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Extend Your Network Through Higher Learning

Networking is widely regarded as a key to success in business. Take advantage of the learning environment to get to know more people.

Monique Verduyn

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Signing up for an MBA or taking a course in project management, finance, leadership development or another business-related area of interest is one of the best ways to grow your business and personal networks.

In his book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi says he learnt that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful. It was about working hard to give more than you get. If you do something to make someone else more successful, he says, they’re more likely to value your relationship with them, and the more relationships you have with value in them, the more valuable you become, not only to yourself, but to employers, customers, partners and so on.

Become a Networking Whizz

Our society has become very good at asking: ‘What’s in it for me?’ Most networkers look for others to pass them referrals, but successful networkers are always looking to help others first.

Don’t keep score, Ferrazzi advises. If someone calls you up and asks for a favour that you can easily accomplish, do it and don’t look back. If you are going to take the time to connect with somebody, you should be willing to try to make that person successful. If they succeed, you succeed. He also makes the point that networking is largely useless unless you have goals.

Networking experts note that you should begin reaching out to others and building your network of contacts before you need anything from them. Don’t try to suddenly build a network when your business is about to close down — it simply won’t work.

Here are some simple ways to start building a network that’s meaningful:

  • Join community groups that interest you
  • Take leadership positions in hobby or business groups that interest you
  • Enrol in a class on a topic of interest
  • Become part of business groups in
    your field
  • Join an entrepreneurial network

Often business owners go to an event to network and end up making the mistake of selling. They walk in with the mindset of a hunter instead of a farmer. Networking is about cultivating business relationships, not gaining customers. If business owners walk into a networking event thinking ’look at all of these potential customers‘, they’ll never receive referrals. Ferrazzi calls that ‘being a networking jerk’.

Networking and Higher Learning

Higher learning institutions like the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) host business and social functions to create a climate for discussion and interaction. Attendees are brought together by the desire to build business relationships, gain further understanding of the fast-paced business environment and share best practices of innovation and leadership.

Community website MBAconnect.net is for MBA alumni, current students and faculty from all the business schools in South Africa. MBAconnect facilitates networking, events, job opportunities, knowledge-sharing and more. Members can interact with other MBA students and alumni, market their services, build their brand, find job opportunities, and share ideas and challenges.

Connecting Online

Sam Paddock, MD of GetSmarter, an online education company that works with universities and industry experts to present courses throughout South Africa, says people learn best in strong communities. GetSmarter strongly promotes communication between students. “By requiring our students to interact on our discussion forums, we encourage them to build relationships with their fellow students. As the community becomes stronger, so too does the students’ engagement with their learning materials. Paddock says this is particularly important in distance learning programmes. “Motivation and engagement in distance learning is inherently challenging. By creating a strong community, our students become more engaged in their learning activities.

“We have been able to achieve phenomenal engagement on our forums. Some of our courses have over 6 000 discussion forum postings from 120 students in a 10-week period.”

Paddock says networking online is simple. “Just start writing. It’s the only way people will discover your interests and begin to engage with you. Browse through your fellow students’ profiles and start conversations with people who have something in common with you. It could be that you live in the same area or that you share a common interest. People are most open to interacting with you when they are aware of some common ground.”

Keeping in Touch

Once you have a connection with someone, it’s important to get their contact information. As you talk to people, keep track of their names, titles, emails, phone numbers, organisations, meeting dates, and key points of information and advice. You’ll need this later when you are no longer studying with them but still want to maintain a good relationship. Remember, these are the people who may be able to pave the way for you in future when you need a recommendation or an introduction.

One of Ferrazzi’s central ideas — from which his book takes its title — is that a meal provides an excellent opportunity to connect with someone. If you’re eating alone, he says, you’re missing out. He suggests mixing and matching by inviting multiple people to eat with you from different parts of your social network, which can help build new connections and bring hidden ones to the forefront. This is a particularly attractive option for people who are studying further as campuses provide the perfect environment for socialising.

