Softer skills are key to success—even in technology
Effective communication is one of the most important issues business leaders face today in a technical world where email proficiency is no longer sufficient. Social media platforms including Facebook™, Twitter®, LinkedIn®, and virtual meeting tools such as Cisco WebEx Connect™, Skype™, and Adobe® Connect™, have forever changed the landscape.
Leaders who are not literate in technology are at a disadvantage. In the age of information, there are few things technology does not already touch. Its growth is not slowing. In fact, it is increasing exponentially and will for some time. Those who do not adopt and adapt will become irrelevant. The doctoral-level health care and information technology courses I teach within the University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies include a focus on developing softer skills, including how to leverage technology to communicate with finesse.
Paradigms are shifting
Technology is changing how we communicate. Consider the woman sitting next to me on a recent flight who was able to text five messages between the time flight attendants announced the doors were closing and when they actually closed. She’s able to type speedily with her thumbs. It works for her. I cannot text with my thumbs, but Dragon™ speech-to-text software allows me to get around without being able to text. Why is this important? Regardless of the hard skills we possess, we both need the same technology capabilities. The content and tone of messages are important. Whether one uses thumbs or speaks into their iPhone® to deliver the message is far less important. To move up in any organization, and survive once there, one needs to learn how they personally can take advantage of technology to network. In my case, if my phone is vibrating, I know a student is calling. And because I am alerted instantly, I can respond right away.
Multiple paths to leadership
Many learners come into our IT-related management and leadership courses with impressive titles, including Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Officer or Chief Executive Officer. These leader-learners come from a variety of backgrounds. These days, a Chief Technology Officer is as likely to have come from marketing, sales or finance as they are to have been promoted from within IT.
We expect our learners to possess some of the hard skills such as networking or database design, or to at least be able to speak about them intelligently. It isn’t really necessary at this level to be able to code in Sun Microsystems Java™ or build a Microsoft Access® database. But they do need to be able to communicate effectively enough with their staff to understand whether a project needs to be mapped in Microsoft Visio® or built out in Java. Gaining the ability to do so effectively and professionally is just one example of how our learners can apply soft skills immediately in the workplace.
Social media opens minds
At University of Phoenix, we use an asynchronous online learning system to make participation as inclusive as possible. Learners may log in whenever it’s convenient based on their schedules and time zones to participate in a discussion forum or to do their assignments. They can also respond to others who posted previously and return to the forum later to check for responses to their posts. It creates open communication among everyone.
At times, a more personal touch is needed. Small groups sometimes meet on Facebook to discuss a particular concept or assignment. For one-on-one sessions, learners and I can connect on Facebook or LinkedIn. Through these discussions and regular interaction in the discussion forums, we get to know each other beyond the bios we each post at the beginning of each course. We can establish relationships. Relationships lead to trust. Trust leads to greater learning.
While being online takes away the body language factor, you can establish a tone using icons and emoticons. I can be myself and come across as genuine with learners. I was able to achieve a similar effect with a podcast I created for one of my management courses. The learners loved that they could download it and listen to it on their way to or from work. Because it was a recording of my voice rather than text, it added another dimension of humanness.
Technology in learning
While we haven’t officially entered the world of virtual reality, University of Phoenix learners are exposed to virtual organizations throughout their educational program. They do case studies and assignments based on realistic documents, websites and other materials for virtual organizations, including a hospital and a handful of realistic yet fictitious businesses. A quick search online, however, reveals pages of indexed information regarding its history, whether it’s a company or a corporation and a variety of academic reports. It’s as if learners have brought it to life within the virtual world of the Internet.
Students under the age of 35 have never known a time when there wasn’t a computer around them. They look forward to the promise of virtual meetings using 3-D holograms in real space or meeting in virtual worlds such as Second Life®. Meanwhile, my roots in computers date back to a second-generation computer, the IBM® 1401 Processing Unit with a 1402 Card Read-Punch. Many of my fellow faculty members and I experienced the evolution of the computer firsthand.
It hasn’t been that many years since University of Phoenix led the higher education industry by making college courses and degree programs available online. Furthermore, it’s only been since the mid-1980s that personal computers have been readily accessible to the public. We work hard to make sure our faculty members keep up with the pace of technology. The whole paradigm of how we learn and teach soft skills that go along with hard skills has had to change. As an industry, education has had to move away from the pedagogy of the lecture mode, although some universities still use it. The emergence and prevalence of new technology allows University of Phoenix faculty to interactive with our students following our overall andragogy model aimed at adult learners.
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This article originally appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, UOPX Campus Viewpoints section. To review our current faculty articles, visit: https://chronicle.com/campusViewpoint/University-of-Phoenix/29/.