AgFax Editors Blog: I’m taking a college course online! OMG

January 31, 2013

Warning: This could go well, or not. I’ll let you know if I start having dreams of finding myself in a classroom wearing my pajamas. Don’t tell me you’ve never had that dream!

I’ll be blogging in the next few weeks about what it’s like to take a college course online after many years out of the classroom. I graduated from college in 1974 (a long, long time ago) with an English degree. Over the years, I have been in classroom environments, including:  a year and 2 weeks in night law school (that’s another story) and a dozen-plus intensive learning environments to hone my photographic technique and Photoshop skills.

There is a whole new concept for learning online and is opening the doors of major universities to people who want to learn what they don’t know or better understand what they do know, but who don’t have the time, money or other resources to attend classes. And, guess what, it’s FREE!  The course I have chosen is offered through the University of Virginia – Darden School of  Business.

Week 1 – Grow to Greatness: Smart Growth for Private Businesses, Part 1

The first round of reading for this course is intensive and academically written. I wade through it twice or maybe 3 times. It’s good stuff, but my brain has to reboot to absorb the language. This reboot requires 2 things: time + gallons of coffee. But, unlike college courses that I had to take, this one is by choice about a subject I need and want to know more about, so I’m committed.

Example of initial reading: “Growth happens when the right kind of leadership, internal environment, and processes come together to create a small-company-enterpreneural soul in a large-company body.” – Edward D. Hess, from Growth is the Dynamic Confluence of Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Values.

Let me be honest here. This book is one I might buy, but would never quite get around to reading. It would quietly drift into my sea of good intentions. The online teaching of the book makes a huge difference.

I enter the video classroom to listen to the author, Edward Hess. He isn’t an academic. He has spent 30 years in the business world. I’m blown away. His lectures are 100 percent better than any instructor I ever had in college (including that year and 2 weeks of  law school).

Ed’s delivery is dynamic, enthusiastic and always on the move. He is so powered up by his subject matter that I know I’m in the right learning environment. Ed intersperses limited power point ideas with a bit of humor and a conversational tone wrapped in down home delivery. As much as I was intimidated at the beginning, I am definitely hooked after watching the video lecture.

We examine the case study of a real business, Eyebobs Eyewear, Inc. I’m immediately captivated by owner Julie Allinson’s business story. She grew up on a farm and swore she would never be like her parents, who worried when it rained too much, too little or not at all.  Ironically, she explains that running a business is just “like” farming, but with a different set of worries.

Julie’s business acumen is spot on. She has done very well.  However, I make a note that she, as well as Ed, the instructor, misses the point in the farming analogy. Farming IS a business and the similarities between her company and farming are due to the fact that both are businesses.  I guess this comes from the attitude that there are people who view farming as a lifestyle rather than a business.  I don’t think lifestyle pays the mortgage.

The final assignment this week is to list 3 items I learned:

  1. Growth can be good, but it can also be bad and destroy value.
  2. The choice to grow has to be made with a realistic view of how it will change everything.
  3. People + Processes + Controls = Growth




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