Because networking requires you to socialise, make yourself interesting. No one wants to spend time with a boring person. Beyond keeping up with current events and having a point of view on current issues, Ferrazzi suggests asking seemingly stupid questions, always being open to learning something new and trying new things, and taking time out for holidays and other activities that grow your mind.

Avoid being a networking jerk

Here are Keith Ferrazzi’s six rules for making sure you network well:

  1. Don’t schmooze. Have something to say, say it with meaning, and focus on establishing a few good connections than spending your time surfing the room.
  2. Don’t rely on gossip. It paints a picture of untrustworthiness.
  3. Be willing to give something away. Think of bloggers who give away content to their readers freely.
  4. Don’t treat those under you poorly. Ever.
  5. Be transparent. If you want to meet someone and are happy to meet them, say so.
  6. Don’t be too efficient. Make genuine, individual connections. If you’re going to take the time to touch base with a contact, write to that person individually, don’t just include them on a big ol’ email to hundreds of people at once that starts off with “Dear friend!”

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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“Free” Online Courses Versus Interactive Classroom Courses

Online learning should be considered a supplement and extension, rather than a replacement, to traditional classroom learning.

Wits Language School

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The Internet is currently abuzz with advertisements for “free” online language courses and online education. While developments in technology have undoubtedly created opportunities for more people to access education, the question still remains as to whether it is actually possible to learn a language solely with the use of an online platform. Whilst there are numerous advantages to using online platforms, there are equally as many disadvantages.

Online platforms are limited in their capacity to support group discussions, as well as the engagement with language facilitators and tutors. Many platforms are also unable to cope with the thousands of students that try to join online discussions. Language learners benefit greatly from human interaction within a classroom. Mark Edmundson (2012), an English professor at the University of Virginia, argued that online education creates a “monologue and not a real dialogue” in the learning environment.

Classroom environments allow learners to express their opinions, participate in debates, and engage in face-to-face interaction with classmates and their instructor.

Related: “Free” Online Courses Versus Interactive Classroom Courses

Language facilitators are responsible for explaining material, answering questions and guiding learning based on students’ needs and language levels in real time. From an online perspective, this resource becomes diluted, as often there exists back and forth communication between the student and the facilitator over an extended period of time. Within a classroom environment, learners are immersed in the language and encouraged to speak. Learning takes place in a pro-active way with a balance of learner-facilitator interaction and group work. Language learners receive undivided attention from the facilitator, and the pace and content of the tuition is thus tailored to the learner accordingly.

Two of the benefits of online courses are that they offer flexibility and convenient accessibility; however, they also require a greater amount of self-discipline, reading and time-management skills. Online courses tend to make it easier to procrastinate and they create a sense of isolation. These elements are not conducive to successful language learning. Motivation levels are likely to decrease when using online platforms, as learners have no real external influences to help keep them motivated and inspired.

The quality and accreditation of online language courses is also a concern to most learners, as many online courses lack valid accreditation and certification. It is crucial to enrol in a course that provides legitimate information and that is accredited with a relevant board or organisation. A course that does not provide valid accreditation will serve no purpose or advantage to the learner.

Wits Language School was established in 1997 and forms part of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Over the last 19 years, the school has built a reputation for providing high-quality language services and short learning programmes in a dynamic and international learning environment. Wits Language School endorses interactive teaching styles, uses up-to-date teaching methods, and employs experienced and highly qualified teachers who are mother-tongue speakers to assist all participants in their quest to learn a second language.

Online learning should be considered a supplement and extension, rather than a replacement, to traditional classroom learning.

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Rethinking Learning In The 21st Century

The changing world of work has disrupted the three elements of the traditional ‘career’: Expertise, duration, and rewards.

Wits Plus

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Vital Stats

Traditionally the concept of a ‘career’ was considered to include three elements:

  1. A career represented our expertise, our profession, and ultimately our identity.
  2. A career was something that built over time and endured. It gave us the opportunity to progress and advance.
  3. A career gave us financial and psychological rewards. It made life meaningful and paid us enough to live well.

