It’s All About Relationships

handshakeA colleague of mine recently interviewed for a new job with a different company. Our follow-up conversation included, not only how did it go, but the current way companies conduct interviews. For example, rather than the interviewer asking the interviewee a series of questions or having a lengthy conversation, a more common practice is a committee asking scenario-based questions. The person being interviewed is schooled that a complete and acceptable response is expected to cover three parts: 1. The situation 2. Actions taken and 3. Final results. I’ve been on the receiving end of such interviewing practices; it never feels genuine, authentic, or comfortable.

That got me to thinking about different kinds of interviews I have experienced over the years. One where I was led to believe I would be interviewed by one person and walked into a room full of people (a committee). Uh oh! Hope I have enough resumes for all! Another time, was an all-day session with interviews from various staff members, culminating in a presentation to the entire faculty. Faculty and staff were invited to ask questions, at will, during the presentation. I remember one person asking pointed “gotcha” kinds of questions. And… I further remember saying to him in response, “Realize while you are interviewing me, I am also interviewing you.” Needless to say, I did not get the job!

Then there was my favorite interview. The time I was being interviewed and did not know it. Here’s the story. I was hired as a contractor to participate in a brainstorming session to help line out the structure of a new online division for a for-profit education company. The company flew me in to headquarters, paid my expenses and a consulting fee for a 2-day session. I worked side-by-side with their management team to create the structure of the new division. The CEO, COO, Executive VP’s were all active participants. At the end of day 2, the CEO took me aside and offered me a job. When I told him I could not leave my current job until 5 months later, he said, “We will wait for you, Pam.” No wonder it was my favorite!! Fabulous job, fabulous people, great work experience.

So, what made the last example the favorite or the best interview for me? Yes, it was a great job that paid really well. But more importantly, it was a situation where the management of the company were just people and their focus was on the relationship of our work team. I was invited to participate in the meeting to see if I was a “good fit.” Determine whether we could build a strong working relationship. And we did! That’s what made it a great job and great experience.

So what does this have to do with online and blended learning? One requirement for success in online learning has to do with student’s experience.

Devon Haynie wrote about her first experience with an online course in an article for U.S. News and World Report, Final Reflections on My First Online Course. She pointed to three areas she would focus on or do differently when taking another online course.

  1. Be more organized. Devon pointed to the number of times in a face-to-face class the instructor reminded students of deadlines. That does not necessarily take place in an online course or gets overlooked. (Take plenty of resume copies!)
  2. Seek out a course with various approaches to learning. This area addresses a need to look at how you learn best and consider whether the course uses that strategy to convey content. For example, if you are an auditory learner, does the course include auditory or video files to present content? (Be prepared for various types of interview.)
  3. Find ways to engage. Devon says it better than I can:

One of the hardest parts of online learning in my experience was the lack of face-to-face interaction with my instructor and classmates. There is something about engaging with classmates and instructors that keeps me motivated and helps me feel invested in a course.”

This is the part I, too, want to emphasize. Relationship building. My belief is for learning to take place in an online or blended (or face-to-face) course, students need to feel that the instructor knows them and cares that they succeed.

So, thinking about the different kinds of interview experiences and different kinds of learning experiences, what sticks out is the authenticity and connection that provides structure for student success or the lack of it. What can we do to ensure our students feel engaged and build relationships?

While there are multiple sites with recommendations for how to engage your students online, one of my favorites is by Elham Arabi, 8 Tips for Engaging Students in e-Learning and Participating in Activities.

Elham’s list is:

  1. Trigger prior knowledge
  2. Ask them what their goals are
  3. Have their goals in mind when teaching
  4. Find out what their interests are and stimulates them to know more
  5. Ask them to share their challenges with you and the class
  6. Connect and interact with them
  7. Show them how to learn
  8. Use real-life scenarios

The key to the 8 tips is the focus on the students. Not on you as the instructor or on the content, but on the students. The lesson here…  if you remember to concentrate on your students’ learning needs and goals, they will be engaged and you will build relationships. Ask for their feedback. Give them a voice. Simply, place the focus on your students. They are the most important part of learning and teaching.

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