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What’s In The Future?

Published June 1, 2015 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Summer Break Edition:

(Originally Posted Feb 2013)

Future

Whats In the Future?

Some say the future is full of promise. Others predict a dystopia full of uncertainty and threats from the growing number of groups who create markets to embrace this apocalyptic future.  A recent example was witnessed by the focus of attention put on the apocalyptic fervor created from the 2012 Mayan prophecy. Meanwhile, sects of major Christian religions interpret global events like the Japanese earthquake, The Indonesian tsunami, the Gulf Coast oil disaster, and the plethora of weather events, including hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and other natural disasters as confirmation of the forthcoming Armageddon. However research from the late Zecharia Sitchin  (2007), suggests a different meaning of the word Armageddon. The discovery of an ancient site called Megiddo at the foot of Mount Megiddo (Har – Megiddo in the original Hebrew text), from his scholarly view, points to the expression of Armageddon as a term derived in reference to Har-Megiddo, a place associated with annihilation by those with knowledge of the region’s destructive historic past as a prominent ancient battleground.

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Adding to the end-of-times frenzy, are the many indigenous community elders worldwide who also share similar beliefs in end of time outlooks from a little more optimistic vantage. The native peoples view is representative of a metaphoric death of one age or completion of a cycle; and the birth or beginning of a new one. The future in other words can either be bleak or promising contingent upon an individual’s attitude.

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For example, many anticipated a positive change with the replacement of the Bush administration that left our economy in a total wreck by the historical election of the first black US president, Barack Obama who won the election on the message of change. However according to former Governor Jesse Ventura (2009) upon taking the oath of the oval office in his first term; the only missing person from the old Democratic administration was Robert Byrd (Ventura, 2009).  One perspective views the current administration as a positive change, while another indicates that the only change was the actor in the leadership role, while the other acting agents remained the same.

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Sommers (2012), suggests that the direction of our future is subject to social, economic and environmental disasters that can spring from the following four constant and predictable forces of change: (1) resources, (2) technology, (3) demographics, and (4) governance. Trends can help guide these forces of change in a somewhat predictable manner. What is certain however is that the outcomes are unpredictable (Sommers, 2012). In other words, our future will be shaped from the availability of resources that sustain our population and the technology that helps transform raw materials (e.g., ovens to cook meals). In addition to these assets, is the interaction of demographics in the form of the productiveness of a society, which includes the right combination of age, gender and genetic diversity. These are further required components after resources and technology. How successful a group or society will be is contingent upon how productive they are. The the final aspect to a positive future is the governance that comprises the distribution and management of the group’s assets, resources, technology and people in the rule of law and marketplace. Understanding these concepts and how they interact is the key to help us gage the possibilities of knowing where and how to create a brighter future.

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In conclusion, Harper and Light (2011) offer the following advice to help us adjust to change to better equip ourselves as sculptors and active participants in bettering our future: (a) expect change, (b) understand change, (c) change ourselves and (d) help make a difference in the world by doing our part to be of service (Harper & Leicht, 2011).  These four tips, in addition to a conscious awareness of our connectedness to each other and our environment, are essential elements for shaping the globe into a more harmonious place of existence.

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““If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet. Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” – Niels Bohr, a Danish Physicist

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References:

Harper, C., & Leicht, K. (2011). Exploring social change American and the world (6th ed.). Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Sitchin, Z. (2007). The end of days: Armageddon and prophecies of the return. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Sommers, C. (2012). Think like a futurist. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ventura, J. (2009). Don’t start the revolution without me (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.

Learning Through Experience

Published April 29, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Scholars agree that experience is a concept that is undervalued, underestimated and in some cases, even disregarded. According to Beard and Wilson (2006) experience pervades all forms of learning. Their definition of experiential learning is the process of active engagement between the inner world of a person and the outer world of the environment.  Active engagement is one of the basic components of experiential learning. It involves the entire individual, through thoughts, feelings and physical activity. Experiential learning takes on many appearances that include recreational or leisure activities, exhilarating journeys or adventures, experimentation or play. In other words, people learn new skills by doing them. A teacher who directs their students to learn rhyme and meter by instructing them to create a dance routine to a poem in iambic pentameter is one example of experiential learning (Beard & Wilson, 2006).

