Category Archives: Professional Development

Can Online Training Be Better?

I have to admit, I like delivering online training classes. I don’t have to “dress for success” (or at least not in the same way) and my commute is very easy. I get to teach from the convenience of my home where I have everything I need at my fingertips. My “assistant,” aka Calvin the wonderful wiener dog, appreciates being able to hang out with me while I teach, too.

I know that people will debate whether online training classes are better or worse than in-person classes. I would contend that poor content and training delivery is bad for learners, regardless where it originates, in a classroom or online. Nevertheless, online training requires the presenter to adapt content and change delivery for the online platform. In person, the trainer can gauge the reaction of the people in the classroom and change delivery or content accordingly. When online, the trainer relies on beefed up participation to get real time feedback. Sometimes this goes awry.

Online training has its benefits though. Both the trainer and participants can be anywhere. This broadens the scope of the trainer’s reach and delivers content to people who might not usually have access to that trainer or topic. Most online platforms are easy to access, depending on internet connection, of course. As a trainer, becoming familiar with various platforms and managing the content and delivery with them necessitates a learning curve. Once you’re familiar enough with a platform, you’ll waste less time trying to figure out what to do and more time actually delivering content.

With a broad reach comes the opportunity for participants to network with people outside their usual circle. I know some trainers who actively discourage participants from using the chat or questions functions to communicate with others. I’m not so concerned with that. I see the chat or questions boxes as opportunities to get to know other participants and engage with them. Most platforms will let you save the chat to your computer. That way, you can refer back to it and connect with other participants outside the formal training session.

This leads me to one of the biggest issues I see with trainers presenting online classes. It’s true that participants can engage with each other even if they aren’t in the same room; however, we must be intentional in creating communities of learning when online. This doesn’t come as easily as when you’re in person in a classroom. There is no natural inclination to talk to other people or exchange ideas when you’re attending an online class. The trainer and the students must make an effort to foster community and participate. From the trainer’s perspective, this can be something as simple as asking people to contribute their name and location in the chat box or more complex such as using breakout rooms with small group exercises. The trainer holds the key to unlocking the door to creating community online.

As we wander back to classroom training, will learners follow? The convenience of online training will continue to appeal to people who may not be able or are just unwilling to travel to an in-person class. The trainer who wants to broaden his/her reach beyond a local geography will continue to embrace and utilize the online space. I can see a move toward more “blended learning” approaches that use online training for the knowledge base and in-person workshops for the application of what was learned online. This type of online training could be static, on-demand courses or live instruction.

This still begs the question: When there’s a choice, will people continue to attend online classes? I think so. Online training existed prior to the pandemic, and it will continue to thrive. The difference going forward is the commitment trainers have to improving the online class. Its ease of use and the familiarity we’ve gained over time will make online training a viable alternative to traditional, in-person classroom sessions.

Live! And Online

Please, please stop saying “unprecedented” when referring to this global pandemic! It might be a hot mess or crazy times, highly unusual or extraordinary, but please call it something other than unprecedented. We’ve heard that before. Help me to consider the current situation in a different light and you’ll have my attention.

I’ve had to think of my training business in a different way when it became apparent that the pandemic changed how people need to get training. Online training has existed for some time. There are self-paced, digital courses available in many fields. Anyone visiting the “support” or “help” areas on websites for assistance sees many examples of training tools designed to help an end user navigate the steps necessary to do just about anything. These types of training are necessary to provide, but they don’t make up the majority of the type of training I provide.

So what about synchronous training? You know, live, in person training courses that advance a learner to proficiency in a subject or skill. Is it possible to convert that type of training to an online version? I think so. I believe there is the opportunity to engage students in the online space that is not the same as in a classroom, but can still provide a similar experience.

There is also the need to create online versions of static professional development classes. These are often continuing education courses that professionals need because a state regulatory agency recognizes the need to keep licensees updated in their respective fields. The content may not change often, but it does change over time. With no opportunities to meet in a classroom for the foreseeable future, the professional using existing digital offerings depends on classes that are updated infrequently with no opportunity to interact with the instructor or other students.

