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Next Step Academy | In the News

In the News: Millennials are Changing the Workplace

November 10th, 2016 by

It’s not news that millennials have become the most influential generation when it comes to evolving the workplace. In fact, it is estimated that they will make up 75 percent of the workforce in less than a decade. Millennials bring a whole new set of attitudes and expectations for employers and this is affecting massive change in the workplace.

9023460951_e45d05becc_bMillennials are the first generation to grow up with technology playing an integral role in their lives, with most having no memory of life before the Internet. As a result, 93 percent of millennials expect up-to-date technology in the workplace and believe it is one of the most important aspects of an office.

What millennials expect from their employers is also much different than previous generations. They want flexible work environments with employers that care about their professional and personal needs. Employers are beginning to cater to these needs with voluntary benefits and benefits package education.

Voluntary benefits such as pet insurance, extended leave and financial counseling are becoming more common. The way benefits are presented to employees is also changing to get millennials more involved. Digital communication and offering engagement is key to millennial involvement. This means that benefits are often communicated via email or text message rather than a paper on a bulletin board. Additionally, employers are engaging millennials with surveys or offering them positions on committees so they work with HR and communicate what is most important to them.

Employers are also starting to be more flexible when it comes to where and when millennials work. Giving employees the option to customize their work schedule boosts productivity and satisfaction in a position. An employee can choose to take a nap after lunch to replenish their energy or take a break to spend time with their children after school. In fact, it is predicted that the 9-5 schedule will disappear by 2030.

Next Step Academy already operates on a flex schedule, with many of our employees working remotely rather than from an office. The flexibility of when and where we work allows our employees to work around college classes and busy family schedules.  

As the younger end of the millennial generation hits the workforce, more changes and adaptations to benefits policies and workplace culture can be expected. The ability to appeal to this generation is going to be crucial to control costs and increase the utilization and engagement of millennial employees.

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Using Critical Thinking During the Election

November 4th, 2016 by

In less than a week, the people of the United States will choose a new commander in chief. Whether you’ve already decided who to vote for or if you’re still undecided, it’s important to utilize your critical thinking skills during this election. Here are some tips for exercising those skills before you decide who to vote for on Tuesday.

160302005451-trump-and-hillary-exlarge-169Decide what issues matter most to you. It may be helpful to make a list of issues and rank them from most important to least important. Next, research each candidate’s position on those issues. This should help you objectively see which candidate is more closely aligned with the issues that matter most to you, regardless of party.

Fact check and evaluate sources. You shouldn’t take everything you hear or read about a candidate at face value. If you find a piece of information that could influence your vote, make sure you perform your own fact check. This also means you need to evaluate the credibility of your source. Consider whether the source comes from a reputable organization and whether the author is biased one way or the other.

Investigate the past. Candidates make a lot of promises during a campaign. If you want to know the likelihood that the candidate will follow through on their promises, look at the candidate’s past. Has the candidate maintained their position on issues or do they flip-flop? How has the candidate voted in the past? Who has the candidate supported or endorsed?

Check your emotions. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate or having a gut feeling, but make sure you don’t rely solely on your emotions. Election campaigns use emotional appeals to make you like one candidate and mistrust another. However, you shouldn’t base your vote on candidate likeability. Don’t become susceptible to confirmation bias. Seek out information from both sides and make sure you are informed before making your final decision.

For more ways to develop your critical thinking skills, take Next Step Academy’s NEW “Introduction to Critical Thinking” course!

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In the News: The Makerspace Movement

October 28th, 2016 by

In 2014, the White House hosted the first Maker Faire, a festival dedicated to creativity and invention. The festival sparked an interest in hands-on learning, creating the makerspace movement which has since spread to schools and libraries around the country.

The basic principle of a makerspace is to put learning in the hands of the student. It gives teachers a new way to inspire students and help them develop their critical thinking skills.

16155735298_affa3a9540_bThere is no specific plan in a makerspace, the main focus is on hands-on experimentation, exploration, building and collaboration. Any amount of technology can be provided, the only criteria is students are involved and interested. Activities can range from building robots out of boxes, 3D printing circuit boards or using virtual reality (VR) technology to explore the globe.

Makerspaces get kids interested in exploring STEM fields. They incorporate technology into a school’s curriculum in a way that helps kids develop their critical thinking skills. A makerspace is flexible and teaches students using project-based learning which is proving to be more effective at motivating students to learn than any other system. The flexibility of a makerspace gives students the time to think critically and understand what they are learning. Students can take apart computers and put them back together like puzzle pieces and learn to code in a way that makes sense to them.

