How To Hack Your Own Higher Education… For FREE

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Innovation in Higher Education

With tight budgets, busy lifestyles and demanding employers, having a solid education is more important now than ever.  The last few years have seen an explosion in the increasing cost of a college education. Don’t fear, there is also an explosion of cost-saving opportunities for a world class education. With the rapid growth of education technology, online learning resources to serve this higher education need have also seen explosive growth, including, Coursera, Udacity and edX.  But with a sea full of higher ed videos, many of which come from colleges like Harvard and Stanford, where do you start?

With all of the online courses, university videos, lectures, and seminars available to you, it is key that you drive the vehicle of your own learning. You are more in control now so take advantage and be effective for your own personal growth and development.  Innovative programs can help you to reflect and strategize to create your own plan unique to you. Watching university videos is great, but it’s not enough. You need to apply this new knowledge to enhance your learning and development. Don’t just watch, do! Here are some tips to do just that.

8 Tips for learning from free education courses, programs, & videos

  1. Create something useful. Watch a video, and actually create something from it! When you know you are working to create something, you will listen much more attentively.
  2. Journal. Reflection is a powerful technique for learning. Describe what you are learning, and apply that knowledge.
  3. Have a project. Pick a relevant project to apply your knowledge.  Maybe you already have a big project, and what you learn from the video can help.
  4. Build your own program. Don’t just watch one video; do a series and integrate them together for your own development. Think of it like assembling a variety of courses to create your own program. You can also combine this self-built program with already existing personal development programs, like Create Your Path.
  5. Have a partner. Don’t do it alone. Go through the video programs with a friend or colleague. Share your insights with each other.
  6. Teach someone something. Before you start your next video program, think about who you would like to teach. Who else could benefit from what you are about to learn? Accepting the challenge of teaching will help you internalize the information on a deeper level.
  7. Learn from those who came before you. Research already exists on how to design your experience so that you have a high impact. My book Root Down & Branch Out: Best Practices for Leadership Development Programs details the best practices for designing programs for learning.
  8. Go mobile!  Short on free time? Want to learn on the go? Use your phone, tablet or other mobile device to participate on your time.

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About the author: Darin J. Eich, Ph.D. is a keynote speaker and founder of many educational innovations like University Training and this Innovation Program.

Recommended Higher Ed Blogs for University Faculty & Staff

Top Higher Education BlogsIf you would like to improve or innovate within higher education, blogs and university video sites should be a source you turn to for ideas, news, and trends. You probably already read journals in your field (where articles are validated, but not very recent) and publications like the Chronicle of Higher Education.  For new ideas and nearly real-time news, follow twitter, linkedin, Facebook, and other social media sources. I like to read blogs, because they integrate a lot of social media and traditional publication news sources…plus they tend to be more creative, personal, and fun to read. Many times, the posts are short, summarizing, synthesizing and helpful if you want to innovate in higher education.

Our Method

In 2012, we began looking at higher ed blogs as a key resource.  In order to help separate the wheat from the chaff, we evaluated the blogs we came across, creating a list of the best ones.  The blogs we found cover a wide range of topics and perspectives, but our methodology stayed the same.  To create this list, we analyzed blogs at two different levels.

  • Level 1: We generated a list of over 200 higher ed blogs that we found already recommended by other sources.  With this list in hand, we reviewed each blog one at a time, noting the ones we would recommend.
  • Level 2: Our editors visited the recommended higher ed blogs, assessing them for content quality & quantity, post frequency, comment volume and engagement with the higher ed reader community.  They also looked a variety of other factors, including relevancy, helpfulness, insight, design, reputation and more.

Blogs can be a great source for current information, and much of the content is focused on helping you learn and adapt to the future of higher education.  Many of the blogs I follow share college and university trends, including tips, tools, techniques, personal experiences, and thoughts for improving how students are educated and how higher education institutions are operated. Give our list a look and let us know in the comments your favorites and if there is a higher ed blog you would like to suggest too.