Classroom training can be converted to online opportunity. What will attract the person who wants to learn the material? In a word: Interaction. A class offered live, online can have a degree of interaction with the instructor and other participants, depending on the platform used to deliver the class. In addition to interaction, current offerings can also deliver up-to-date material.

Here are five strategies I’ve used to convert my classroom-based classes to the online environment:

  • Change the presentation to fit the online environment: You may need more or less words on the slide, depending on how you normally construct your presentations. Consider using different kinds of graphics to illustrate your points. You might want to use video and animation to break up the monotony of the slide deck.
  • Use breakout rooms: Consider using a platform that gives you the ability to assign participants to breakout rooms where they can discuss topics in small groups. Give them questions or topics to discuss in a handout (either send it to them prior to the class and/or let them download it from the platform). Have one person report out of the group when the participants reconvene.
  • Step up their participation: Use polls to solicit answers to questions or feedback. Use techniques such as “Write this down,” “Raise your hand if . . . ,” “wave if you . . . ,” “Write in the chat box . . . .” Take people off mute if they have questions or comments. If you’re asking them to give feedback in the chat or questions features of the platform, read them and respond. You have to be intentional about involving people online because you won’t be able to judge their reactions to what you’re saying as you would in the classroom.
  • Use your webcam: Yes, it’s disconcerting to think that the participants are seeing you but you are probably not seeing them. Talk to the camera and imagine you’re speaking to one (or more). Use gestures. Be animated. Don’t just read the slides!
  • Give them a break: Depending on the length of the class, consider working in a break. Most people can’t sit and pay attention for more than 90 minutes. If your class is an hour in length, there’s probably no need for a break.

All of these adaptations require work. Reevaluate the content of the class. What is essential? What is fluff? Make a meaningful experience for your participants. Give them a reason to be there with you for a live online class. Make it an extraordinary experience.

What is this feeling?

For those of us who are self-employed, Covid-19 could be a blessing or a curse. I see many entrepreneurs and small business owners pivoting and making changes to bring their businesses to people in other, chiefly online, ways. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? I see the announcements popping up on social media. There are webinars and calls, e-books and videos. But what about those of us who are just starting our businesses? It’s time to do a lot of “business development,” right? In other words, work to find future rather than now opportunities.

I can embrace that idea and have been trying to make contacts and set appointments for that future date when I’ll be able to hold in-person training classes. I am well-versed at presenting webinars and have done a few recently. Unfortunately, webinars haven’t been replacing my other offerings. This means a loss of income in the short term.

I surprised myself one morning this week by writing the following in my journal: “I think I am grieving for what might have been if this pandemic had not taken hold. It has caused me to consider if I really made the right choice. I feel like I don’t want to go back to where I was, but I don’t see a way forward from where I am now.” If you’re just starting a business when the pandemic hit, your opportunities probably dried up. You are mourning for what might have been. This grief is real. I realized that when, serendipitously, a Twitter notification popped up on my phone that lead me down a social media rabbit hole.

In the process of surveying my Twitter newsfeed I saw a friend’s post where she shared an article from the Harvard Business Review, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.” In this article, the author interviews David Kessler who co-wrote On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Kessler pinpointed what I and others are feeling right now: “Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain.” My mind races forward three months, six months. I see my nascent business failing and then extinct before it really had a chance to get off the ground. “Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst.”

What is the antidote to this grief? According to Kessler, it’s staying grounded in the present. What can you do now, today to remind yourself that you’re o.k.? In our communities, it can be practicing social distancing. For ourselves, it can be practicing mindfulness of our breath, our physical space, or just washing our hands and staying as healthy as possible.

This article was enlightening and sobering at the same time. Yes, I can give myself permission to focus on the present. I still need a way to earn a living and keep food in the refrigerator. I try to pitch my online offerings to people in a position to hire me. I feel sales-y and somehow inconsiderate. I find myself talking too much on these calls. I know this is the kiss of death (I teach sales skills after all!), but I can’t seem to stop myself. Focussing on what I can do today to advance my business has turned into frustration.

At the same time, I see announcements of webinar offerings by colleagues and competitors. I watch some of these webinars and marvel at how some trainers ever got someone to agree to let them present. I’m a little jealous and mad at myself at the same time. What am I doing wrong?

