Mental Models

One of my challenges when teaching digital marketing is to convey the importance of a framework for thinking through digital marketing. The foundation can be difficult to pay attention to when there are all these cool shiny marketing tools to play with.

But Charlie Munger puts it best when he says:

... the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ‘em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience both vicarious and direct on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.

What are the models? Well, the first rule is that you’ve got to have multiple models because if you just have one or two that you’re using, the nature of human psychology is such that you’ll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you’ll think it does…

It’s like the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that’s the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that’s a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you’ve got to have multiple models.

And the models have to come from multiple disciplines because all the wisdom of the world is not to be found in one little academic department. That’s why poetry professors, by and large, are so unwise in a worldly sense. They don’t have enough models in their heads. So you’ve got to have models across a fair array of disciplines.

You may say, “My God, this is already getting way too tough.” But, fortunately, it isn’t that tough because 80 or 90 important models will carry about 90% of the freight in making you a worldly wise person. And, of those, only a mere handful really carry very heavy freight.

Learn to Change

To do more than survive you have to learn. But the question is how do you learn when you're surviving? Learning also requires that you be vulnerable - open to what others might be able to teach you.

Survival doesn't allow for vulnerability. In our country vulnerability is seen as weakness. The options are fight, flight, or freeze. There's no "learn" in there. No get quiet and listen. No get curious.


The Education Thought Process

Here's what I tend to see out there in the education space when it comes to lower socio-economic, mostly minority students:

let's get them to graduate high school --> that's not working so school is not for them

let's get them into college -- > that's not working so college is not for them

let's get them to graduate college--> that's not working so college degrees are not for everybody

let's get them to graduate college and get jobs with their degrees --> no one thinks this way


College Drop Out Solutions

What Can Stop Kids From Dropping Out: "...passing an introductory course in a student’s major isn’t as good a predictor of graduation as the actual letter grade. The student who earns a B in first-year political science has a 70 percent probability of graduating in that field, while a classmate who gets a C has only a 25 percent chance....Instead of waiting for undergraduates to show up, academic advisers reach out at the first hint of trouble — poor grades, spotty attendance or not registering for the right class — holding 50,000 meetings with students annually....Data showed that first-generation and low-income students were less likely to reach out for help from their professors, so the university hired upperclassmen as tutors....About a thousand Georgia State undergraduates were dropping out every semester because they couldn’t pay the tuition. When a closer look revealed that many were short just a few hundred dollars, the university started awarding small just-in-time grants and financial counseling....higher education institutions should receive public dollars based not only on how many students they enroll but also on how effectively they help students earn a degree"

College Loans and Graduation

It's not what you think. 

The student loan debt crisis is overblown. The real problem is college completion rates. "Dropouts are almost three times as likely to default on their loans as graduates are. It is this subgroup’s debt that ought to be driving the conversation, not the debt of the "average" college student....Free tuition is no solution to the most serious problems we face...College students are not ending up working as baristas"

The Scariest Loan Number "...the typical for-profit student is a 24-year-old from a first-generation family earning less than $40,000, who eventually drops out of school. The completion rates for two-year and four-year for-profit institutions is about 40 percent and 25 percent, respectively....In the final analysis, declining state support for public college fed the rise of for-profit schools, many of which served as factories for dropouts with relatively small amounts of outstanding student debt. These are the people most at risk of default—not the college graduates with $100,000 loan burdens, but rather low-income students who took on a few thousand dollars in debt and didn’t even get a degree." 

Is the Student Loan Crisis Fact or Fiction? "The problem is that we have a lot of people actually borrowing small amounts of money, going to college, not completing [a degree] or completing credentials that don't have labor market value."  

People Can Change

Research by David S. Yeager, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin shows that a simple message can help high school students cope with social pressures and stress. 

"At the beginning of the school year, students participated in a reading and writing exercise intended to instill a basic, almost banal message to help them manage tension: People can change."