Here’s the list of top higher education blogs from
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Finding & Building Personal Artifacts to Gain Wisdom, Perspective, and Direction

Previously in the Create Your Path program, we identified your passionate interests and strengths. By listing or using the Mind Map activity, you mapped those interests and strengths out to create a visual representation of you. Now, we want to essentially zoom out in order to zoom back in and bring it all together. The goal at this point is to identify which artifacts show your specific strengths, interests and/or values in action. We want to either find an artifact you have already created – perhaps without knowingly building an artifact – or create a new one that represents your experiences.

What is an artifact? Here is how the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it:
a : something created by humans usually for a practical purpose; especially : an object remaining from a particular period
b : something characteristic of or resulting from a particular human institution, period, trend, or individual

We can create our own artifacts that visually show our own lives. An artifact is helpful, because it helps both us and others to understand through the visual or object. In our digital era, an artifact could be a webpage, comic, blog post, audio file, slide, or video. Artifacts like these are easy to create and equally powerful to help you understand and share your story.

At the next level, you can be purposeful about your creation and use of your personal artifacts. I recommend using your artifact to show and tell the story of your strengths, interests and values in action. They are great to include in portfolios, or to bring to interviews and presentations. An artifact will make it easy to portray that story to others. The most important thing is to gain more insight and clarity into these aspects of you that are working together, how they fit together, and how they align to create a flow experience where you are at your best. Maybe your artifact showcases one of those key experiences we looked at earlier in the Create Your Path program.

This article is taken from the online video-based program Create Your Path. Sign up for a free sample workshop from the program here, see details on the full program at, and see other programs, speeches, and more at

Startups, Beanbags, Earthquakes, and Fires: The James Tamplin Story

I’m chronicling the stories of determined entrepreneurs, innovative leaders, unique path creators, and friends. Last month was Rishi Shah and this month is James Tamplin, CEO and Co-Founder of Firebase.

I met James Tamplin when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin. I remember first meeting him through a mutual friend. He became one of our BrainReactions professional brainstormers. He had a British accent, a larger-than-life personality, and he improved the quality and quantity of his ideas at our brainstorming sessions for Fortune 500 companies by leaps and bounds. Based on the data we collected about his ideas, I think he may have actually improved by as much as 300%, which is remarkable.

James has great entrepreneurial passion. He started traveling the world to places like Australia and South East Asia after graduation from UW, and through an organic farming program, ended up in New Zealand. When he returned to the US, he partnered up with Andrew Lee, a friend of his from high school, to dive deep into the tech entrepreneurship world. Their first company was called Keep Security, which made a fingerprint sensor that plugged into your phone and acted as additional security when making credit card payments. Keep Security folded, and he then moved on to (later acquired by TrackItBack). During the time they were working on SendMeHome, I visited them in Santa Barbara and saw the life that James was leading.

What I saw firsthand was the moment that all great entrepreneurship stories have: the low moment. That moment where you are out of money. James had cashed in his Roth IRA to fund this endeavor, but they needed more money, so they started selling physical possessions like their additional computers. You learn a lot crashing on someone’s couch. When I was sleeping on his couch I witnessed James and Andrew working around the clock. James was sleeping on a beanbag on the floor of Andrew’s bedroom. He talked his way into a job teaching gymnastics to high schoolers – though he knew nothing about gymnastics.  When they needed even more money, James started eating a diet of cereal. I remember how appreciative he was when I treated him to In-N-Out burger!

Then, something exciting happened: PC World named their SendMeHome App as one of the top 100 products of 2009! I remember seeing it listed on the same page as Google Books, the Sony Playstation 3, and DropBox. This is exciting. This was downright inspirational. A couple of guys who I saw working out of a small room, sleeping on a beanbag and eating nothing but cereal can have an award winning product next mega corporations like Sony and Google. What a world! But these Santa Barbara moments wouldn’t be the lowest or highest by a long stretch. They soon sold their SendMeHome company and were ready for the next adventure, the real highs and lows, and the real parts of the story worth telling.