As more and more trainers race to put their content online in webinars and videos, the market becomes saturated. The audience for all of these online offerings is getting tapped out. How many webinars can you watch in a day or week before you just start deleting the email announcements or scrolling past the posts in your newsfeed. I call this “webinar fatigue.” It’s fine to watch and listen to people telling us what we should do for a while. Then, it turns into nagging and our attention begins to wane. We long for the connection, the dialogue, after a while, and webinars are not a substitute for human interaction.

The best webinar presenters understand this and work hard to create opportunities for connection while presenting. It helps when the presenter is interacting with the audience via the chat or questions function in the platform. Some platforms, like Zoom, give hosts the ability to put people in “breakout rooms” to interact. Sometimes even participants help each other out and start communicating among themselves in the chat. This aggravates some presenters (it’s disrespectful! they aren’t paying attention!) but I see this as a way to create community, even if it is in the context of an online offering.

I suspect that the number of webinar or online offerings will decrease over time and only those that are truly worthwhile, either because of the topic and/or the presenter, will stick around. I can’t worry about that now, however. I need to let go of what I can’t control and focus on what I can do now, today. If you’d like to talk to me about presenting some training, great. I’d love to connect with you. If you’re tired of training options, connect with me anyway. I’m here to help in any way I can.

Thoughts On Work And Life

What a strange place we’re in! It is as if we are collectively holding our breath as we wait for something new – or maybe the other shoe to drop. We fear getting sick but seemed resigned to what seems like the inevitable. We take precautions and stay away from others. We live in our restricted and restrictive spaces, connected through our computers and smartphones. How long can we continue to talk to disembodied voices or pictures with sound before we forget what it’s like to be in the presence of others?

We make jokes about dressing from the waist up for video conferencing, and it’s a funny thought to wear sweat pants with a dress shirt and jacket. To me, it’s a physical representation of our disjointed lives. We’re at home and we’re at work. We are searching for a new normal in the midst of “stay at home” and social distancing.”

Many have the ability to work from home and manage the job and family in the same place. Of course, other issues arise when the family competes for space and internet bandwidth. Others do not have this luxury. They work in grocery stores, pharmacies, and warehouses. These workers still need child care and transportation. I worry that the “new normal” for these people has added more stress to what was already a difficult juggling act.

What I think this situation may force us to realize is how much we view ourselves from the perspective of our jobs and professions. “What do you do?” has become “What are you” in the work world. Without a specific place to embody that role, what are we? People who worked remotely prior to the pandemic may have already answered this question. For women, and especially mothers who work outside the home, having a clear line between who we are at home and who we are at work was helpful. What do you do when the workplace is home? I don’t have children at home now and it’s still difficult to get my husband to respect my work space and time.

But is who we are defined by others or the space we inhabit? Our individual identities are our own making. If we allow others to define who we are or identify our roles and the places in which we perform those roles as what we are, then we relinquish our autonomy. Why does this matter now? I see people running to redefine their lives because the pandemic has stripped them of their identity as they defined it.

Fear has taken hold of the world. Yes, we will get through this, but at what cost to our psyches? I realize that we, as humans, have the ability to reinvent ourselves many times over during our lives. If we are forced to reinvent ourselves because of an outside/external situation, why do we do it? Because we feel we can learn something new and grow or because one door was closed to us and we are forced to open another one?

I am just beginning to formulate tentative answers to these questions. I feel compelled to provide opportunities to people if they want to learn something new, but I also find myself in the same situation as someone trying to launch a new business. Should I pivot and do something different? What can I offer people to help them get through this?

I worry that our sense of community has been seriously injured also. I mourn the loss of the in-person training sessions I offer because they provide me with a community of learners. Together we approach the material and discover its meaning and/or application. Those learners may be present on the other end of a webinar, but it’s not quite the same as being face-to-face in a room. I do what I can to create connection and participation in live, online training sessions. Analytics are sometimes my only resource to determine if they felt connected and interested.

I hope that we can learn to live together again when we emerge from this pandemic. I think the scars of this disease on our communities will take a long time to fade. My task seems simple, yet profound: to bring people together in communities of learning. In doing this, I play my part in our collective healing.

