The pain of upskilling

The benefits of the comfort zone are appealing. Steady (though not always satisfying) incomes, “secure” jobs, relaxed routines, and predictable schedules are as comforting to humans as they are to animals. In this phase, people limit their learning to things they learn on the job, not knowing that yesterday’s lessons rarely solve tomorrow’s challenges… Without skill upgrades or a willingness to learn, people are caught in a rut. They are unable to see when the next trend is about to catch up or when the current one is about to die. For the few that can see the new trend, the pain of having to upgrade their skills far supersedes the pleasure of staying in the comfort zone.- How to stay relevant in today’s rapidly-changing job market

Since reading this article I’ve thought about the above paragraph multiple times. The last part about the pain of upgrading our skills nailed it.

No doubt, professional change is painful. I’m part of a generation where the narrative has always been college degree = career success, full stop. Two degrees and five professional jobs later and I’m wondering if I’m staring at irrelevance in five years if I don’t upskill. I quit my well paying, secure job at Yale last year because I was stagnant with little hope of gaining new, relevant skills that prepared me for the future of work. While I’m starting my own company, I’m concerned I’m not keeping pace with the technical skills needed to stay relevant. Should I take a side job designing chatbots? How can I fit in learning to code in python so I can get closer to working with AI systems? I’m not thrilled by self-paced learning, so what are my options? Where do I find the time?

Telling people they need to update their skills and #alwaysbelearning is the first step. But the next step is harder. How do we teach people reskill? How do we help them identify what to change and how to change it?

That’s what I’m setting out to change with FutureMe School. Forget resumes and cover letters, I’m teaching people how to build career agility. I’m struggling through my own upskill/reskill fails as I carve out time to build in-demand tech skills. I’m also launching a weekly Instagram live event on FutureMe School: ReSkill Thursdays. It’ll be one part sharing my experience and one part coaching others on their reskill options. I’ll highlight interesting programs, online courses, and workshops too to help people think about their options.

With FutureMe School, we’re going to take the mystery and pain out of upskilling for the future of work.

I keep failing at upskilling so here’s profesh New Years Resolution #2

I struggle with upskilling. I’ve failed out of more Coursera courses than I can count. I struggle with procrastination and attention (it’s the online course vs. the entire internet vs. Twitter vs. Instagram). Five ago I completed a Financial Accounting MOOC from Wharton just to see if I could do it (I did). Since then I haven’t managed to make it through a coding class or a data analytics specialization, despite desperately wanting those skills and being quite curious about them).

Last week I found this wonderfully in-depth article on learning to code in 2018. It’s written by Andrei Neagoie, a senior software developer, who is currently “building the ultimate course to teach dev skills.” The article is written in a way that made me feel like I could most definitely absolutely learn javascript in 2018.  If you’re thinking about upgrading your technical skills (even if some say it might be too late for your industry), read the article.

I’ve signed up for his ultimate course. As a course designer I want to see his instructional design approach. As a career coach, I want to understand the process people go through as they try to upskill, so I can build better courses to help them do it. As a person who needs to get her shit together and upskill, I want to upgrade my technical abilities and build interactive websites.

So here’s to 2018, the year of the upskill! 


Professional development by podcast

I feel like we’ve made online learning really transactional.
— Maria Andersen, on the Teaching in Higher Education podcast

It’s a challenge to find (and fund) relevant professional development opportunities as a self-employed person launching a new company.

I network a lot to keep connected to communities and ideas. I try to build learning networks from those connections but I have gaps in my learning networks. Recently I discovered the Learning in Higher Education podcast by Bonnie Stachowiok. The podcast focuses mostly on improving digital pedagogy, a subject near and dear to my heart. I’ve binged so many episodes of this podcast while neglecting my weekly favorites like Reply All, Game Plan, and On the Media. (there’s just not enough time for all my favorite in a week).

As I’ve binged I’ve realized how valuable this podcast is for my own professional development. I’m binging not just because I love the subject but because the perspective is so useful as I build the future of career education. I’m taking notes and thinking about how I’ll integrate play into courses or use new edtech resources. On the episode, Learning is not a spectator sport, I yelled in support, banging on my steering wheel, when the guest Maria Andersen said

You don’t actually learn until you engage with it.

With the flood of mediocre online learning experiences out there this rang so true. My goal as an instructional designer is to get students to engage with the content (without discussion forums) so the concepts stick. And thanks to this podcast I’m learning ways to do just that.

The host’s teaching skills are what makes this podcast such a joy to listen to. Not only am I getting incredibly useful content, she presents it in a thought provoking manner, much like you’d expect your favorite professor to do.

And then there’s the curated resources alongside the podcasts. This podcast is a goldmine for anyone who wants to improve their teaching, coaching, or facilitation skills. As an entrepreneur and instructional designer, it’s opened up a new way of thinking about professional development and growth.