The changing world of work has disrupted all three elements: Expertise, duration, and rewards.

A career can now be as long as 60 years; at the same time, due to rapid advancements in technology and the changes that bring about in the workplace, skill sets can become obsolete in as little as five years.

Increasingly, companies need to rethink the way in which careers are managed and learning opportunities are delivered, and many have already begun to overhaul their career models and L&D (Learning and Development) infrastructure in line with the digital age.

Related: Your Investment In Knowledge

Employees’ learning behaviour is also changing. In the past, employees were able to obtain the skills required for their career early on and as a once-off; now, the career itself is a journey of learning, up-skilling, re-skilling and continuous reinvention to remain relevant and to thrive in the changing world of work.

Older employees who studied at a time where most of one’s learning occurred prior to entering the workplace, find themselves working alongside millennials who place greater value on learning and progression rather than on earning potential as a first priority.

Eighty-three percent of the respondents surveyed in Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey say their organisations are shifting to flexible, open career models that offer enriching assignments, projects, and experiences rather than a static career progression.

However, in today’s fast-paced business world, even if companies are restructuring L&D delivery, no one is going to make you engage in a strategy that is essential to your future success – continuous learning. You will have to take the initiative yourself.

Noted self-help expert W. Clement Stone, in his many writings on this topic, recommended that one spends anywhere from a half-hour to two hours a day in study and thinking time. This tireless dedication, combined with an insatiable curiosity, will equip you to excel in the future world of work. What’s more, learning new skills and knowledge can be fun!

The good news for both companies and for employees is that an explosion of high-quality content and digital delivery models offers employees ready access to continuous learning. The Wits DigitalCampus offers a range of accredited and fully online short courses to support your continuous learning.

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Your Investment In Knowledge

When you understand the value of knowledge, in this world where technology is rendering previously expensive products or services much cheaper (and even free), it’s just a matter of getting more of it. Dedicate yourself to constant learning!

Wits Plus

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Vital Stats

Most people spend their lives collecting, spending, and worrying about money — so much so, in fact, that they say they “don’t have time” to learn something new.

However, some of smartest and busiest people in the world — Barack Obama, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates — all spend at least one hour a day on deliberate learning. They see what others don’t: That learning is the single best investment of our time that we can make. As Benjamin Franklin said long ago, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

When you understand the value of knowledge, in this world where technology is rendering previously expensive products or services much cheaper (and even free), it’s just a matter of getting more of it. Dedicate yourself to constant learning!

One of the very benefits of ongoing technological advances is that it empowers an accelerated and personalised learning experience that puts the learner in the driver’s seat. Modern learning harnesses the speed, power and ubiquity of digital capability. Online platforms, software and mobile devices means that the traditional hurdles to learning — such as income, status and location — have just about disappeared. Knowledge can now be gained by anyone with the passion to pursue it and the commitment to stick with it.

Related: Building Customer Relationships

We are only at the tipping point of what future learning technology can deliver. Artificial intelligence (AI) will transform all aspects of human capital management, including learning. Technology-enabled learning will be immediate and directly relevant to the task, for example:

  • personally tailored learning content and experiences delivered to you as and when you want or need them
  • chatbots and virtual assistants can source and categorise the information that you need for optimal decision-making
  • augmented and virtual reality simulations can provide a multi-sensory experience to speed up and embed learning.

Additionally, social connectivity already enables user-generated content to outpace and outstrip what traditional education and learning institutions can deliver.

Knowledge may be the new money but, unlike money, you don’t lose it when you use knowledge or give it away. Transferring knowledge anywhere in the world is free and instant. It’s fun to acquire and it makes your brain work better. It helps you think bigger and beyond your circumstances. It puts your life in perspective by essentially helping you live many lives in one life through other people’s experiences and wisdom.

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