The Blank Page

I sat down today for the first time in 10 days to write in my journal. What used to be a firm morning routine of reading and writing with my cup of coffee before the newspaper and radio invaded my brain was swept aside by “stay at home” orders and “social distancing.” My routine had a rhythm of getting up at a certain time based on when my spouse went to work. Now he’s home all day. The routine got disrupted and I let the upheaval continue too long.

In much the same way, my training schedule and opportunities have been disrupted. I can’t count on in-person training to fill my schedule. Instead, my classes have moved to online offerings. There are always the basics to teach; however, in exceptional times, we trainers need to have exceptional content that speaks to our students now. I have to ask myself: What do real estate agents want to learn, and what do they need to learn now.

When the world changes daily (or hourly), it’s hard to tell people to do something when the result may not be allowed or applicable in just a short time. The uncertainty surrounding us all creates doubts about what we can teach people. Will it still be true in two or three weeks? Who will this resonate with if . . . ?

I work in the real estate business. I train people to be better, more productive real estate agents. Here’s what I know to be true: real estate agents are relatable people. They want to help people and grow their businesses. Consumers look to them for advice and assistance. Agents form close personal relationships with people as they walk through the buying or selling process. This is something the big real estate search engines can’t do, despite their presence in the market. Training should reflect what agents need to know to reach consumers and prove their value proposition.

There’s little or no opportunity for influencing people in person right now. We must provide training online. This scares some trainers, I’m sure, but it’s time to learn the tools if you haven’t already. There are different ways to conduct training virtually. In addition to Learning Management Systems that provide on demand training, we can conduct live webinars and even utilize Facebook or YouTube live to engage our followers on social channels. We can create training content such as video quick tips. These static videos become “evergreen” content online that we can continue to use in the future.

Beyond these somewhat traditional means of training virtually, we can reach out to students via phone, text, and email with “micro-learning” opportunities. If you utilize a platform that gives you the ability to send mass emails or text messages, you can send a group of people a mini lesson with a short assignment. Have participants upload their completed assignment or results to a closed Facebook group to create conversation and the ability for you to give feedback.

The opportunities are there and depend only on your willingness to be creative with training now. You may need to create new content for delivery through different means than you have in the past. You may need to learn something new yourself to be able to deliver training in a new way. Keep moving forward with your ideas and plans despite the temptation to throw your hands up and give in to the disruption. Your people need you.

Fill up the blank page.

The Brave New World of Training

Whoever thought we would all be using the term “social distance” six months ago? By now, we know what it means to maintain social distance from one another, and it doesn’t include sitting in a room with more than 10 people. We have gone from assembling people in one place to share our expertise with them to scrambling for ways to reach our students and prospective students. It’s not easy, but there are ways to provide training outside of the classroom.

Yes, you can go online with classes, and schools, colleges, and universities are learning quickly what “distance learning” really means. Companies that specialize in online learning send me multiple emails telling me how they can help. I appreciate it, but I’m not the one who needs their assistance. 

I truly respect those trainers and coaches who have created an online presence that predates this situation. They have been on the forefront of learning in a digital age. They understand that teaching in an online environment requires skills beyond explaining something.

Watching a webinarIt is not simply a matter of taking your slide deck and talking through the slides, except now you’re doing it as a webinar. Live, online training without engaging participants falls flat. People tune out. As a trainer, you lose their attention before you’ve had a chance to give them real content. And then there’s the sound, screen sharing, and every other technical thing that can (and does) go wrong. Hmmm – maybe this isn’t as easy as everyone thought.

Live, online training can provide immediate feedback from participants. Examples include: using polls during a webinar, launching a survey at the end of the online training, or opening up the audio to let participants ask questions instead of typing them in the questions box. Let’s not forget the role of social media and its ability to reach people beyond the classroom (or webinar). Short videos, blog articles, infographics, and pictures can provide opportunities to teach something. An online “challenge” to people to create something and share it on a social platform invites participants to learn through doing and creates community among the creators.

