Online Education Blog #3

Become Whom You Teach

By Shlomo Maital & Maya Taya Arie

   Nietzsche once wrote, insightfully, “Become who you are”. I’d like to adapt that slightly: For online educators – Become whom you teach.

My granddaughter Maya asks: “Try to imagine that you are a student, what tools would you find most effective when learning virtually?”

  Maya, that is a super question. Perhaps the most basic of all.

As a management educator, one of the hardest things I teach is to become customer-centric. I used to do an exercise with my managers: Please, stand up and speak about your product, as if you were a customer. Your product disappears, your business is broke. What do your customers miss most?

   Sounds simple? But most managers had a very hard time, especially senior ones, who had not seen or heard a customer in years.

   Same goes for us educators, especially at the college level. Take me, for instance. I’ve been teaching in college for well over 50 years. There are two generations between me and my students. Do I really understand them, their needs, their thinking, their preferences? And do I really try to?

   Some 23 years ago, Harvard Business School Professor Dorothy Leonard, along with Jeffrey Rayport, wrote a fine article, “Spark Innovation Through Empathic Design”.*  Her main point: You can ask customers what they want. Mostly they do not know. Or, you can observe them and empathize with them, BECOME them. And then when you are in their shoes and skin, figure out their needs.

   So, Maya — Online education is triply quadruply hard, because I do not have students in front of me, face to face. But I do have them on screen, with ‘chat’… So, I can think hard, who ARE these people, what do they want and need, what interests them, what do they want to learn? NOT – what do I know and have to teach them? And how are they responding?

And I do know this – After years of teaching economics and crunching numbers, the most effective teaching tool is – stories. Stories! Real people, real events, real conflict, real decisions. So this will be the subject of our  next blog – Teaching online, by the effective use of stories.

  • Harvard Business Review, Nov.-Dec. 1997.