In an approach that looks a lot like that of Stanford's Greg Walton, the study had students read an article on how personality can change. then students were asked to read stories from high school seniors who described conflicts and how they were eventually able to manage them. Then students were asked to give advice to younger students.  

Working Through College

It is no longer so easy to work your way through college. The math just doesn't add up. This recent article on spells out exactly how difficult it is today for college students to pay for school:

In the school year just ended, the total of tuition, fees and room and board for in-state students at four-year public universities was $19,548. The maximum Pell Grant didn't keep pace with that: It was $5,775. That left our hypothetical student on the hook for $13,773.
A student would now have to work 37 hours a week, every week of the year, at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, to get by. Research shows that when college students work more than 20 hours a week their studies suffer. If they're working full time, many will take longer to finish and end up paying even more.

The longer a student takes to finish college the less likely they are to do so. And those often include our hardest working students. It doesn't add up. Something has to change. 


Early Predictors of Success or Failure

Current retention software solutions send "early alerts" when students don't pass exams or fail classes, but often by that time in a semester or quarter, it's too late.

The data, however, exists to predict issues earlier and craft interventions that can change student outcomes.

Called, engagement, how college students interact with online tools says a lot about how they will do in a class. Data collected by Civitas Learning shows that students who engage early and often with a Learning Management System (LMS), do better in courses. 

That, of course, makes sense. The key insight is those students who don't engage are indicating early on by their non-engagement that they are encountering obstacles. That's where a communication system like, a text messaging platform, can reap the most rewards. 



College's Dirty Secret

Here's the secret: not everybody graduates. In fact, "a college can have a graduation rate as low as 2 percent and still preserve its accreditation".

In the Hidden Side of the College Dream, the University of La Verne's vice provost Beatriz Gonzales explains: 

For these students, money is a huge roadblock to graduation.
“That is the No. 1 reason our students give when they drop out,” said Beatriz Gonzalez, vice provost for the University of La Verne.
Many of her students also work to support themselves or their families, she noted, so they tend to spend much less time on campus and therefore feel less attached to the university.
Another reason students drop out, Ms. Gonzalez said, is that they don’t feel sure they belong. For them, any setback or poor grade can make them question whether they should be in college in the first place.

More can be done and I believe technology can help. Text messages and chat can help colleges develop positive pro-active relationships with their students and help college students, including first generation students, feel like they belong.


What it's Like for First Generation Students

First generation students and other college students from lower socio-economic backgrounds don't have the same college experiences as other students and colleges are often not equipped to meet the needs of these students.

John L. Glenn, an assistant professor of English at Atlanta Metropolitan State College explains that to bridge the gap colleges need to understand:

But what does it mean to be a first-generation, minority college student?
It means being in a peculiar moment that has a lot to do with disruption.  College is an incredibly disruptive process for minorities.  The reality is that small colleges in Georgia are probably just as blanketed with feelings of isolation as Ivy League schools.
Right off the bat, college might mean facing off with parents who are unintentionally hostile to the idea of college, but still want the best for their sons and daughters.  It might involve quitting a job — making an already stressful financial situation even more precarious — to focus more on classes.
I’ve heard stories of students having to sit out a year because their parents simply refused to provide their tax documents. Others were forced to forfeit scholarships so they could remain “at home.” Really, for many, going to college is about more than just leaving the nest, which many don’t do; it’s like metaphorically taking an axe to the nest and signaling the family identity will never be the same.


Why do students drop out of college?

Just 10% of students will graduate from San Jose State University in four years. Only 4.5% of Latino students graduate in four years. You read that right.  Out of 100 students who start college only 10 will graduate and only 4 will be Latinos.  

The common refrain is that these students are not academically prepared, they have many commitments, or they lack the financial resources. But even when you hold for these factors, the drop out rate remains high. 