As trainers, we need to be creative with how to reach and engage students at this time. When I started writing this article, I was sitting in an airport on my way home from a business meeting. I’m happy to say that everyone was doing a good job with the social distancing, washing hands, and using hand sanitizer and/or disinfecting wipes. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to be there, potentially exposing myself and future contacts to disease. I took a few minutes, opened my notebook, pulled a pen out of my bag, and started writing the topics I feel confident that I’m able to present online. I decided to focus on what I can do rather than what has been lost.

We can shut down our training businesses and look for alternate income streams while trying to maintain “social distance” until the current situation resolves. Or, we can embrace the technology and learn how to use it for our benefit. See you online!

 

Award or Reward?

I loved getting awards. (Notice the use of the past tense here.) I used awards as a carrot to get me to do the work needed to achieve the particular level or award status. In a sales position, awards are often used to entice the salesperson to do more work. If you’re a recognition junkie, getting the award is your fix and you’ll do anything to get it.

I attended a company awards function today and saw people I’ve trained walk across the stage to receive recognition for their production last year. It’s gratifying as a trainer to see people who attended your classes and did what you told them to do receive recognition. (Perhaps I’m living  vicariously through those award winners.) The experience caused me to consider whether awards and training have anything to do with one another (beyond the proud moment).

Most of the award winners, if asked, will not cite their training as the reason for their success. Why is that?

I regularly teach real estate agents about the behaviors and activity they need to perform in order to reach their goal(s). For some people, the external measurement is what propels them to do the work needed to realize their goals. The goal is embodied in the external recognition of their work. I understand this very well. I used a sales award to focus my activity as a new real estate agent. When I achieved that goal, I knew I had also achieved my financial and business goals. They went hand in hand. With no prior experience in sales, the training I received played an important role in my achievements.

Training can help people understand their motivations and clarify their goals. Certifications and designations may be the end result of completing a training program that will ultimately lead participants to more business, advancement in their careers, and/or some particular recognition. Perhaps the content of the training serves to give them an advantage. Just by knowing something may give the participant the ability to do their work more efficiently or effectively.

Award IllustrationIn real estate specifically, we train agents to become better at what they do by teaching them the skills and behaviors necessary for a successful career. We don’t usually encourage agents to make an award their goal, but rather treat it as a by-product of the activity the agent must perform to achieve their goals. Most times we trainers don’t even discuss awards in the context of a class.

Goals can be different for different people. This is especially true in sales professions. Some may have a monetary amount as their goal (I need to earn X this year) and others may decide their goal should be an experience or object (a cruise for the family or a new car). It’s helpful to understand the people in the training class to determine whether using award levels as goals would be a significant enough reward for the students. There may be some for whom this is a positive benchmark for their activity.

I’ve been focussing on large, annual goals here. There’s a place for more immediate measurements of activity and achieving interim goals. If you’re teaching the same group of people over a span of weeks or months, wouldn’t it make sense to recognize them for achieving weekly or monthly goals? I think it does. The hope is that by setting small, weekly or monthly goals, the students will focus on taking the steps needed each day to achieve them. We teach our students an important lesson by doing this. We give them the tools to succeed in whatever they choose to do.

Awards ceremonies are fun, exciting events. They don’t tell us a lot about what it took for those receiving the awards to achieve the award. I think it’s training’s job to help our students be able to analyze their activity and measure their progress toward their goal. The award at the end is icing on the cake. The satisfaction from seeing my students pick up their awards comes from knowing that I did what I could to help them get to this point. Congratulations to all!

You Are What You Learn

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.” Winston Churchill

Once upon a time, I thought that my students were like empty vessels, waiting for me to pour needed information into them. When they were full of whatever I poured into them, they would be able to do something, speak intelligently, or act upon the information. I was new to teaching adults, just able to drink legally myself, and scared out of my mind that I would say or do something wrong in front of my class. Many of my students were older than I.

My favorite classroom activities involved drills and simple games. I honestly didn’t know any better, and this is what I was taught to do with the students. They were learning a foreign language and needed the repetition. Never mind no one understood how to use what they were saying. That would be a lesson for a different day, in a different class. So, I kept repeating the verb conjugations and sentence structure. They did learn something, I’m sure. My students tested highest on the department exams. I knew what to teach them.

Fast forward several years to a different place and a different subject. There is nothing to drill these students on. They are more skeptical about the validity of what I’m presenting than those students learning a foreign language. I had to find new techniques and skills to reach these students. I had to understand that they do not always like being taught. For this group, learning how to must lead to application.