Like many tech entrepreneurs, James and Andrew made their way to San Francisco. They were staying with relatives to begin with, creating something new again. This time, it was called Envolve, a very interesting app that allowed visitors on a website to chat with each other. You can see it in action at the bottom of Universal Records artists’ websites like Ricky Martin. This little chat widget even translated for users who were speaking in different languages.  I was impressed with this particular innovation.

As with their previous project, this innovation story had its highs and lows.  James and Andrew went to Haiti to do a service project. James had gone before and told me stories of the work they did there. It was always eventful but nothing like what they would encounter in January of 2010. The time they were in Haiti was also the time of the earthquake. James told Andrew to come up to the roof of the hotel and watch the sunset.  Five minutes later, the earthquake hit. James leaped out of his building into a tree when he saw it happening. They were unharmed, and they continued to be of service in Haiti, doing things I could not imagine – finding people to see if they were alive, and if not, helping with body bags. There were stories ranging from leaving the Embassy to go to the streets to help people, sometimes serving as amateur doctors. It was something. (Read James’ first-hand account of the Haitian earthquake in this note on Facebook.)

Later, James and Andrew were flown out of Haiti by a US Air Force cargo plane and headed back to San Francisco where they continued to work on Envolve.  They finally launched it to the world in July of 2010. As luck would have it, later that month someone threw a can of gas into the car they were sharing. Their garage and part of their house burned down. James was taken to the hospital with smoke inhalation. They were still operating on a shoestring so this – especially the hospital bill – was devastating. At this point I was staying in San Francisco for the winter so I could see with my own eyes how difficult a time period it was for James. But I also saw that he was as keenly focused as ever upon what he was passionate about and what his strengths were. I knew they would have success with Envolve. He and Andrew were too talented and most importantly, too determined.

Shortly after the fire, they moved up from Menlo Park and into San Fransisco and started anew, building on the determined success they had. They got a proper office in an amazing building next to Mashable with views of the Bay Bridge and AT&T ballpark. I saw this my next visit to San Francisco the next year. Each time I visited in the winter they had taken significant steps in making their company substantial. On my most recent visit, they added a team of developers and were gaining hundreds of thousands of users at a rapid pace. They were then accepted to the prestigious Y-Combinator program in San Francisco and had the chance to share Envolve with people like Ashton Kutcher and learn from Al Gore and Mark Zuckerberg.

From Fire To Firebase: They continue their growth and patterns of innovation. They just launched Firebase, which I’ve recently read about in Wired and Forbes and has been described as the “Dropbox for apps.” Read about this innovation because it has been gaining great momentum since their launch party and San Francisco developers are jumping on board, and in our technology-centric world, this is one group that you want to be on board.

James is creating his own path in his life. All paths that are worth journeying have both high and low moments. Looking back at the path is the way to understand. I have been always interested in observing how James is journeying. In the winter of 2009 I saw him building a company while in Santa Barbara sleeping on a beanbag, eating cereal, operating from a small room. In the winter of 2010 I saw him building a new company while recovering from the Haiti earthquake and about to encounter a fire. In the winter of 2011 I saw a boom and their office in SOMA San Francisco. In the winter of 2012 I saw James and his team about to launch Firebase and with a team of expert developers. It is helpful to check in each year at a certain point to assess your friend’s journey and remind them of how far they have come.

Acquisition by Google!

A lot has happened the past couple of years for James and Firebase. Most importantly, after an arduous 6-month acquisition process with four potential acquirers vying for acquisition — while simultaneously talking to many venture capitalists about potential Series B financing — Firebase was acquired by Google in 2014.

Before the Google acquisition, Firebase had a team of 23. Since then, the team has grown by more than ten times! For two years now, James has served as the Product Manager for Firebase at Google.