Letting kids work in makerspaces seems to be the best thing schools can do to teach them invaluable skills for jobs that likely don’t exist yet. By changing the way kids learn today and turning them into “makers,” makerspaces potentially will change the way they’ll live and work in the future.

Want to brush up on your critical thinking skills? Next Step Academy just released a NEW course! “Introduction to Critical Thinking

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In the News: Microsoft Boasts Smartest Business Apps

October 21st, 2016 by

This week, Microsoft launched a new suite of business applications called Dynamics 365, which will officially become available November 1.

Dynamics 365 takes elements from pre-existing Microsoft products such as Dynamics CRM and several enterprise resource planning (ERP) software applications. The functions fulfilled by Dynamics 365 handle the front and back end of office processes, managing inventory, manufacturing processes and finances.

microsoft_logo_2012_modifiedThe key to Dynamics 365 is the built in AI features. Microsoft is adding “smarter” technologies that it’s been working on for years and Dynamics 365 runs on Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform. The “smarter” apps are able to better predict what a user wants to do based on previous actions and make recommendations, similar to the way Amazon suggests items to customers based on previous searches.

Each user is charged 70 dollars per month for all of the sales, customer service and field services applications included in Dynamics 365. Comparatively, Salesforce (one of Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 competitors) offers a low-end bundle starting at 70 dollars, with their most popular bundle costing users 150 dollars.

The new focus on business applications from Microsoft and strategically standard pricing means Microsoft will compete more rigorously with Salesforce and other companies offering business applications in the future. This is a great opportunity for small businesses and entrepreneurs to access vital business applications without having to break the bank.

Take Next Step Academy’s “Entrepreneurship” course to learn how to be successful in your business ventures.

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In the News: The Future of Education? New Computer Coding Program Has No Courses or Professors

October 7th, 2016 by

Last week, the first group of students enrolled at 42 USA, the new computer coding program which opened in Silicon Valley.

images-1What makes 42 USA unique is that there are no courses and no professors. Instead, students work in groups to complete projects which are then graded by their peers. Students earn points upon completing an assignment which allows them to move on to the next project, much like levels of a video game. Extra points can be earned by completing extra projects and participating in clubs.

The program imposes no cost upon the students and takes three to five years to complete regardless if the student already has a degree or has zero coding experience. 42 USA is open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 30.

In order to enroll, prospective students need to go through a selection process. Applicants need to pass two online logic exams followed by a month-long orientation where they are asked to complete increasingly difficult logic puzzles.

It’s currently unclear how 42 USA will impact current higher education coding programs or how the format will be received. However, this could be a huge change to the teaching of STEM fields and influence the way education structured.

Learn more about degrees in coding by taking our Careers-In course at NextStepAcademy.com

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In the News: Changes to FAFSA to Help Students Receive Aid

September 28th, 2016 by

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is making several changes to impact students in the upcoming academic school year. This year, the form for the 2017/2018 school year will open on October 1st with the priority deadline changing to December 1st. This is four months earlier than past years.

top-5-fafsa-faqs-for-2016The FAFSA is also allowing students to use prior-prior-years tax information. Previously, students had to use prior-year tax information. This was problematic for many students whose parents hadn’t filed their taxes yet and were instead asked to estimate. Now students can submit accurate tax information from two years prior to the school year and no longer have to log in a second time to update information once taxes have been submitted. For example, for the 2017-2018 school year, families will submit tax information from 2015 instead of estimating information from 2016.

Changes to the FAFSA will allow students to know how much aid is available to them earlier, giving them more time to accurately assess their financial situation before committing to a school. Before these changes, financial aid information often arrived less than a month before students had to decide on a school. Now students and their families have several months to explore financing options and figure out whether they can afford tuition.

There is some concern that changes to the FAFSA application dates will influence schools to change their decision dates as well. Federal officials have requested that schools refrain from making changes to their own deadlines as this would make the FAFSA changes irrelevant.

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In the News: Head Start Program Overhauled

September 23rd, 2016 by

Head Start, the early education program geared towards low-income families, has received its largest revision since 1975. The changes, put forward by the Obama administration, removes burdensome education requirements, increases the program to a full day and improves services for children with disabilities and students that don’t speak English.

Changes to Head Start were inspired by recent reports supporting the positive effects of early childhood education. Strong early childhood education and students that have participated in the Head Start program have higher test scores, higher attendance rates and are more likely to graduate high school, go to college and receive a post-secondary degree.head-start-logo-clip-art-1550474

The current budget for the program is $294 million, with an additional $292 million proposed in the fiscal 2017 budget. A bulk of the funding is going towards increasing childcare to a full day, which will be phased in over the next five years.