It makes sense to me that I have evolved in my teaching as I’ve grown older and observed how others teach. I couldn’t depend on the way I was teaching people over time. I had to accept that my students are not in class for me to fill them up with information that they should process on their own, outside of class. What I teach needs to be relevant and compelling. They want to learn, but they don’t like being taught.

This might seem evident, but I know instructors and trainers who are still simply lecturing to students and don’t seem to care whether what they say resonates with the them. They read slides from a PowerPoint presentation, droning on about whatever with little regard for the learners they are charged with teaching. If adult students and professionals are constantly told they know less than they thought they did, they will not respond to the message. Eventually the only people left in these classes will be the instructors and the few people who absolutely need to take the class on that day at that time. Adults vote with their feet.

LearningI choose to focus on application of skills and ideas. We discuss, we practice, we wrestle with the topic until we (notice it’s not or they) work together to learn and become better at what we do. Each time I step in front of a group of people with the charge to teach or train, I need to be better at what I do than the last time. This is how I approach the privilege of being a trainer. I help people achieve something they want or need through my instruction.

I am most certainly a different teacher/trainer today than I was at the start of my career. I believe this is due to one small question that I ask myself when I get ready to teach: Why is this important? More specifically: Why is this topic/skill/tool important for the students in my class today? If I can answer that question, then I know that I can confidently stand in front of the group and lead them through the syllabus for that session. Asking the question does not absolve me from presenting the material in an entertaining and relevant manner. It does not mean I can just tell stories or read from PowerPoint slides. I have to engage my learners.

My students may be ready to learn, but they don’t like to be taught.

Just Another Day

I have to admit it, I’ve been in a funk for a few days. It didn’t help that I spent too much time preparing for a training opportunity for which I didn’t have an agreement in place. Shame on me. I went into teaching this week with a bruised ego and a desire to prove to myself that yes, I can do it. So I was very ready to help a group of people tackle the intricacies of several technology tools for their real estate businesses. After all, I really like teaching tech!

I came home after the second of two full days of training tired and somewhat satisfied that I achieved my goals. The students picked up some tips, learned how to use the tools, and generally seemed happy with the class. Some even told me it was the best class they had attended so far (kudos to me!). I, however, have to acknowledge that I am also a bit dissatisfied, not with my performance, but with the ways we introduce people to a new profession.

It all starts with expectations. I don’t think anyone decides to spend money to fulfill the requirements for a real estate license (or any other profession that takes preparation and passing a test for entry) with the knowledge of the things it takes to be successful. That knowledge is acquired by learning on the job and the kind of training I do. Unfortunately, managers and companies that hire people to fill roles that require more training need to explain what candidates can expect to do as they start their careers. Too often, recruiters spend far too much time extolling the benefits of the work rather than explaining the work itself.

In most fields today, technology plays in important role in the day-to-day work of the business.  Most jobs utilize some form of technology tool, even if it’s only email. I see people coming into real estate who can’t distinguish between an email address and a website address. Because real estate agents often communicate with prospects and clients via email and use their websites for lead generation, this is an important distinction. I can explain the difference and I can teach someone what to type, but eventually, they have to learn and stop making the mistake. 

It’s the lack of understanding these kinds of fundamentals that perplex me. I’m not going to blame age. I know plenty of older people who are very adept at using technology for business and pleasure. I usually hear one of the students in my technology classes announce to me before we start that “I’m not good with technology.” When I hear that, I could think “oh no, here we go again,” but instead I ask what that person means by “I’m not good with technology.” The more I know, the more I can anticipate problems and try to adapt my teaching. I give the person admitting difficulties credit for understanding their weaknesses. It doesn’t absolve us from setting proper expectations coming into the profession or introductory training.

Whose responsibility is it to ensure the newcomers into our profession are able to master the tools they need to carry out their jobs? The responsibility falls on the trainers and the students alike. I find nothing wrong with telling adults that they need to practice and learn what I teach them. I don’t give out grades; their business will show how well they learn and put what they learn into practice. I am a resource person and a motivator. I help them understand how to do something, what to do in different situations, and most importantly, why it should be done. I expect the student to connect the dots.