But the Google acquisition didn’t mean James has been taking it easy. On the contrary — the two years post-acquisition were just as intense as the six years pre-acquisition. If you were to visit James at Google in the past two years, you’d find him still grinding away on the product, and still focused on team culture. It’s a testament to James’ dedication, almost all of the original Firebase team is still with the team at Google. And today, Firebase is used by an impressive 750,000 developers.

There was a big expansion at Google I/O. As TechCrunch reported on May 18, 2016, Google turns Firebase into its unified platform for mobile developers. Read more about the acquisition that started it all in this October 21, 2014 Update: Google buys Firebase to Add Cloud-Computing Mobile Tools.

More links for learning the latest about Firebase and Google:

Congratulations to James Tamplin, Andrew Lee, the Firebase team, and Google for their remarkable progress year after year! Watch this video to see James in action and learn more about Firebase. This is James speaking at Google I/O 2016.


Tools for Self-Understanding: Inventories, Assessments, & Surveys

ENFP Personality

At some point, you have probably taken a survey, or maybe even used a fun app to help you gain a greater understanding of yourself. Maybe you played the “true colors” board game. Perhaps you’ve done the popular Myers-Briggs (MBTI Personality Assessment) at a college workshop. When I did the MBTI I found out my personality type was ENFP (extroverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceiving). There are a number of assessments, inventories, and questionnaires that can help you gain awareness about who you are and identify what categories you fit in best. These personality, strength, style, skill, and value assessments can be excellent starters and clarifiers for self-understanding.

It seems like you can do a quick survey to learn about yourself in almost any way – from fun things like which animal or Star Wars character are you, to things that will help you on your career path, shedding light on your behavior, psychology, satisfaction, intelligence, personality, leadership, group style, social style, or emotional intelligence. Here are some assessments that are respected and widely used that you may have done or may wish to use in the future.

  1. Positive Psychology Questionnaires (Character Strengths, Happiness, Optimism, etc.)
  2. Myers-Briggs (MBTI Personality Assessment)
  3. StrengthsFinder 2.0
  4. Index of Learning Styles
  5. Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI)
  6. DISC personality test
  7. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2)
  8. Strong Interest Inventory (SII)
  9. Enneagram Personality System
  10. Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI)
  11. Personal Interests, Attitudes and Values Assessment (PIAV)

The real opportunity here is to continually get more specific. For instance, “ideation” is one of my StrengthsFinder 2.0 strengths. That is helpful, but not super helpful. I took that strength and listed twenty more specific strengths I have just within ideation, including group brainstorming, listing many ideas quickly, creating metaphors, improvising stories, etc. If you would like to create a focused path, take the results of your inventories, and ask yourself, “more specifically, what about that?”

This article is taken from the online video-based program Create Your Path. Sign up for a free sample workshop from the program here, see details on the full program at, and see other programs, speeches, and more at

Discover and Use your Personal Strengths and Valuable Skills to Create your Life


How are you using knowledge of your strengths and skills to create your future?

Create your life and career path from your strengths and high level skills. I find a personal strengths or “valuable skills” focus to be particularly valuable in life if we can build upon and use them in conjunction with our passionate interests. You see, you may have passionate interests that you’re not particularly strong or skilled in. For example, I loved basketball for years, but I wasn’t very good at it. Bummer. Making it to the NBA isn’t a path I should create. Luckily there are many intersections Ultimately, you want to identify those areas of interest that align closely with your strengths. Identify at least five of your strengths, without judgement. Come up with them quickly. What are you most valuable skills? Think about those things you’re skilled at doing.  Close your eyes, and see what comes to mind. Now go for 10.

For me, those strengths come out when thinking about the experiences we looked at earlier in the Create Your Path program and articles. I remember specifically the strength or skill of group facilitation came to mind. Keep reflecting on and going back to those key life experiences you’ve already had to unearth your strengths from them. In most of your peak life moments you will see you were wielding your strengths and most valuable skills. If you reflect on the big picture of many life moments, maybe you see some strengths you utilized from your own hero’s journey that used again and again.