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A fundamental element to effective learning is the ability to reflect and review the learning process.  This helps identify which methods are effective and which are not. Root issues however, tend to remain unaddressed. For this reason measurement is an essential component to high performance, improvement, and success in any business or other area of human endeavor. In fact, Spitzer (2007) postulates the key to success is measurement because it can reveal the organization’s current position in the marketplace, identifies strengths and weaknesses, and helps in the development of new goals. For this reason, performance measures have a transformational effect on the way people and organizations examine their work, products and customers (Spitzer, 2007). During my employment in the mortgage and loan industry, I observed many formal and informal reflection and review processes that were developed as the organization grew. For example, as the organization achieved higher levels of success, the number of employees increased. This included additional loan officers, processors and administrative staff. At this new level of corporate operations, management conducted annual reviews to verify the organization was complying with policies and operating legally within the corporate framework to avoid substantial penalty fees.  At this stage, operation managers were legally required to work in compliance with labor laws and began to implement systems that offered employee benefits including health insurance and paid vacation time.

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Annual and monthly reviews were conducted with focus centered on the volume of loans and closings. This could help identify methods loan officers and processing teams incorporated and give insight to what was effective as well as pinpoint weaknesses. Weekly and monthly sales strategy meetings were also conducted to assess the volume of lead activity and identify why some transferred into sales and why others didn’t. Once the information was collected and evaluated upper management could then decide on tactics and training programs to help staffers develop higher skill levels, use them consistently, and incorporate systems that would assist to motivate them (Silberman, 2007). The founders of the mortgage company, for example, decided to seek professional assistance to help guide the company’s success and engaged the services of an elite mortgage and loan coaching company. Annual leadership meetings were conducted. The executives were assigned new tasks and set short and long term goals. Monthly calls were scheduled and each team leader was required to submit a progress report to monitor activity.

Leaders that actively work to improve themselves and their organizations, seek new opportunities to learn. Those who are wise enough enlist the guidance of successful mentors and coaches. These trailblazers do not underestimate the value of experiential learning and are able to make adjustments based on methods of trial and error. These are the bosses and organizations employees are proud to be a part of.

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References:

Beard, C., & Wilson, J. (2006). Experiential learning: A best practice handbook (2nd ed.). London, England, UK: Kogan Page.

Silberman, M. (2007). The handbook of experiential learning. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Spitzer, D. R. (2007). Transforming performance measurement: Rethinking the way we measure and drive organizational success. New York, NY: AMACOM Books.

References:

Beard, C., & Wilson, J. (2006). Experiential learning: A best practice handbook (2nd ed.). London, England, UK: Kogan Page.

Silberman, M. (2007). The handbook of experiential learning. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Spitzer, D. R. (2007). Transforming performance measurement: Rethinking the way we measure and drive organizational success. New York, NY: AMACOM Books.

Artifacts, Norms and Assumptions

Published April 24, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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Baack (2012) discloses in his book, Organizational Behavior, that artifacts are the overtly stated values and norms that identify individuals and organizations (Baack, 2012). Individual artifacts include the car a person drives, the clothing and jewelry they wear, piercings and other forms of items of value. These artifacts transmit nonverbal messages or kinesic cues that are communicated in a nonlinguistic way. An organization’s culture on the other hand, is determined by the observable artifacts. They represent the physical signs of an organization’s dominant culture, like the golden arches of McDonalds.  The most significant observable artifact at Capitol-EMI Industries, my former place of employment is the historic Capital Records Tower building in Hollywood. Like McDonald’s golden arches, the Capitol Records Tower is instantly recognized by the unique design which represents a stack of record discs. As a newly hired employee, I was fascinated with the design of a round building. It’s one thing to marvel at it from the outside, but another experience entirely from within the tower walls. The offices I worked at were located on the eleventh floor, so the views from that height were magnificent. When the Paramount Studios lot caught fire from the set of one of the Star Trek movies, we were able to view it from the office bay windows.  It wasn’t until I was promoted and transferred to the EMI offices down the road that I really began to appreciate the tower building. Although I was content to find employment in a smaller one story structure, where our executive offices were located, I look back now at the tower with fond memories.