I want students to have a good experience in training. It can be difficult for them and me if expectations are not set coming into training and students are deficient in basic skills. I will continue to be patient and help those who lag behind others in the class. At some point, though, it will be painful to struggle to catch up. I worry that the pain will outlast the benefits of practicing an exciting, new profession and cause someone to reconsider after spending time and money to get this far. That’s not fair to the newcomer.

Got Ethics?

As a way to boost milk consumption, the California Milk Processor Board began to use the tagline “Got Milk?” You may have seen the commercials on TV, the billboards, or the ads in magazines. The use of the line spread across the country as celebrities posed the question with milk mustaches. Suddenly it was cool to drink milk (and show your milk mustache). The refrigerator staple that people pour on cereal and drink with chocolate chip cookies is a common thing people can buy and consume. But what about ethics? Are ethics something you can acquire and use when needed or desired? Do we need to teach people ethics? And what about industry-specific business ethics?

Ethics, at its simplest, is a system of moral behavior. We often think of ethics as standards of behavior – what people should or should not do in the context of a situation. Everyone operates by some code of ethics whether they recognize it or not. Religions and philosophies provide us with standards of behavior such as the Ten Commandments or the Golden Rule, for example. Ethics has to do with social standards, whereas morals refer to a person’s ideas of what is right or wrong. In this context, teaching ethics makes perfect sense. We are not prescribing a person’s moral character in ethics; rather, we look to teach behaviors that align with the type of ethics the individual should adhere to.

Many states require real estate licensees to take an ethics continuing education course as part of license renewal requirements. In Ohio, this law is called the “Canons of Ethics.” These laws are the legal standard by which someone can obtain and retain a real estate license. Any licensee who is also a Realtor® (a member of the National Association of Realtors®) must fulfill an ethics education requirement periodically as well. The Realtor® Code of Ethics dates back to 1913 and is updated annually to reflect changes in the profession. So the idea of teaching ethics to this profession’s members is not foreign. 

Nevertheless, it begs the question, how do you teach someone to be ethical? Is it possible to tell if someone “got ethics”?

To teach ethics is sometimes challenging because the consequences for not teaching it well can be high (think of a practitioner losing their ability to earn a living). Rarely does someone tell me that they think it’s silly to have to sit through the class. Students do challenge particular points or ideas, but they don’t dispute the need to learn them. What is most difficult is the how – how do we help people understand what they should do and convince them to do it?

I like to use case studies or scenarios to help students understand what they need to do to meet the ethical standards set forth by law and their industry. Case studies give students the opportunity to place themselves in the situation and consider what they would do. Sometimes their responses are incorrect when asked what they would do in that situation. This is a learning opportunity. We address why the response is wrong and how to remedy the behavior. As the class progresses, students learn the standards of ethical behavior they need to abide by to maintain their profession.

This material can be extremely dry and boring – unfortunately. I’ve sat through enough ethics classes as a student to know how it should not be taught. I find it best to approach the topic with humility and humor. If I can get students to laugh at the silly things the agents in my case studies say or do, it helps to make the point. It also becomes easier to understand the difference between incorrect and correct behaviors. Humor can help get your point across.

Each scenario comes down to one specific question: What would you do? I have found that most people want to do the right thing, but they may not know what it means in that specific situation. Sometimes it’s easy to follow the crowd and perpetuate bad practices because “everyone does it.” Just like your mother told you as a child, it’s not a good defense to do something just because everyone else is doing it. We have ethics to help us remember that there are better ways to act.

If a particular ethical standard no longer applies due to changes in society, then there are processes to get it changed. If it is law, we lobby our lawmakers. If it concerns industry ethics, that industry has a means by which changes are considered and acted upon. When I teach ethics, I point this out as well. Ethics are not stagnant; they are a part of society, and as society changes, so too should the ethics we reference as standards of behavior.

Ethics aren’t foreign. We all have some kind of ethical structure that we work within. My job is to help people understand ethics and how their business practices do or do not comply with the ethical standards they are required to adhere to. In the end, I trust that my students can say that they “got ethics” – with or without a milk mustache.