Successful business people are those who have the ability to adapt to an ever-changing business environment, something that’s facilitated by new skills sets. It’s true that what got you where you are today won’t be enough to take you where you want to be tomorrow — ongoing learning is essential if you want to keep abreast of the latest business trends and information and give your business and career the best chance of success. Skills and knowledge are as much a differentiator as great business ideas or a top-notch product.
For most people the obvious route to learning is through structured courses at recognised learning institutions, but continuous skills development can take a variety of different forms. Business coaching, networking and online learning can all contribute to a rich learning experience, complementing traditional forms of learning and providing you with a diversity of theoretical, practical and ‘soft’ skills.
South Africa has some outstanding business schools with affiliations to international universities and institutions. A full-time business degree is a luxury few can afford, but most business schools recognise the impracticality of business people studying full-time and also offer part-time degrees, diplomas and short courses.
Few things can match classroom lectures in providing a well-rounded education experience — they enable you to interact with lecturers and fellow students and ask questions in real time.
Choose courses that will provide you with both knowledge and skills to enable you to go further in business. Have a clear idea of what you want to get out of your learning experience — do you want certain practical skills, a more in-depth and nuanced understanding of business or a qualification that will open new doors? This should inform the kind of course and institution you choose.
The Internet has opened up a world of learning that surpasses international barriers and allows learning to take place almost anywhere. Sam Paddock, managing director of online education company GetSmarter, points out, “Online learning is inherently flexible, which provides entrepreneurs with a chance to fit learning interventions into their hectic schedules.” He adds that provided the online education model is ‘high-touch’, incorporating regular proactive guidance and support, even the busiest of people will successfully complete online courses. For GetSmarter, ‘high-touch’ means a high level of proactive and personal contact with students, something that can approximate an in-lecture learning experience.
In addition, online courses enable entrepreneurs to gain access to many more learning opportunities than would usually be the case with contact-based learning, which is limited by their physical location. “When it comes to specialist skills this sort of access to education, which is independent of physical location, becomes critical for entrepreneurs,” Paddock explains.
Business coaching is one of the fastest-growing professions in the world — and with good reason. It provides business people with (typically) one-on-one targeted assistance focused on solving specific problems or achieving particular goals.
“Business coaching won’t ever necessarily replace traditional modes of learning and nor should it, but it can complement them by providing business people with real implementation skills,” says Harry Welby-Cooke, master licensee of ActionCOACH South Africa. Welby-Cooke believes that while many business people have the necessary knowledge to take the next steps in business, they don’t know how or even where to implement it effectively.
“A good business coach provides an important outside perspective.
“They don’t collude with you or allow you to hide from the things in your business that are lacking or require your attention. So if you’re not good at finance and you typically ignore that side of your business, the coach will force you to look at it, acquire and implement the necessary financial knowledge to bring this aspect of your business on track,” he explains.
A business coach can also be a spurring and challenging influence, as the president of the Cape Town chapter of the International Coach Federation, Axel Ritterhaus, points out: “For start-ups, coaching can provide the self-confidence and stamina needed to get through the first hurdles and later on can help you to refocus on the business when you might otherwise get overwhelmed by the different tasks and demands of running a company,” he says.
“Coaching can help executives to be better leaders. A coach can be a sparring partner who challenges you to take things to the next level, someone who is honest with you and provides you with real and valuable feedback that you can use.”
While less formal than institutional and online learning, as well as coaching, networking can also provide you with valuable skills. Apart from providing you with the opportunity to bounce ideas off other entrepreneurs, it can help you to build your team skills set.
MBAconnect.net founder, Colette Symanowitz, explains, “If your networking efforts enable you to meet and partner with other entrepreneurs who are strong in the areas where you’re weak, your skills will complement each other and your collective skills as a team will grow stronger. This applies to professional, technical and soft skills.”
But she adds a note about the importance of seeking out people who have different skills to yours: “Be careful not to partner with others who you gravitate towards simply because they are similar to you, as this can be destructive for your business. As difficult as it may be, in your networking efforts it is vital to seek out partners who are your skill-set opposites and who you don’t naturally click with.”
Choosing a Partner for Education
Who you learn with is as important, and indeed will affect what you learn, so choosing the right education partner is critical. Whether you are selecting a bricks-and-mortar institution, an online education academy, a business coach or a networking group, look for the following:
- An established reputation: Organisations of quality have a solid reputation for a reason. Beware of fly-by-night organisations and remember that education doesn’t come cheap, so you usually get what you pay for.
- Recognised accreditation: Relevant to formal qualifications, accreditation is an external stamp of approval, providing assurance that the education you are getting meets a particular standard.
- Endorsement from others: If other people in your field have found the institute, society or association helpful and valuable there’s a good chance you will too.
- Depth of learning: The educators and courses on offer should provide you with a depth of learning.
- Practical and theoretical skills: Business is about implementation so a quality institution will provide you with real-life and theoretical business knowledge.
Tips To Becoming Fluent
The ultimate goal when learning a new language is to use it fluently, as accuracy can be improved and developed over time.
Learning a foreign language can be challenging and difficult, and requires great commitment and motivation. It is, however, one of the most enriching and rewarding skills that can be acquired over a lifetime. There are proven benefits to learning a second language, for example, improved intelligence, memory and concentration, as well as lowered risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Fluency is the ability to express oneself easily and coherently in real time. Accuracy is the ability to be correct and precise, and it means that one is communicating without any grammatical, vocabulary, tonal or any other errors. The ultimate goal when learning a new language is to use it fluently, as accuracy can be improved and developed over time.