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The Capitol Records culture was transmitted in a variety of ways through the espoused values which include emphasis on sustainability and a commitment to high quality entertainment. The combination of observable artifacts which includes the company brand and logo, the tower building, and the catalog of famous artists, along with the espoused and enacted values helped create role clarity for the employees. For example, the lobby of the building displays many gold records from artists including: The Andrew Sisters, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, Neil Diamond, Bob Seger, and Tina Turner. The personnel who work at the tower encounter these observable artifacts every day that gives staffer a sense of pride. Many of us grew up listening to these artists and were proud to be a part of such a prestigious family.

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Schein (2010) contends the connection between leadership and culture is clear in organizational cultures and micro-cultures. Managers influence the behavior of the subordinates. Those who are resistant to change do not last very long. (Schein, 2010). For example, when I was initially hired, I had just relocated from Arizona where I grew up. I had not resided in California long enough to adapt and blend in with the Southern California culture which was entirely different from that of a desert state like Arizona. My sense of style reflected that of a conservative small town. In fact, I recall one individual compare my fashion style to that of an airline flight attendant, which translated as professional, but not very hip. The dress code varied from floor to floor and department to department. For example, the executive offices where the CEO and high ranking officers worked (all male) and each dressed in suit and tie, while their administrative staff were dressed in professional accouterments that reflected their executive office. The floor where the A&R (Artist and Repertoire) and R&B (Rhythm and Blues) departments were located (where our Business Affairs division was also situated) the executives attire resembled that of the artists they represented. For instance, the executives who signed the rock bands dressed like the rock stars; the executives who signed the rap artists looked like rappers. I was employed with the attorneys that negotiated the artist contracts and eventually adapted a style that blended with the norm of the support staff on that floor, which consisted of a combination of those from the A&R department and the executive offices upstairs. It was a professional style but appropriate for the LA music scene.

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The espoused values and assumptions both helped and hindered moving the company into a learning organization. Executive leaders learned to work together cohesively and in tandem to achieve company goals, but at times engaged in conflicts from policies and actions that were not always supportive. For example, when an artist’s profits and popularity soars after their initial debut album, the artist’s manager and attorney immediately look to renegotiate the contract. The department head of A&R must decide to either go up against manager and artist and refuse their requests, or face the other executive branches to keep in alignment with the artist. It is here the negotiation process begins pitting company leader against company leader as the artist’s camp engages into debates with the policy holders. Each incident becomes a learning experience as each situation is unique and no two artists are the same. Our department became involved when contractual questions or disputes arose so that we could either arm the A&R executive or some case, deflect the A&R department from operating outside the parameters of the contractual commitments. As a rule however, the members of the Capitol Records family enjoyed a positive culture of stability. The recognizable observable artifacts, perceptions of espoused and functioning enacted values, helped generate a greater sense of clarity for the personnel.

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References:

Baack, D. (2012). Organizational behavior. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Schein, E. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Organizational Learning Processes

Published April 22, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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There is a growing interest in the learning processes in organizational contexts fueled by a belief that innovation and education are essential for survival. Garvin (2000) postulates, that there is no one way of successful learning. Although leaders command an arsenal of skills, each method of education remains consistent, in that it requires the acquisition, interpretation, and application of new information (Garvin, 2000). We were assigned a task this week. We were to assume the top manager role of a major clothing store asked to help design a program to increase the level of organizational learning. As the top manager, my first strategy is to conduct an analysis to ascertain the current organizational behavior and develop a way to retrieve unfiltered information from the hearts and minds of the staff. The data gathered would consist of accurate intelligence and up-to-date information. The information collection process would center on identifying and comprehending behavior that is influenced by: (a) the technologies available, (b) the barriers and regulations that are implemented, and (c) the social demographics. This method would serve to acknowledge weaknesses and strengths that will assist in the design of an effective program to increase the level of organizational learning.