Just like with the passionate interests activity, it is not enough to create your path just based on what you are good at. You can be skilled at or strong in a particular area, but if you are not passionately interested in it, you will not feel happy or satisfied. For instance, my first job out of college was as an account executive. It was a sales position. I was great at it and getting promoted rapidly and exceeding exceeding expectations.  But I was not passionate about it.  Nor did I feel that doing what I did was mattering in a meaningful way for society as a whole. So I created my path in a different direction. It is strengths + passionate interests + values! One is not enough! Creating your path is integrating!

This article is taken from the online video-based program Create Your Path. Sign up for a free sample workshop from the program here, see details on the full program at, and see other programs, speeches, and more at

Passionate Interests: Don’t Just Follow – Unearth and Integrate

Passionate InterestsNow, let’s zoom in your passionate interests. What lights your fire? What do you love doing? What do you really, truly care about? What are you passionately interested in? Close your eyes, and identify at least five passionate interests. Go for ten. Better yet, write down 20. Don’t judge yourself here. If you were to go to a library, what topics would the books you check out be about? What would you talk to a friend about right now? Your interests could be academic, professional, or personal in nature. Maybe you’ve had experiences in the past that gave you key insight into what your interests are. For example, I’m interested in leadership, innovation, higher education, travel and yoga.

Many of us think of our career success formula as “following our passion.” This is a good start. It is better than not following your passion or worse yet, not knowing your passion at all. If you have identified a list of your passionate interests and are willing to leverage them for your career, you are at least facing the right direction. Listen closely though – knowing what you are passionate about or interested in is NOT ENOUGH.

Following just your passion is not a clear path to success. If this were the case, I would still be trying to make it to the NBA as a professional basketball player who wasn’t particularly skilled in basketball, built to be a basketball player, or valued that basketball really made a difference in the world. You also need to align your passionate interests with your strengths and values, and move forward in a direction where there is a future, a societal need, and hopefully resources to support you. This is why we take the time to do these activities to create your path – because we need to integrate many key things together.

We are each passionate or interested in many things. Focus on those that have a future. Good thing I was never passionate about typewriters, partially hydrogenated oils, 8-track players, fossil fuels, or lecture & multiple choice exam based education! Even if I was there would be more passionate interests to choose from. They just need to be discovered or unearthed from within.

This article is taken from the online video-based program Create Your Path. Sign up for a free sample workshop from the program here, see details on the full program at, and see other programs, speeches, and more at

Zoom in, Focus, and Deconstruct Yourself to Utilize your Positive Attributes

Create Your Path - Deconstruct You

To Create Your Path, we want to help you identify your passionate interests (what energizes you), as well as your strengths (those things you are good at). We do a lot of zooming out and zooming in, looking through different lenses to focus on your life. First, we see the pieces, then the whole. The mouse-eye view, then the eagle-eye view. The trees, then the forest.

A key activity is to “deconstruct you.” Identify twenty different parts of you. They could be passionate interests, strengths or skill areas, or even values you hold dear. They can be academic, professional, or personal in nature. Maybe you’re relying on some research you’ve seen where they’ve identified skills in your field that you have. Maybe you’ve gone back to some of the tools or resources you’ve used. Perhaps you have done an assessment or survey that tells you a bit about yourself. Lay out twenty different parts that fit in there. Use the ten you already have as a basis for your list, and put them all in your journal or portfolio.

Now that you have twenty skills and interests, use the tools available to you to get even more specific. The real opportunity here is to get as specific as possible. Many times, these strengths or skill areas are just broad categories, not concrete at all. Make a mind map, where you take one of the more general or more important skill areas, and break it down to get more specific about what exactly you are good at. List skills within that area, and break it down further. Use mindmapping apps or write down your mind map in a journal. Notice where your strengths and weaknesses are. This will be important as you build a portfolio of your specific strengths and passionate interests to create your path.

This article is taken from the online video-based program Create Your Path. Sign up for a free sample workshop from the program here, see details on the full program at, and see other programs, speeches, and more at

Your Life’s Epic Tale and Hero’s Journey

What is your Hero’s Journey Story?