Since it’s inception in 1965, Head Start has helped over 33 million children and currently enrolls more than one million children every year.

Interested in making a difference in children’s lives? Take one of Next Step Academy’s Careers in Education courses to learn what it takes to become an educator.

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In the News: VR Technology in the Classroom

September 16th, 2016 by

Advances in virtual reality (VR)  technology is opening up a world of possibilities, especially for students. VR technology is still in the early stages, but it is already revolutionizing the way learning takes place in the classroom.

 

The most basic virtual reality technology comes in the form of Google Cardboard. This is essentially a cardboard box. Students place their phone inside the cardboard goggles and hold it to their face. There are also pricier versions of VR goggles such as Nearpod. Nearpod still uses the student’s cell phone to provide the content, but is higher quality than the cardboard version and can actually be worn instead of just held. For Galaxy users, Samsung also has VR goggles that work exclusively with Galaxy smartphones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn addition to providing the actual goggles, both Google and Nearpod offer field-trip simulation software. VR enhances lesson plans on a whole new level. Teachers can guide students through the Louvre or on a space expedition. Instead of just teaching students about the Egyptian pyramids, students can put on the headset and suddenly be transported to Cairo.

The New York Times has also developed an app for VR. With NYT VR, teachers can  have their students read an article and then involve their students with the VR video. Students can experience an airdrop of food in Somalia or the life of a displaced family in Ukraine. VR is a powerful tool, helping students feel empathetic and truly understand the experiences of others around the world.

For more ways to enhance your learning, take a quick, convenient and mobile course at Next Step Academy.

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In the News: Does a balanced calendar improve learning?

September 9th, 2016 by

Nearly 86 percent of schools in the United States follow a traditional calendar consisting of a 180 day school year with a long 12 week break during the summer. The original purpose of a long summer break was so kids could help their parents harvest crops, an outdated consideration which is causing more schools to switch to a balanced calendar.

5374200948_539b10fb1c_bWhat is a balanced calendar?

A balanced calendar takes the traditional 180 days of schools and spreads them out throughout the entire calendar year. Instead of a long summer break of 12 weeks, students typically receive a one to two week break every six to eight weeks.

When schools follow a traditional calendar, many students experience what is referred to as “summer brain drain.” On average, teachers spend six to eight weeks re-teaching information at the beginning of each school year.

When students go to school year round, they can retain information better and teachers often spend less time re-teaching after a short break. Research shows that students that attend school year-round have improved retention, better test scores and higher attendance rates.

There are also some challenges associated with a balanced calendar, however these challenges are typically experienced by districts that have schools following different schedules. Transportation and heating/cooling costs increase when two schools within a district aren’t on break at the same time. Parent’s also state that finding childcare can be a challenge when schools within a district aren’t on the same schedule.

The future of education seems to be shifting more and more towards a balanced calendar and continued learning throughout the entire year. As district-wide change occurs and families get past the culture shock of year-long education, challenges should dissipate allowing students to reap the benefits of a balanced school year calendar.

Don’t attend school with a balanced calendar? Keep your brain in tip-top shape by taking life skills and careers-in courses at Next Step Academy!

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Facebook Founder and Wife Fund Efforts to Improve Personalized Learning

August 4th, 2016 by

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, along with his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan continue to improve education and expand personalized learning with the newly created Chan Zuckerberg Initiative LLC. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a limited-liability corporation that will channel funds into the couple’s philanthropic efforts. This is part of Zuckerberg and Chan’s promise to eventually donate 99 percent of their Facebook shares to various causes, nearly $45 billion.

2696198607_804f72d5fc_bZuckerberg and Chan’s main focus is on personalized learning, primarily through the development of software that can figure out how students learn best and what areas they need to focus on more. Personalized learning programs also allow students to tailor their education to meet their personal needs. They can work at their own pace, spending more time on subjects that interest them and practice subjects they find challenging.

Schools that have adapted a personalized learning strategy note a smaller gap in academic achievement between students and overall improved learning across the board. Zuckerberg and Chan aren’t the only tech billionaires interested in improving education. Many others, including eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, have donated money to invest in the future of education. With new ways of learning becoming more and more prominent, it’s exciting to be able to explore new opportunities. Next Step Academy is one opportunity that allows you to pick and choose topics that interest you most and find out if they’re a good fit for you and your future path.

 

Start today by taking careers-in and life skills courses for free at NextStepAcademy.com!

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