I explored my location data. You can, too, with Google and these free tools.

I'm currently studying the MIT Big Data and Social Analytics class online. It's one of the collaborations GetSmarter has with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and takes the form of an 8-week, intensive, hands-on course that explores data and social analytics fundamentals.

I'm really enjoying the course, and one of the reasons is that our Learning Design team, together with our talented Head Tutor, chose to expose students to the underlying process of data analysis by using Jupyter notebooks. It's been a while since I last programmed, and it feels good to get into the detail of loading and manipulating data sets, producing useful visualisations of the data and answering interesting questions. Jupyter makes this very easy - even for someone who hasn't touched a line of code in 6 years, although there is certainly a learning curve that non-technical students need to push through.

Early on in the course, Professor Sandy Pentland introduced us to the value of one's personal location data. It is arguably the most valuable data we have - where are we right now, where have we been, what are our regular patterns of movement, what insights can we draw by analysing our location history, etc...?

Have you thought about how you could use, and how others currently are using your location data? If you have the Google app installed on your cellphone, chances are that they've been tracking and using your locations data for some time now. Facebook, Waze, Twitter, Pokemon GO (if that's your thing!) - all of these apps, and more, do their best to have you allow them to use your data. Oftentimes, by sharing this data you help them help you. For example, whenever I leave the office, Google tells me how long it will take in traffic to get home. That's very useful to me, and so I continue to let Google track my location. More recently, Facebook has started making friend requests based on who I've been in close proximity with. Another interesting use of my location data.

So, knowing that I've let Google track my data for some time now, I decided to explore my data by downloading all of it from the past few years from Google. It's really simple to do - just go to google.com/takeout. You'll get a zip file that contains a file named LocationHistory.json. That's the raw GPS locations with time stamps of where you've been.

I then uploaded this file to a free web-based visualisation tool called locationhistoryvisualizer.com/heatmap/. It's a super tool that shows your location data in a heatmap that allows you to zoom in and out to visualise your historical location data at any level of granularity.

Here's what my global heatmap looks like, using my location data from the past few years:

It's plain to see that I spend most of my time in Cape Town, South Africa, and some time in Johannesburg, United Kingdom, Southern Europe, and the East coast of the United States of America. The remaining purple smudges show I've spent time on holiday in a few other parts of the world too.

The first thing I did was take a closer look at where I spend most of my time: Cape Town, South Africa. Here's my location heat map in and around Cape Town:

We generally have a good sense for where we spend our time, right? We spend time at home, at work, at friends houses, with family, exercising, socialising, etc... And what I found so useful about reviewing the heatmaps, at many different levels of granularity, was that it gave me both summary and specific views of where I spend my time.

Obviously I spend time in and around my home. I lived in both Woodstock and Claremont while this data was collected, and this is obvious from the central red colour on the map. And I can see that I venture in to Cape Town CBD and to the Southern Suburbs, but not nearly as much as the time I spend in and around home and at work, which is in Observatory. I was surprised to see how much time I spend at the airport (red dot on right hand size of image), and I'm also surprised to see how much time I have spent in shopping malls (red dot at top of image). Lastly, as a trail runner I have spent a lot of time on Table Mountain, which is clear because the red colour eclipses the side of the mountain. When zooming into Table Mountain, I can see which trails I use most.

What interests me is that this data helps me confirm where I spend my time. That may sound like a silly thing to say, give that we all have a good sense for where we spend our time. But after exploring my location data, I learned a few things about my travel patterns, where I spend more time than I thought I did, and where I'm not spending any time at all. It can be said that analysing your historical location data is a way of reflecting on one's pattern of movement. Thoughtful reflection is an important tool for learning.

The potential to use our location data to improve our lives is immense. Researchers at MIT have found that once you know your regular pattern of movement, if you depart from that pattern of movement it can be an early indicator of illness. And by understanding your patterns of movement, and then finding other people who have similar patterns of movement, you can learn a lot about yourself and others based on these shared patterns of movement as you often share many of the same characteristics as those people who have similar patterns of movement to you. In fact, it's been shown that one can better predict someone's behaviour by understanding the behaviour of others who share their patterns of movement, than by using their own demographic detail.