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Another strategy I would consider, is to include the formation of systems that incorporate employee self-analysis and assessment. This helps to encourage a learning culture that embraces openness from direct observation, feedback and evaluation as part of the process. Argyris (1992) states organizational learning is a proficiency that all organizations should cultivate. The better they are at learning the more likely they can identify and correct errors as well as recognize when they are unable to detect and correct their own miscalculations. He contends that organizational defenses are one of the most significant barriers to learning. These defenses include policies, practices, or actions that prevent participants (at any level) from experiencing growth. In this context, organizational defenses are anti-learning and overprotective. For this reason, the data collection process for the clothing store must be constructed to identify existing barriers and defenses that can obstruct the learning process. This is one way to help identify policies and actions that prevent growth (Argyris, 1992).

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Research shows that questionnaires are the most popular method used to gather information, because they obtain subjective data about the participants, with measurable documented results that can be analyzed. In order to develop an effective information gathering plan, data may be collected by survey, interview or focus group. The data collection plan would: (a) focus on specific topics, (b) contain appropriate tested questions, (c) include participation from the stakeholders, and (d) address any anonymity issues. The observation design process must also include the ease of analysis, tabulation and summation. Once the unfiltered data is collected, it will be examined and disseminated to identify problems and trouble spots that distinguish which systems are successful and which models are not as effective (Phillips & Stawarski, 2008).  Furthermore and equally important, as a means to connect emotionally and engage staff enthusiasm and support, I would recommend a briefing for the participants.  I would provide an explanation for the significance of the program and articulate that it is part of a special campaign with end goals that will reflect positive results. Finally, I would endorse the use of incentives and include an introduction video or other form of electronic communication from the highest executive officer to personalize the plan and help manage any employee fears. For the clothing company scenario, the combination of these strategies will help provide the detailed intelligence required in the development and design of a more effective learning organization.

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References:

Argyris, C. (1992). on organizational learning (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

Garvin, D. (2000). Learning in action: A guide to putting the learning organization to work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Phillips, P. P., & Stawarski, C. A. (2008). Data collection: Planning for and Collecting all types of data. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Organizations as Systems

Published April 17, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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As human beings, we spend most of our lives in systems: a family system, a classroom, peer groups, teams, organizations, community, nations, and ethnic groups to name a few. When individuals fail to recognize systems, they tend to fall out of partnership with one another and their surroundings. They are prone to misunderstandings and invent information to explain what they do not know. They create falsehoods and biases. In short, they become separated when they could remain a part of something. People become oppressed when they could live in accord with one another. As a result, most systems, organizations, families, and other groups squander much of their potential. When this occurs without awareness or choice it becomes a blind reflex. Oshry (2007) identifies five types of system blindness: (a) spatial, (b) temporal, (c) relational, (d) process, and (e) uncertainty.  For example, when a person suffers from spatial blindness, they only see part of a system, not the whole. They see what is happening to them, but not necessarily what is occurring elsewhere for instance. They cannot view another’s perspective or comprehend some of the issues they face, the stresses they may feel, nor can they ascertain how their views impact their lives or that of others (Oshry, 2007).

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Espejo and Reyes (2011) research contends there is a distinct difference between what they classify as a black box organization and an operational interpretation of an organizational system. The former is concerned with the transformation of inputs and outputs; the latter centers on the relationships that create a whole entity from a set of various components. The black box description is often formulated from an individual’s concept who is trying to control the situation from the outside. In other words, it is a form of unilateral control.  An operational system on the other hand, is connected to ongoing explanations between components that are determined to achieve stability in their relationships. Control in this model is quite different than that of the unilateral control system of the black box frame. It is attained from communications, accommodation and mutual influence (Espejo & Reyes, 2011). An independent contractor for example, may create their own systems of operation, as well as adhere to the systems and parameters from those that hire their services.

