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.

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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.

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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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


In the News: College Grads Make Up the Greatest Share of the Workforce

July 22nd, 2016 by

A report from the Georgetown University Center on Education has found that college graduates holding a bachelor’s degree now make up 36 percent of the workforce, making them the majority for the first time in history.Promotion-neu-Bild

Until the 1980’s, 70 percent of the workforce consisted of people with no college education. In the past, people without a college degree could work their way up to mid-level positions with higher pay and benefits. Those positions are becoming harder to find as employers make higher education a requirement for entry-level positions.

Since the recession ended, 11.6 million new jobs have been added to the economy. Of those jobs created, 11.5 million went to people with some level of higher education, with 8.5 million jobs going to people with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Only 80,000 new positions were filled by people with no higher education.

This trend is going to force some substantial changes to education in the future. While college graduates across the board have lower unemployment rates, there is going to be a push to cut liberal arts programs. Colleges need to create more focused programs and get more students to graduate in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Education is also going to need to become more accessible so less affluent families can get access to higher education and therefore employment.

Additionally, with more people having a bachelor’s degree, simply having a college education is soon not going to be enough to be a standout candidate. Next Step Academy seeks to give students and employees an edge with life skills and professional development courses. These courses are quick, informative and help learners become better employees — and better in life in general.


Ready to get started? Try one of our life skills courses today!


In the News: The Reformation of Higher Education

July 15th, 2016 by

In the new report, “Transformations Affecting Postsecondary Education,” researchers discuss the current problems faced by higher education and recommend changes to the education system. Namely, they suggest to make learning more personalized as postsecondary education extends beyond college and into a platform for lifelong learning.person-984236_960_720

The report suggests using a variety of approaches to create a “network of learning.” This network would utilize approaches such as competency-based education, online education, personalized learning, boot camps and micro credentials. The result? Higher education would depend less on credits earned and more on experience to measure learning. Colleges and universities would also have a collaborative relationship, meaning students could easily move between institutions. Higher education would have “more on- and off-ramps,” allowing students to take breaks to gain work experience and continue learning throughout the course of their careers.

The goal of creating this network is to reduce the amount of time it takes students to receive a degree, reduce the cost of higher education and create personalized methods of learning and demonstrating knowledge.  

Institutions such as the University of Wisconsin and Northern Arizona University have already introduced self-paced degree programs. These programs use the competency-based education method discussed in the report. In that way, students earn their degrees by working at their own pace and showing what they know, rather than sitting in class for a specified amount of time. Self-paced degree programs are offered at a flat tuition rate per semester and students can take as many classes as they want within that time. 

Online courses are also going to play a large role in this network as higher education is reformed. Online learning is flexible, where students are guided by online coaches and earn badges and micro credentials to put in an online portfolio, similar to the format Next Step Academy uses. The portfolio would be a useful tool to gauge where there are gaps in knowledge which students can fill with more education later on. Students can also take this portfolio with them to different institutions and use it to showcase their skills and knowledge to potential employers.


In the News: Are MOOCs the Key to Lifelong Learning?

July 8th, 2016 by

With the digital world presenting new opportunities and constant change, education can no longer end with a formal college degree but rather continue throughout a person’s life. MOOCs offered through institutions such as Coursera are likely the future of lifelong learning.

computer-1185637_960_720MOOCs — massive open online courses — are programs offered by a university, available to people worldwide via the internet. MOOCs are free, with some offering the option to pay a small fee in exchange for graded coursework and a certificate or credit upon completion. Courses are short and engaging, consisting of videos, readings, problems to solve and forums to facilitate discussion between students.

The skill sets required for jobs in the digital age change faster than Apple releases a new iPhone. That’s where MOOCs come in. Institutions like Coursera partner with colleges and universities to offer courses that teach both hard and soft skills. You can learn a new programming language or how to improve your interpersonal communication skills. There is also the opportunity to deviate from skill development and simply learn more about topics of interest like history or music.

In addition to career development, MOOCs make higher level education available to people who previously may not have had access. Higher level learning is no longer a privilege of the financially stable, but available to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

MOOCs also promote general education to people on a global scale. A MOOC course provider called edX has developed a program called Open edX which allows countries to use the edX platform to launch their own MOOCs. Countries like Saudi Arabia have used Open edX to launch education campaigns with the goal of helping women gain access to education.

Next Step Academy offers similar online courses, offering learners of any age and background knowledge about careers-in, life skills and professional development. Courses are quick, mobile and informative. To find out more about Next Step Academy, register and start taking courses, visit


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