Most importantly for me, reviewing my location data at an aggregate level is an opportunity for me to better understand myself. If you're interested in exploring your location data, start collecting it with the Google app and use a tool like locationhistoryvisualizer.com/heatmap/ to map and explore it.

Today, GetSmarter becomes a global company

And today, I am so proud.

Proud of the 300+ talented individuals who make up the GetSmarter Team and all of those who have come before us. We have achieved a significant milestone in the GetSmarter journey by bursting into the international education arena in collaboration the world's #1 University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Today we become a global company by launching the first module of the 12-week online MIT Fintech Certificate course: Future Commerce to over 1,000 students from 70 countries.

Location of students on the MIT Fintech Certificate course: Future Commerce

Location of students on the MIT Fintech Certificate course: Future Commerce

This milestone is achieved exactly 15 months after deciding to pursue an international expansion plan with the specific objective of working with one of the world's top Universities to reach over 1,000 students for a course presentation.

Our ability to envision the future, set proximate objectives to clearly chart our path, and then execute with discipline and agility to ultimately realise this future, bears testimony to the power of our team. And, together with our esteemed University partners, we now have the opportunity to bring high quality online education to working professionals throughout the world.

And this is just the beginning.

Together with our esteemed partners at the University of Cape Town and the University of Witwatersrand, we continue to expand our reach into the Southern African and African space. And, complementing this African focus, we will now seek to reach a global audience with our international University partners. 

Together with our solid Executive Team (pictured below) and their hyper-talented broader teams (below below), we will continue to pursue our purpose of improving lives through better education by bringing the best courses from the best Universities to the world.

From back left: Dale Williams, Ryan O'Mahoney, Chris Vella, Thelmé Janse van Rensburg, John Hill, Amy Johnson, Sam Paddock, Rob Paddock and Ant Saunders.

From back left: Dale Williams, Ryan O'Mahoney, Chris Vella, Thelmé Janse van Rensburg, John Hill, Amy Johnson, Sam Paddock, Rob Paddock and Ant Saunders.

The GetSmarter team at our last Christmas Party.

The GetSmarter team at our last Christmas Party.

Onwards and upwards!

It is my privilege...

It is my privilege to be featured, alongside my brother and business partner, Rob, on the cover of this month's Entrepreneur Magazine. 

The last 8 years of building GetSmarter have been amongst the most influential of my life. It is no coincidence that this period of time runs in parallel to my relationship with my wife, Keri.

This feature is recognition for all the people who have been a part of building GetSmarter - from my parents who gave us a base to build from, to the team members who have been so much more than their job descriptions along the way, to the Faculty members at the University of Cape Town who put their trust in us, to the giants I have had the privilege to learn from - Dan Devine, Mark Lamberti, Dale Williams and Verne Harnish and the Gazelles Team, and the 280+ people who make up the formidable team that is GetSmarter today.

We're on our way to improving 1 million lives through better education.

Onwards and upwards.

Here is the full article below. Click on the image to expand it to full screen:

Harnessing the power of video for learning

Video has so much potential for effective teaching and learning. But after reviewing how video has been used by leading online education providers - ourselves included - i'm often left wondering if we're doing the medium the justice it deserves. Until recently, that is.

Eight years ago, when we first introduced video into our online courses, we saw it as a way to replicate the in-person lecture experience. The result was hundreds of 10 to 30-minute videos of talking heads. These videos served their purpose, but they barely scratched the surface of the potential of online video for education.

Our purpose at GetSmarter is to improve lives through better education. And with recent advancements in video technology and available SaS video tools, we knew that we could do better.

This week, our Education team launched several interactive videos. As I worked through one that was produced for our UCT Advanced Human Resource Management course, I was blown away by how engaging it was. One of the key issues in online education is that of student motivation. And the experience I had while engaging with this video was one of serious concentration. I particularly like the gamified feeling, driven by a sense of being in control. Perhaps the reason it was so engaging was because I was an active participant in watching the video, rather than a passive recipient of 30 minutes of 1-way lecturing.

