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Portland Psychologist teaches folks how to network and pitch, with courses online at Udemy and in real life.


PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Vanessa Van Edwards of Science for People teaching a quick version of her Udemy course called Foundations of Body Language, explaining how hand gestures are usually more important than words in how we judge each other. Open hands, good. Hidden hands, untrustworthy.

Online learning is here to stay.

Yet lately it has taken a twist away from the academic model. Many people now prefer to take classes that are just two or three minutes long which build up over time to a course.

But that’s not attention deficit disorder — it’s science.

So says Darren Shimkus General Manager for Business at Udemy, a startup online education site with one of its best teachers based in Portland. PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Attendees at an Oregon Entrepreneurs Network event called Speed Networking! face off at the Lucky Lab Northweston a recent November evening. They had three minutes to see how close they could get to exchanging business cards.

Udemy — "a global marketplace for learning and teaching online" — offers courses from sourdough bread baking to body language for business. Its business wing, Shimkus told the Business Tribune, has benefitted from workers wanting to cram self-directed learning into their phone break.

Udemy has 40,000 courses targeting lifelong learners.

“According to Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve, the majority of what we learn is wired in if we recall it within 48 hours,” Shimkus told the Business Tribune. So Udemy students are frequently tested. The platform allows for lessons to be tailored for students, depending on how they are doing.

They are designed to be one-hour courses and are broken down into snackable lesson, some just two or three minutes long.

Popular business courses include coding languages, statistics, advanced Excel and data science. . But most of the development (coding) classes are taken by regular coders who are just trying to keep up with the new languages.

“But we’ve had a tremendous outpouring of interest in a class in written business English by a

Financial Times reporter —

especially in Europe and Asia.”

Udemy offers no college credit, just certificates of completion. Shimkus says employers are happy with proof that the student got the work done.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Attendees were given conversation starter cards and asked to rank them by how good a conversation they facilitated.

Back end tailoring

New knowledge is coming online so fast that traditional channels can hardly keep up.

“We’re finding we can’t predict what courses students need. Like, how to use Apache to model big data problems. The big revolution in learning is that it’s out there in the hands of the learners. In previous generations, learners were extra-motivated, they’d get a hardcover book or take a night class.”

Now however, the learning style is more casual — and yet possibly better quality — because studies show that students tune out of lectures after three minutes and have to work hard to return. Three-minute chunks could actually be a better style of teaching than the traditional academic model.

Udemy makes sure its instructors have good lighting and sound, and 1080P video. And they have to structure their modules to fit the short form, before they record a second of video. Five or six mini lessons usually add up to a section, and then a few of them become a course, “which is supposed to address a meaty topic,” he says.

“It’s hard to create courses in a vacuum.” Teachers welcome the feedback from students in the form of message forums and chat rooms.

“They’re all different. In some, you’re immersed in a coding window, in others it’s picture in picture. Seth Godin uses a lot of close-in face shots to draw you into his story telling.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Attendees at an Oregon Entrepreneurs Network event called Speed Networking! face off at the Lucky Lab Northweston a recent November evening. They had three minutes to see how close they could get to exchanging business cards.

What Millenials think

“Millennials are growing up in a world awash in information. They come out of the womb learning in a digital fashion. And they are five times more likely to be disengaged at work than other groups.”

What they are really keen in learning is leadership and soft skills.

At Udemy’s back end, Shimkus looks less at codecs and network latency and more at what the data science team studies: “The raw data of people learning. We’re constantly trying to improve the experience. With 13 million students and 40,000 courses we can see what they are liking. And how to get them the right course at the right time.”

“We are constantly building tools based on what you have told us about yourself. With 40,000 courses we need to offer some more breadcrumbs.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Vanessa Van Edwards of Science for People teaching a quick version of her Udemy course called Foundations of Body Language, explaining how hand gestures are usually more important than words in how we judge each other. Open hands, good. Hidden hands, untrustworthy.

Udemy in real life

Udemy has a global reach. Forty percent of its users are outside the United States. Professors can be anywhere too. One of the more successful ones is right here in Portland.

Vanessa Van Edwards, a scientist who teaches about non-verbal communication, has been a guest on CNN and NPR. She has 89,000 registered students.