How you can improve your language fluency
There are a number of ways to improve fluency. Firstly, immerse yourself with native speakers as much as possible. Listen to them in their natural contexts and if you are unable to do this, watch movies and television shows in the language you are learning, or listen to audio books and music in that language. Another option for immersing yourself in a foreign language is to stream radio from a country that speaks it, or tune into a television station from that country on DSTV.
Find avenues to practice wherever and whenever you can.Having a friend to practice with can help you to stay motivated and focused. Practice speaking every day and try to learn new words and phrases every day. Encourage native speakers to correct you wherever possible.
Be prepared to invest a lot of time and dedication into learning a foreign language. Students are likely to stay motivated over the long-run if they have a good reason to learn the language.
The problem that many beginners encounter is that they become too focused on reaching a perfect end-stage that they get discouraged and never get past the early stages.
Become comfortable with making mistakes and try not to be perfect. Think in the language as much as possible, instead of thinking in your native language and then translating. Try to improve and remember specific grammar rules so as to avoid incomprehensibility or vagueness when communicating with native speakers.
Choose an comprehensive language course
When choosing a language course, remember to look for a course that focuses on all the language skills like reading, writing, listening, grammar and speaking. Read books, magazines, and other material in the target language whenever possible. Write something in the language every day, for example, a short sentence summing up your day, a diary entry, or an article.
Memorising lists of vocabulary can be quite challenging and very boring. A great way to build vocabulary is to learn vocabulary that is relevant to your life and things around you. You could start off by writing your “to do” lists and shopping lists in the language that you are studying. Practice by giving commands to your dog, labeling household items, and playing memory games.
Social media platforms are another excellent way of interacting with native speakers, as users are able to interact with each other over the internet.
Web blogs are one of the many forms of social media, and provide a platform in which people can express issues related to their lives and different viewpoints that they may have. Blogs address a wide range of topics and are used in many different ways, which makes this platform an excellent means to practice your language of choice.
Practice, practice, practice
Try not to leave long gaps between courses or take a semester off, as you will forget your language at an alarming rate. If you are planning to go on holiday, take some exercises with you so that you can do these throughout your trip.Consider booking your next trip to the country where the language you are learning is spoken.
If you are serious about learning the language and getting direct pleasure from what you have learnt, you need to go where that language is spoken. Above all, you need to enjoy learning the foreign language and never stop having fun while learning.
“Free” Online Courses Versus Interactive Classroom Courses
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.
Benefits of face-to-face language learning
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: Ongoing Learning For Leaders
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.
Related: Why You Should Keep Learning
Online learning should be considered a supplement and extension, rather than a replacement, to traditional classroom learning.
Moreover, Wits Plus, the Centre for Part-Time Studies at the University of Witwatersrand, offers selected undergraduate degrees, as well as a wide range of short certificate courses. Evening classes make all qualifications accessible to working people and busy entrepreneurs. Wits Plus also offers a range of online short courses that enable you to study wherever you are. Certificates of Competence are awarded to successful participants for both certificate and online short courses
Successful Adulting: Why Studying Isn’t So Scary
How to cope with studying as an adult.
Balancing the various priorities that fill your day is one of the greatest differences between studying as an adult and studying when you have just finished school. Students who have just finished school often only have their studies to focus on, whereas adults with full-time work commitments and/or a family to take care of have more on their plates.
While this is not to say that all new students having finished school do not have these priorities — more and more do these days — they also seem to have more support from the family unit. Adult students need to start their degrees with clear strategies to succeed.
Here are a few tips.
1. Make a time and a place that you can dedicate to your studies
This should allow you to work without interruption. Having your family understand and respect these boundaries is very important and critical to you doing well. If you have defined time to work, you can spend time freely with them once you are done.
2. Find balance between the various aspects of your life
The best way to do this is to not fill too many hours with unnecessary work. Work or studying can easily expand to fill any amount of time you allow, and so you have to manage this so that you have enough time to work, study, relax, and do all the other things that are important to you, all the while remembering that time on task is important to your successful future.
3. If you do not understand, you should ask questions
Don’t be shy! As lecturers, we appreciate questions and enquiring minds. Understanding something now may mean the difference between passing or failing in future, so ask questions sooner rather than later.
4. Form a small study group with others
There is nothing more motivating than being on the same path as others. Everyone has different skill sets and abilities, and members of your study group will help you gain a new perspective on your work.
5. Find a mentor that you can learn good habits from and whose input you value
It takes a lot of courage to find a good mentor, but this relationship will benefit you in years to come. The key is to find someone who is in a place in life that you admire, either from a personal or professional perspective.
6. Don’t fall behind with your studies and make sure you keep up to date
Take time to check that your notes are updated, in order and make sense. The best way to do this is to use some time after lessons each day to go over that day’s work to be sure you have the work well summarised and in a form that you can use for revision. Another impactful way to check your understanding of a topic is to find a friend in the class who needs help, and help them. You cannot explain the work if you don’t understand it. If you are not brave enough to do this, then draw a face on an orange or an apple and explain the work to the fruit!
Pulling it all together
Starting and completing a degree as an adult student is not as overwhelming as it may appear at first. The key is to break it down into small, manageable steps. By putting positive, constructive habits in place and surrounding yourself with a support system, you will not only obtain your degree, but enjoy the process of learning and growing.
If you’re ready to take the next step and fast forward your career, learn more about Monash South Africa’s MSA Executive education programme at www.msa.ac.za/msaexec/what-we-offer/.
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