The Hero's Journey DiagramThe Hero’s Journey or “monomyth” shows up in cultures throughout time and geographical location. It’s also known as the “hero with one thousand faces” or the monomyth, and it shares common elements that appear in myths stories everywhere. You may recognize this thematic journey in movies like Star Wars and Avatar. There are different stages that hero’s must pass on their journey of transformation, to save the day, or make a difference.

Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist who studied the monomyth across many societies, often summed up his philosophy with the phrase, “Follow your bliss.” Now I’d like you to follow your bliss, and apply the hero’s journey concept to create your life’s epic tale, to tell the story of your own most important journeys.

Joseph Cambell - Follow Your BlissPerhaps you’ve seen that many of your most meaningful life stories have a common thread. Maybe you weave those stories together into one big story. Pick the larger story you want to tell about yourself. Maybe you’ll cover several years. Maybe you’ll cover a single month. You are the hero here, and the journey is toward transformation. You have an epic story inside of you. For me, one of my hero’s journey story is one of transformation from small-town guy to global backpacker. Three other journeys include the transformation to a college student, a graduate student, and an entrepreneurial professional. You will probably have more than one epic story in you.

Use the framework or stages of the hero’s journey to help you understand and tell it. Identify those key stages in the hero’s journey diagram above for your story.
1. The Call to Adventure
2. Gathering the Allies
3. Crossing the Threshold
4. Belly of the Whale
5. Road of Trials and Adventures
6. At the Centre – The Transformation
7. Return
8. Master of Two Worlds
9. Life of Service (Stage with a social artistry & leadership focus)

You become an ally for those who go through similar journeys. What’s yours? Maybe it’s the journey from high school to college, or some other journey or transformation. How do you see these themes or stages in your own life? Jot them down, and create some other work of art with them. You could create a collage, a spiral, a path – however you’d like to represent your journey.

Want a greater understanding of the hero’s journey? This article is taken from the online video-based program which guides you step by step and activity by activity to “Create Your Path.” Sign up for a free sample workshop from the program here, see details on the full program at, and see other programs, speeches, and more at

Create Your Visual Journey Story

What is your visual journey story to show & tell?
Visual Journey Story

What is the overarching story of the path that you have taken thus far in life? Create a visual story to “show and tell” that journey. Think of it like a storyboard for your life so far with some of the best scenes and plot points. It should be something visual that others could see to understand the path you’ve taken. You are making meaning of your key life experiences and communicating them to not only help yourself understand, but also others. Put the different blocks of your life experience together in an order that makes sense. Then create a visual slide, map, or video to make it ready-to-go for other people to see. You are the artist of how you communicate your own life…show your story in a creative way that works for you.

You are marking the key things you’ve done on your path. You could make your visual journey story follow your life chronologically. Or you could focus it by telling the story of an aspect of your life, such as the academic, professional, or personal. A thread may emerge that runs through your most meaningful experiences. For my journey stories, universities stood out to me. What are your key storylines for your path so far? You are the artist – create your own story.

You could focus on the academic. For me, it was the key elements of what I worked on in school. I mention the research I did in graduate school, and I include key moments along that path – graduation, accomplishments, my book, etc.

You could focus on the professional. Label your visual journey story with all the places you’ve worked. Mine would have the start-up I helped to grow at UW-Madison in 2004, the innovation trip program I helped develop, and where I am now with my entrepreneurial life.

You could focus on the personal. I would list the places I’ve traveled, how I got there, my personal goals, and more.

What is your visual journey story? Do you show it chronologically, focus on one aspect or theme, list your achievements, or take a completely different route? Create and tell the story that makes the most sense to you. You no doubt have many stories to tell and many ways to tell them. Pick one to start with.

This article is taken from the online video-based program which guides you step by step and activity by activity to “Create Your Path.” Sign up for a free sample workshop from the program here, see details on the full program at, and see other programs, speeches, and more at