of instructions or tell another person a procedure for how to do something.

Here’s a possible solution

The Learning Progressions that we work with in New Zealand for determining the literacy and numeracy demands and assessing learner proficiency provides a way to describe and work with learners’s abilities for speaking (just as it does for reading and numeracy).

Speaking is not part of the focus of the TEC’s Literacy and Numeracy for Adults Assessment Tool, so it tends to get sidelined. However, most trainers, tutors, and employers would agree that listening and speaking are critical in the classroom and workplace.

This is probably doubly important for employers as it’s something that is visible to them in terms of the sometimes limited interactions that they might have with workers and employees.

I think that we can look at the Speak to Communicate strand and incorporate our ideas of “confidence” in a way that makes sense for both trainers, learners, and employers (and the TEC).

Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Start with the actual speaking and listening scenarios or tasks that people really have to do. Here’s a couple for starters below. Brainstorm some that are generic and some that are site or context specific:
    1. Introduce yourself to others
    2. Discuss a workplace issue or concern that relates to an area that you are familiar with.
    3. Discuss a workplace issue or concern that relates to an area that you are not familiar with.
    4. Deliver a short presentation to a manager outlining possible changes or improvements to workflow.
  2. Map the speaking demands using the Speak to Communicate strand and progressions. If you’re doing this work, you should have done the NCALNE (Voc) training and have a good idea on how to do this already. The image above is not meant to replace the actual strand, but I scribbled out some of the key words in each step as a way of getting a very rough and ready analysis of certain kinds of scenarios. Don’t take my word for it – go and look at the whole strand, but for example:
    1. introduce yourself to others: Step 1 – 2
    2. Discuss a workplace issue or concern that relates to an area that you are familiar with: Step 2 – 3
    3. Discuss a workplace issue or concern that relates to an area that you are not familiar with: Step 3 – 4
    4. Deliver a short presentation outlining possible changes or improvements to workflow: Step 5 – 6
  3. Come up with real samples and examples of the actual language you’d expect to hear for each scenario (like you would when creating a judgement statement for an assessment schedule for NZQA purposes). Create your own master guide for each scenario showing the kinds of language that you’re expecting and how much of it you need to hear before you can make a judgement that the learner is confident in relation to that particular aspect of the interaction.
  4. Use a “Confidence” traffic light system for each relevant step for each scenario that you’re assessing. Probably, I need to expand on this somewhere, but here’s what I mean in a nutshell: For each relevant step that relates to a particular scenario you can assess your learner as follows:
    1. Red: Not confident
    2. Amber: Developing confidence in this area
    3. Green: Can do this with confidence
  5. Summarise the results if you need to report to an employer or manager. You don’t need to give everyone all of the detail, but it is important to work from a system that is part of what we’re already using, i.e. the Learning Progressions. This avoids coming up with a new system based on flakier measures of confidence that aren’t tied to actual learner performance of specific tasks.And then when it comes to reporting to employers or managers you can say things like this:

“We measure speaking proficiency and confidence on a scale of 1 to 6 steps with 1 relating to simple, formulaic interactions like greetings and 6 relating to more extended, complex work-related interactions like a short presentation.

When Jones started our training he was only able to handle low level speaking tasks at steps 1 and 2 with any kind of confidence.

In the last 6 months we’ve seen him develop his knowledge of work related vocabulary, express his own point of view about different issues, and speak about less familiar topics including health and safety concerns.

This means he’s now between steps 3 and 4 and can handle some more complicated work-related speaking activities with confidence.

By the end of the training he should be able to deliver a short formal presentation as well as give verbal instructions relating to some of our key standard operating procedures (SOPs).

At this point he will have shifted to step 5 and 6.”

Hat tip: Dave Curtis