It can be a bit of a culture shock reentering the school system after leaving full-time student life for a while. I would know. Whether it was in-class or online, there were so many different factors that came into play. Not forgetting the people factor! I met people of different ages, each having different reasons for doing the same programme – with entirely different dynamics to deal with (e.g. stay at home mother, full time entrepreneur or in-demand executive, retiree, etc.) It can definitely get to be a bit much…
If you’re not careful, just thinking about what may be challenging and different for you can be intimidating…
But, here’s the thing – you are much better off than you think. Work-life and/or the school of life teaches you some pretty transportable skills that help you to take control of your journey. If you use each skill tactfully – like pieces on a chessboard, you’ll be able to checkmate every class session, assignment and project. You’ll do this by aligning your learnt and innate skills, with style and finesse!
To read more about 6 skills every student should learn – or be able to do, click here.
Here are the skills I believe are the game changers for you; and here are the ways I think you can use them.
#1 Project Management
Hard Skill best used for everything
This is probably one of the BEST skills you can use for anything in life really. Whether or not you believe it, we all do it informally for varying circumstances. For those of you who do not know what project management is, here’s an illustration to help you understand it:
Now, here’s a quick example of how you can apply project management to an assignment:
Concept & Initiation: Get the assignment, define the scope of what’s required to complete it (e.g. research, deadlines for review, etc.).
Definition & Planning: Develop your roadmap to complete the assignment and make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely) and CLEAR (Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable and Refinable); the latter applies even more to group work assignments. The assignment/project rubric given by the supervisor helps with this.
Launch or Execution: Set the guidelines for your team (if applicable), assign resources (study time, time for research, meetings, etc.), track and measure along the way. Revisit and refine if necessary because you will most likely encounter some hiccups because… Murphy’s Law and all that jazz.
Performance & Control: Ask yourself, are you on schedule? Did you obtain enough information to present something of quality? Is there something that you may need to change or find out to help you get a better grade? Will you achieve the deliverables of the rubric?
Project Close: Edit, proofread (repeat as many times as you think you have time to), cite, reference and format – then SUBMIT!
TIP: Keep track of everything you did for your first assignment and build as you go along. This is how you will improve on what works (especially for you) and what you need to work on or stop doing.
Let me take a moment here to give you a hack for fictional budgeting using this skill:
- Budget by time – Quantify the time you allot to the result you want to achieve.
- Budget by spend – Measure the amount of work you have to do against how much money you continuously have to spend for each cost. Is it that you eat snacks during your online sessions? Perhaps you travel to classes after work? Maybe you drive to school on weekends. Everything has a cost.
- Budget by small wins – Plan rewards that you can only get when you meet the standard you’ve set.
Add to the list as you see fit. Create the most feasible workflow. Oh, and don’t be afraid to use project management software either; if you have it.
#2 Problem Solving
Simply put, always think “Challenge Accepted!” There’s no problem you can’t solve; or at least get help solving. Get the clues and cues from all the resources you have access to; including observation. Interview the right people (ask for help), read books, watch videos, search for similar assignments. You’re a Sherlock. If you need support, get yourself a Watson.
#3 Hard Communication Skills
These Hard Skills include being fluent in a foreign language, copywriting and digital communication.
They can set you apart as an exemplary student when applied in the right amount, to the right aspects of each assignment. You’re that student who can craft the best email response, and produce an engaging paper for grading. You’re the student that can change perceptions with a picture presentation and be approached to publish a journal based on your thesis.
As an added bonus, if you are part of a cohort, your classmates, teammates or group-mates will also see the value in your contributions and will learn from you. Make that presentation pop! Craft creative copy for that coursework assignment. Ace that social media project. You have what it takes to upgrade that grade.
Soft Skill – best used for group work.
Here’s where you can chime in with your emotional intelligence and people-reading skills. Figure out the personalities within the class and group. I urge you to even go beyond your immediate settings and include your lecturers, student support services, group forums, etc.
Try to identify every individual’s strengths and talents that would be most helpful for you to be able to communicate, collaborate and coordinate. Motivate, manage, take charge or give over the reigns sometimes. Lead your team to victory (the desired grade). Offer constructive criticism and guiding advice. Don’t forget to celebrate the wins and learn from the losses too.
If you are a creative thinker who writes very well, have aesthetic sensibility and are good at data visualisation, you can easily become the MVP of the class or group (both online and in person). You’re the one that can spare the introvert from messing up their part of the presentation, because they freeze up in front of people – with a short video instead. You’re the one who can effectively manage the design and message to be communicated in each project. See every task through the eyes of a marketer and your Aha! moment will come.
#6 Sales/Customer Service
Mix of Hard and Soft Skills
How do you handle customers/clients? This skill is all about keeping your cool and having a level head, with active listening and strategic customer engagement. It involves thinking about customer satisfaction, dealing with and resolving issues. With regards to the product, your belief in it must be at brand ambassador level. Your ultimate goal is to inspire others to do the same. This will encourage goodwill and positive word of mouth, because of the quality customer service and after-sales service. In some cases you’ll even have to up-sell, right?
Well think about how each of those activities can be transferred to real-life scenarios in an educational setting. Did the bulb switch on yet? This skill is the trump card that can switch up the game – in your favour. Trust me.
Soft skill that’s HARDCORE
Remember the Murphy’s Law I mentioned earlier? Well, it loves to make an appearance at the most inopportune times – especially right before you’re about to cross that finish line. If you’re flexible or adaptable, you’ll have that Plan B/C/D/alphabet in place.
This is a reality check. You will encounter a few stumbling blocks along your academic journey. You therefore need to get acquainted with the high possibility of sudden changes in situations. The good news is, everything is temporary and you have deadlines. Meaning, just keep this famous quote in the back of your mind, “This too shall pass.”
This is a reality check. You will encounter a few stumbling blocks along your academic journey.
#8 Task-Specific Skills
These skills include technical proficiencies that incorporate the use of coding languages, mathematics, software tools, accounting, etc.
These come in handy for the courses that require data collection and presentation of findings using data collection methods. It’s also mostly applicable to research papers e.g. a dissertation and case studies or reports in certain disciplines e.g. financial management. If you possess one or more of these competencies, you won’t experience the emotional distress that comes along with having to learn them in order to complete an assignment.
#9 Conflict Management/Resolution
HARDCORE Soft Skill
I am yet to meet someone who will say, with deep conviction, that they LOVE group work. If that person is you, you are a unicorn.
I have never been in a class or group where there wasn’t some sort of miscommunication, lack of communication, misunderstanding or clash of personalities between members. Sometimes, the conflict is internal because you swing between wondering why you’re even doing the course or programme and giving up. (In case you’ve had no one tell you yet – please don’t give up! Okay? Okay!)
I am yet to meet someone who will say, with deep conviction, that they LOVE group work.
This skill is particularly important to achieving inner peace, consistently, throughout your academic progress.
Employ the ability to decipher and extract a message from the noise of conflict, AND propose a feasible solution that benefits everyone involved in any task.
Know when to use the five types of conflict resolution: avoidance, defeat, compromise, accommodation, and collaboration. Listen. Observe. Involve and consult. Strategize. Implement. Monitor and manage.
Final thoughts: Not everyone has all of the skills I listed, but at least you would have one or more of them. That gives you two things: a head start and an advantage. Although you will still have to incorporate other abilities such as public speaking, time management, productivity, strong work ethic and other hard and soft skills, you can rest assured that you’re in a good place stepping into that classroom, or enrolling in that online course.
You’ve got this!
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