This is how you connect online learning to career outcomes

FutureLearn, an online course provider with a gorgeous UX, is killing it when it comes to connecting online learning opportunities to career outcomes. I just stumbled on a link to their Become a Data Scientist page and when I landed I felt a little like this:

They nailed it. I’ve written previously about online course providers who fail to help learners articulate how their online courses improve career prospects. FutureLearn does this exceptionally well with their Become a Data Scientist page. It’s a model for online platforms who are targeting mid-level professionals on how to frame their course offerings: start with career outcomes then connect the courses to the outcomes.

It looks like this:

First give an overview of the career path: description, salary, job openings.

Then educate the student on the skills they need to become a data scientist. (this helps for the job search too as learners will be able to articulate the skills they’ve mastered)

Next, connect learners to opportunities that help them develop those skills.

(plus one for setting expectations with timeframes and workloads)

Finally, seal the deal with social proof and the benefits. 

Above all do it with good UX and design. FutureLearn does this wonderfully. The only thing I’d add is video testimonials or stories from students who have made the transition to a data scientist. I’m impressed which is hard to do since I’m definitely a critic when it comes to popular online learning experiences.

Now imagine if college majors were designed this way for prospective students?

Is $10k for an online graduate certificate worth it?

Northwestern University is offering an online certificate for future international educators (study abroad advisors, international student advisors, global program admins) for the price of $10,624.00. It’s a 1/2 year commitment for full time. The certificate program “prepares students for employment in various sectors of the international education field.”

As someone who has worked on both the university and vendor side of international education, from program management, to communications, to careers, I know the industry well. And I know that you don’t need a $10K graduate certificate to get into international education, especially for entry level roles.

Since this certificate prepares students for employment in international education, let’s take a look at the skills required for work in international education.

Here are the skills and requirements for a candidate seeking a study abroad advisor at North Dakota State University (starting salary: $36,000) :

And here are the skills and requirements for an Inbound Analyst at the Institute for International Education (aka an “NGO supporting these exchanges” as listed on the overview above). This associate-level role “monitors and advises a medium to large caseload of (more than 150) participants coming into the United States” and builds “networks with institutional partners and IIE constituents.” It’s a mid-level role, ideal for someone who isn’t fresh out of college.

So how does a certificate in Global Student Mobility prepare candidates for these types of roles?

It doesn’t.

Though the curriculum offers “a grounding in cross-cultural theories while also exploring the widening range of program types, methods of delivery, and the importance of experiential and service-learning exchanges,” the content doesn’t teach the skills desired in the job descriptions above. Communication skills, project management, and team work rank high, as well as the ability to interact with people from other cultures. These are skills gained from a candidate’s previous work, internships or projects, not from a certificate. While knowledge of the field no doubt helps, concrete skills like communication and prior work experience are what gets candidates hired.

The certificate also offers nothing for career prep (i.e. mentorship, networking, virtual professional hangouts), just a little note on “interesting opportunities.” For a certificate that claims to prepare students for employment in international education, this is disappointing.

So to learn about the field of international education it’s going to cost students $10,624.00.

Fun fact: the average salary for a study abroad advisor is $36K according to Glassdoor.

I know higher education needs (and relies on) revenue generating programs like this. I’m a huge supporter of online education (albeit, reasonably priced online education). I also know the value of cross-cultural theory and its importance in global work environments like international education offices. But this certificate just seems like a rip off for students. Students are likely to get more relevant experience in international education by volunteering or working abroad in an NGO or startup for 6 months instead. They’d likely save money and have a more interesting time as well.

So to experienced international educators: think back to the beginning of your career. What would make paying $10k for an online certificate worth it to you? 

A: Real life experience: completing a project that made an impact on an existing international exchange program

B: Mentoring from experienced professionals in the field, with weekly hangouts, introductions to other international educators, and customized career support for international educators.

C: A 75% discount

D: Areyoufuckingkiddingmenope

Tweet me your answer at @pdxnicolle.



Employers think online graduate certificates are nbd

“Glaser, from Adecco, agrees that the type of credential alone is becoming less important to employers. “It’s more about how they can sell the skills that they learned and really translate that into what’s in it for the employer,” she says.” – What Employers Think of Your Online Graduate Certificate,, Jordan Friedman, US News

Good news for online graduate program students: employers are cool with your credentials as long as you know how to talk about them.

Also bonus resume tip: no need to specify that your program was completed online.

Treehouse masters career storytelling

I just flaked out on another Coursera course. I thought this would be the time I stuck with it; I even paid for it in hopes I wouldn’t flake. But flake I did.

I’m still focused on upskilling, so I joined another online school, Treehouse. I’ve used them before to learn html and css basics. I love their UX and the entire feel of their learning experience. I’m surprised that feel matters so much to me – but then again learning environments matter offline, so why shouldn’t it matter online?