One San Jose State University teacher looked further. Why do students drop out of college? He decided to ask them.  What he found:

A lot of times their first response is, 'Oh well, I kinda gave up.' Or, 'I didn't try hard enough,' " says Pizarro.
Basically, these former students blamed themselves.
But there was more to it.
"Then we ask specific questions," explains Pizarro. "And they say, 'Oh yeah, well, I couldn't get classes for like two semesters. Yeah, and I couldn't meet with an advisor.' "
What emerged from these interviews were real institutional barriers.
And there was one final problem: The dropouts never felt part of the campus community.

Belonging is a huge factor in student success. There is insightful research out of Stanford by Professor Greg Walton that explores how belonging can be influenced. 

At Gainful we believe a student's sense of belonging can be influenced by proactive communication and conversational support. Our college partners are seeing the effects. Conversation promotes trust and trust is the foundation for a relationship. Colleges can create ongoing, meaningful relationships with their students. Gainful can show you how.

Working in Groups in College

Working in groups has become a rite of passage in college classes today. They are a way for students to practice working in teams and a reflection of the increasing demand by employers for employees who can navigate groups and diverse people.

More and more, work is team-based. In Silicon Valley, even engineers are encouraged to work together because doing so catches more mistakes and produces better solutions.

In fact, research shows that working in teams results in better outcomes and higher job satisfaction.

But the type of team or study group you join makes all the difference. What distinguishes a good group or team from a dysfunctional one is how teammates treat one another.

Research by Google into working teams showed that the right norms, "could raise a group’s collective intelligence, whereas the wrong norms could hobble a team, even if, individually, all the members were exceptionally bright."

What are those norms? In good groups and teams, members speakin roughly the same proportion - that could mean everyone talking during each task or taking turns. Either way, good teams give everyone a chance to talk.

Also, in good groups and teams, members are skilled at intuiting how others feel based on their tone of voice, expression, and other nonverbal clues.  They know when someone is feeling left out.  

Finally, good groups and teams have what is called psychological safety. Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up...It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’

How do you create a good study group? Encourage your team to adopt the norms above and to get personal. Psychological safety and emotional conversations are related. Taking turns speaking and empathy are how we establish bonds with one another. These bonds matter in groups and can mean an experience where you learn and thrive or one where you suffer.






Books in 5 Quotes: Daniel Pink

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink outlines the Six Senses found on the right side of your brain, the new, evolving world will require: Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play and Meaning.

His book in Five Quotes:

1. “The left hemisphere [of the brain] is particularly good at recognizing serial events – events whose elements occur one after the other – and controlling sequences of behavior. The left hemisphere is involved in controlling serial behaviors. The serial functions performed by the left hemisphere include verbal activities, such as talking, understanding the speech of other people, reading and writing. The right hemisphere doesn’t march in the single-file formation of A-B-C-D-E. Its special talent is the ability to interpret things simultaneously.”

2. “Pursuits devoted to meaning and transcendence, for instance, are now as mainstream as a double tall latte. In the United States, ten million adults now engage in some form of regular meditation, double the number a decade ago. Fifteen million practice yoga, twice the number in 1999. American popular entertainment is so awash in spiritual themes that TV Guide heralds the rise of ‘transcendental television.’”

3. “Stories are easier to remember – because in many ways, stories are how we remember.”

4. “We can see this yearning for self-knowledge through stories in many places – in the astonishingly popular ‘scrapbooking’ movement, where people assemble the artifacts of their lives into a narrative that tells the world, and maybe themselves, who they are and what they are about, and in the surging popularity of genealogy as millions search the Web to piece together their family histories. What these efforts reveal is a hunger for what stories can provide –context enriched by emotion, a deeper understanding of how we fit in and why that matters. The Conceptual Age can remind us what has always been true but rarely acted upon – that we must listen to each other’s stories and that we are each the authors of our own lives.”

5. “Seeing the big picture is fast becoming a killer app in business.”

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future