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Garvin (2003) postulates that an effective organization must consist of the following six critical activities for a learning organization to be successful: (1) collect information, (2) learn from the successful experiences (benchmark) of others, (3) learn from past experiences, (4) experiment with new ideas, (5) encourage problem solving, and (6) share knowledge (Garvin, 2003). For many businesses, important information for projects  flows as input and data processing. Once data is received, it is then interpreted and formulated into a new project ascertaining priorities and giving attention to deadlines.  A client that conducts a monthly Lunch-n-Learn presentation, for example, to recruit and motivate new clients, would require systems in place to manage the event. Once the data is received regarding an upcoming event, the information is processed and transformed into intellectual properties in the form of invitations, a press release, and creative marketing to support the event. Next, reports are organized from the feedback of potential participants. Once the presentation is completed, follow up systems are implemented to keep connected with participants, including appreciation forms of communication like thank you cards. Feedback for self-assessment is also important. It helps make the next presentation more effective. With having systems in place, including the organization of client information, leaders can evaluate and learn from their mistakes by observing what works and what does not. These systems serve as a tool that help people learn and work better together, as well as serve others more efficiently. Acknowledging mistakes, keeping open communication, listening to feedback, and engaging in active action reviews, are some of the systems organizations have implemented to make their working relationships more effective.

References:

Espejo, R., & Reyes, A. (2011). Organizational systems: Managing complexity with the viable system model. New York, NY: SPi Publisher Services.

Building a more effective learning organizztion (2003). [Motion Picture]. Retrieved April 2, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=hXwBw2EZKHE#!

Oshry, B. (2007). Seeing systems: Unlocking the mysteries of organizational life. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

How Valuable is Training to the Learning Process

Published April 15, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

TrainingThe Value of Training

This week’s topic is focused on social learning, which in its simplest definition means receiving knowledge with and from others.This happens inherently at meetings, gatherings, and amongst good friends over a cup of tea for example, just as easily as it occurs in a classroom situation.We can also experience social learning in the workplace when we step in to an adjacent office to ask a question, or call a colleague to pose the same query. In addition, because of social media tools, learning is now unconstrained by geographic differences or temporal boundaries. Classic business models however, make the presumption that pertinent information is created and shared either through management or training alone. Most of the knowledge acquired in today’s organizations in fact, comes from engaging in networks where people co-create, collaborate and share information with full participation in guiding and driving their learning by whatever means will help them grow. Successful corporate leaders understand this concept and encourage group networking for instance, to help acquire further knowledge and experience. In the meantime, training still serves as a valuable tool in the learning process because it provides individuals solutions to challenges that have already been mastered by others (Bingham & Conner, 2010).

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New Skills Development

Wick et al. (2010) postulate that there is a strategic significance to learning and contributing to the workplace that corporate training and development programs can and should provide. Leaders anticipate and support training programs because they are beneficial and rewarding in that they can help improve workplace performance. However, each individual’s learning experience from any given situation is shaped by a variety of components including (a) his or her expectations, (b) attitude, (c) prior knowledge experiences, (d) learning style, and (e) aptitude and emotional experience. Furthermore, other factors can also influence the degree in which individuals transfer and apply that knowledge. These include opportunity, encouragement, reinforcement, and early successes or failures. Therefore, the success of training programs relies on both the absorption and facilitation of the educational program. The design of the learning initiatives must take into consideration and incorporate the training to encompass the entire learning process, not just what occurs in the classroom situation. Equally important is what happens before and after the formal period of instruction (Wick, Pollock, & Jefferson, 2010). Effective training programs therefore should include follow-ups, assessments, and continual re-evaluation to keep skills honed and the creative energy stimulated to maintain a cohesive organization.