“We try to take academic science and turn it into usable science,” Van Edwards told the Business Tribune.

Last Wednesday, she was working an Oregon Entrepreneurs Network PubTalk event called “Speed Networking!”

Ninety paying guests sat in the very loud Lucky Lab Northwest yammering away at each other. They had three minutes to have a conversation from scratch before moving on to the next person.

For entertainment, Van Edwards was giving a boiled-down version of her Udemy body language class. She talked about defensive crouches, power poses and spent a while defining charisma (it’s what people have who are both very warm and very competent). Meanwhile, her company Science of People was also conducting an experiment. Four video cameras filmed the interactions. Guests were given cards with conversation starter on them, including:

  • n
  • How are you?

  • n
  • What do you do?

  • n
  • What’s your story?

  • n
  • What was the highlight of your day?

  • n
  • What brought you here?

  • n
  • What personal passion project are you working on?

  • n
  • Do you have anything exciting coming up?

    They rate the phrases. (Those first two always get the lowest rating, she confided.)

    Guests also take pre- and post-surveys and note how many business cards they were given. The next day Van Edwards’s assistants pore over the two hours of video for 10 hours, tagging and tallying gestures. They also look up who the power connectors are — usually those with over a thousand connections on LinkedIn.

    The thesis is that the people with the best body language — they lean in, they smile, they make eye contact 65 percent of the time — are also the best connected.

    PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - At the OEN event Vanessa Van Edwards and her company  Science for People conducted an experiment to see if the best body language users were also the best at connecting, measured in business cards and LinkedIn connections.

    Theory

    She sees these experiments as being quicker than academic research. “We lose money on the experiments,” she admitted. “But for me it’s a faster way to test a hypothesis.”

    Science of People (scienceofpeople.com) also works with human resource departments, doing HR trainings and sales trainings.

    “Our courses are science-based. Instead of just saying ‘You should do this,’ we add ‘Because of this.’”

    She says what’s changed about networking since the Dale Carnegie days (author of “How to win friends and influence people,” is “We understand more about it. We have voice recognition and facial recognition software, such as Affectiva and Emotive. We’re able to put numbers on things we couldn’t before.”

    Van Edwards records courses in a Portland studio with basic lighting and one camera. She offers them on multiple platforms. Companies can buy a license for use per seat to share with their employees.

    She has been with Udemy since 2012 and has eight courses, with a ninth launching soon.

    “Most of my students do it over their lunch hour.” Her courses are five- to six-hours long. They do them in three to 30 minute slices.

    “This is not a college setting. This is people with an hour to kill in front of the computer.”

    Practice

    Back at the Lucky Lab, attendees seem amazed to learn that people who hide their hands are mistrusted. And a handshake releases oxytocin, a pleasurable chemical in the brain. It is worth three hours of face-to-face meeting time.

    Does it work? Cindy Crigler by day works in branding at Correct Toes, but has a startup called Craft Brew Bouquet. For $140 it’s a crate of six different craft ales, plus cheesy puffs and a flute glass — for people who don’t want to send flowers. Crigler, 33, welcomed the tips. She’s got the explanatory hand gestures down but still feels a little underconfident. Public speaking makes her nervous, but she fights it by pumping “Eye of the Tiger” before meetings.

    PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - Cindy Crigler often pitches her startup Craft Brew Bouquet to investors, so she was grateful for Van Edwards's body language insights.

    “I’m a student of human and consumer behavior and I think the speaker (Van Edwards) had the right mix of competent and warm.”

    Van Edwards doesn’t think the “smarmy car salesman” approach has much sway in modern times.

    “A lot of people have been taught slick one-liners. I once took a sales class and we were told every time you meet someone at the end you shake hands and say ‘It was a pleasure to meet you and a pleasure to commit to working together in future.” That, she says, is too corny for Portland.

    PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Vanessa Van Edwards of Science for People.

    “The goal here is to dial up the authenticity. It’s who you are, let’s make that awesome. In Portland, we want to connect in a different way. It’s about how can you listen to someone and speak to who they are?”

    And, she adds, here you’re not really meeting strangers since everyone usually knows someone else you know.

    “In Portland you’re just looking for mutual contacts and ways to help each other.”

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