So I’m onto a new online learning platform, this time focusing on skills that I need right now. I’m taking their WordPress track as all my websites are hosted on WordPress. I can cobble together awesome themes pretty well but I have no idea how WordPress actually works and Treehouse has a robust track that dives into everything I need to know.

As I was pursuing courses I noticed Treehouse excels in another area: storytelling. More specifically, telling the stories of successful career changers. Making a shift to a new career is a daunting task: you have to obtain the skills and convince employers that you can do the job, the latter of which can be even harder than acquiring the new skills. Career changers struggle with doubt, lack of self-confidence, opaque career paths, and lack of knowledge about hiring companies and opportunities. Treehouse uses profiles to share stories from a wide range of people – former customer service specialists, laid off professionals, personal trainers, urban planners – from across the globe. Seeing diverse stories of successful career changers helps learners visualize themselves doing the same. It’s even possible it gives them a bit more confidence. As they read, they’re likely telling themselves, hey, if they can do it, I can do it too. 

Testimonials about impact are important for prospective online students. But the full stories that dive into the learning journey and offer advice serve a purpose too: to motivate career changers. Treehouse puts out a clear message to career changers: everyone’s doing it and you can to.

So bravo to Treehouse. Here’s hoping other online schools invest the time in career storytelling too.

I received a MOOC certificate and all I got was this lame email

Coursera (and other online learning platforms) push hard to get users to pursue a certificate. I’ve flaked out of plenty of MOOCs in the past with the certificate option completely off my radar. This time I enrolled in the Interaction Design Specialty on Coursera a paying subscriber, so I automatically received the certificate.

I completed my first course, Human-Centered Design: an Introduction, and received my certificate announcement via email. The email arrived paired with suggestions on how I can take advantage of my certificate. The suggestions were terribly underwhelming. The only concrete advice beyond viewing my grade: Add it to your LinkedIn profile.

This is precisely where Coursera misses the boat on helping users connect their learning to career success. Some users may know exactly how to talk to their bosses or future employers about the skills they’ve learned or mastered. But in my experience with career changers and even mid-career professionals who are positioning themselves for promotion, most people don’t know how to talk about their new skills or successes. They don’t know how to position themselves or create a story about their new accomplishments.

There are several opportunities here where Coursera can make a difference. A few of note:

  • Give guidance or language on how to talk to employers about your certificate and new skills
  • Show a video interview with a recruiter who talks about the value of these skills, how they’re applied in the workplace, and so on
  • Share a list of employers that value this qualification or link it to entry level jobs in this field
  • Offer video interviews of successful Coursera students who used their certificate to get a job or promotion

Imagine if Coursera did this early on in the Specialization to get users excited about new career opportunities and motivated to complete the course. Showing users how employers view these skills could help learners develop a framework for talking about their new skills as they learn them. Coursera could add value to the learning experience by helping users understand their future career opportunities.

P.S. With 200+ mil in funding, you’d think Coursera would be able to hire a few designers to snazz up that congratulatory email. I’d love a little more flare to pair with that congrats.

My Coursera specialization experience summed up in 7 tweets.

I came. I tried. I tweeted.

These Twitter reflections read like a stream of complaints. And in a way they are. But they serve another purpose: reminding me about the challenges around creating online learning experiences that are engaging and motivating.

I’m building online courses for students. Right now they’re on-demand and asynchronous. In the future I aim to move to a hybrid model. I’m constantly thinking about how we improve engagement in online learning.

A note on forums: Courses rely on forums as their interactive element. While there is interaction (in some forums), the experience isn’t enjoyable. In fact, it’s often more work. When I get stuck, I have to search for the correct forum and skim through elements to find my answer. And not all courses have active forums, as evidenced by the last tweet. This Coursera course had run before so most responses, if there were any, were old.



Confessional: I’m a half-ass MOOC student

Self-reflection notes on completing my first two courses in the Coursera Interaction Design Specialization

I waited until the last minute each Sunday to complete my homework. Now I know what it feels like when I tell students to complete their job applications before they are due.

I didn’t watch all the videos. A friend told me it’s easier to just skim the text below for key concepts needed to complete the homework. It was.

Sometimes I took the time to review other students work, a requirement to get my own homework graded. Other times I just clicked through. There is so much ambiguity in the grading process, especially across cultures, that I didn’t put much stock into reviewing others work. When I did, the ideas and homework were interesting. But without a way to talk to students about those ideas and ask questions, I quickly lost interest in the review activity. I felt bad, but not too bad – I have no connection to this community or class due to the distance effect and lack of community building in Coursera classes.

Even when I pay for the specialization, sign up for a skill that I’m passionate about learning more (user experience research), I still struggle to get the work done. Despite being obsessed with online learning and building courses for students, I struggle to complete online courses. I don’t enjoy the experience. The lack of connection to the professor, students, and learning environment leave me deeply unmotivated.

I am a half-ass MOOC student.