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Modeling Behavior

The training process also includes to a certain degree, the modeling of behavioral practices. Most people are not even aware that they instinctively model behavior. For example, when a popular character on a television series or commercial displays a certain kind of behavior or cites a phrase that stands out, it is likely that it will become a popular catch phrase shortly thereafter. That is how such popular quotes like, “where’s the beef’ and “yadda, yadda, yadda” are born, which advertisers rely on as a key component to creating an effective marketing campaign. In this sense, society models behavior based on popularity. In the training arena, modeling behavior presents individuals an opportunity to use information that supports and reinforces substantiated knowledge that will yield results. Behavior modeling can occur in situations of collaboration, coaching, as well as from senior management and supervisor support. Social situations, whether in an office setting or on a playing field of a sports arena, offer ripe environments for individuals to learn how to model behavior from each other in an effort to become more successful or win a game. The Greek philosopher Plato said that, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation” (Chopra, 2013). It is no wonder then, that organizational leaders who incorporate training programs with an open, playful, and interactive arena, create a perfect storm for the learning experience. In conclusion, training, developing new skills, and modeling behavior absorbed from successfully trained individuals with proven positive outcomes, can be an effective approach to achieve higher levels of success when it is applied in the workplace.

References:

Bingham, T., & Conner, M. (2010). The new social learning: a guide to transforming organizations through social media. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Chopra, D. (2013, March 27). Oprah and Deepak 21-day mediation challenge: Day 17. Carlsbad, CA, USA. Retrieved March 27, 2013, from http://www.chopracentermeditation.com/bestsellers/ProgramPage.aspx?bookid=178&id=7854

Wick, C., Pollock, R., & Jefferson, A. (2010). The six disciplines of breakthrough learning. San Franciso, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Innovative Challenges

Published March 4, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

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New innovations continue to help industries evolve. As a result many organizations now operate in an entirely new fashion.  For instance, innovations in technology have changed the face of the education industry dramatically. Fifteen years ago the traditional brick and mortar school setting was the standard format for public education and universities nationwide. Now because of technological advances in electronic communication, an increasingly popular method of education and training is delivered in real time, from accredited learning institutions, in a virtual classroom environment.  Students are now able to pursue their education through a scholastic virtual medium beginning in elementary school and extending through college. This is ideal for students with special skills and needs, or those who excel in an environment that supports working at an individual’s natural pace. More families are turning to online education. Virtual organizations support these families with activities, clubs and other social events for families in the academic community. In addition, Clark & Kwinn (2007) purport organizations that participate in workforce learning, save on travel costs and keep employees from having to take time away from work (Clark & Kwinn, 2007).

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Caulfield (2011) identifies three types of learning in the higher education environment. They include: (a) technology enhanced courses – where students meet face to face with instructors in a traditional classroom setting, adding technological components as part of the learning experience; (b) hybrid courses that consist of reduced face-time courses outside the brick and mortar setting; and (c) blended programs that integrate both models with focus on outcome-based practice.  Virtual classrooms that incorporate tools like Blackboard offer real time instructor-student interface for instant feedback in both audio and video format from remote locations (Caulfield, 2011).

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Innovations in education present families with more options for academic pursuits. For example, the public school setting is restrictive for some children that display high levels of intellect at an early age. A first grader who reads at fifth grade level is not challenged by traditional public school curriculum. Parents are forced to think outside the box for solutions so children can excel academically, especially those without the support to enroll them into private schools. Innovations in technology allow families to enroll in accredited charter online schools like K12 that offer superior levels of education where children can work at their own pace. Additionally, advances in education also allow individuals to seek higher levels of education with reputable institutions like Ashford University in a virtual environment. In conclusion, many families have become liberated in the field of education because of the innovations in new technologies.

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References:

Caulfield, J. (2011). How to design and teach a hybrid course. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Clark, R., & Kwinn, A. (2007). The new virtual classroom: Evidence-based guidelines for synchronous e-learning. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.