Click on the "Start" button below to get a sense for what we're doing with interactive video. I'd love to hear your view of this experience. I've also included Rob Paddock's (our Chief of Education) view on interactive videos below:

Rob's view on interactive videos:

Interactive video eliminates the passive and linear method of viewing a standard video, and gives the student a sense of control and curiosity that is hard to replicate in traditional video lecture format.

Interactive video is fun and engaging for students, and provides them the opportunity to make decisions in real-time as to how they progress with the video content. Combining the rich instructional capabilities of video lectures, with the user-driven decision making of an interactive experience, this new technology lends itself perfectly to GetSmarter’s constructivist model of online education.

Our early statistics indicate that student engagement with interactive video content is significantly higher than traditional video lectures. Students are more likely to initiate the interactive experience, they engage with the experience for longer, and they come back to complete the experience more times than they would a traditional video lecture.

This is one of the many advancements in online teaching and learning practice that we're pursuing with vigour at GetSmarter, and we're confident that these learnings have the potential to positively impact existing teaching practices at the Universities we partner with.

Our business strategy, through the lens of our office tour

Your company strategy should be top secret, jealously guarded by your top management and only spoken about behind closed doors, right? 

I don't buy it.

A company strategy should guide an entire team of people. After all, the word company means "a group of people". A strategy should unite a team around a common purpose, help them make difficult decisions and give them direction for their planning and execution.

Everyone in a company should know their business's strategy. And thanks to one of our advisors, Dan Devine, 12 months ago we adopted the One-page strategic plan, from Gazelles Inc. This document helps a leadership team define and communicate their company strategy in a meaningful way, on just one page, to each and every person in the company. It has fundamentally changed our business, and off the base of our 150-strong team, I believe it has set us up for disciplined, aligned, accountable execution well into the future.

And we've gone one step further.

Not only does every team member receive an updated One-page strategic plan each quarter, but to really ensure our strategy lives at GetSmarter, we've baked it right into our new office space.

Queue office tour, which is is also a lens into GetSmarter's strategic plan: 

Our reception area includes a black glass plate that defines our purpose. At GetSmarter, our purpose is to improve lives through better education. It answers the question "Why do we come to work every morning?" And while each and every person at GetSmarter has multiple purposes in their lives, this purpose - to improve lives through better education - unites us each and every day. It is important that we're reminded of our purpose each morning.

Our purpose is to improve lives through better education, which is just legible on the black glass in the image above. I can get out of bed each morning to pursue that purpose!

Our purpose is to improve lives through better education, which is just legible on the black glass in the image above. I can get out of bed each morning to pursue that purpose!

Underpinning our purpose is a set of five values. These values help our team make decisions, and they answer the question "what should/shouldn't we do, always". They are a statement of what we value at GetSmarter, and they give rise to a set of behaviours we hire for, fire for, and reward.

Our five values are:

1. Honour Learning

We honour learning. Not only for our students because we're an education company, but also for ourselves because we are growing so quickly. If we don't grow, we can't grow with the company. It's crucial that we dedicate ourselves to learning. Our growth, and our company's growth, depends on it. This themed meeting room has wooden school desks, wooden school chairs and a glass plate above them, together with a blackboard that reminds us of how we used to learn at school.

We honour learning. Not only for our students because we're an education company, but also for ourselves because we are growing so quickly. If we don't grow, we can't grow with the company. It's crucial that we dedicate ourselves to learning. Our growth, and our company's growth, depends on it. This themed meeting room has wooden school desks, wooden school chairs and a glass plate above them, together with a blackboard that reminds us of how we used to learn at school.

2. Attention to the right detail

We pay attention to the right detail. Those are magnifying glasses and a statement of this value's associated behaviours on the back wall. This is our strategic value. We take time to think about what detail to pay attention to, and once we have made a decision, we act with purpose. 

We pay attention to the right detail. Those are magnifying glasses and a statement of this value's associated behaviours on the back wall. This is our strategic value. We take time to think about what detail to pay attention to, and once we have made a decision, we act with purpose. 

3. Rude to poor process

We are rude to poor process. That's a scoreboard in the form of a soccer field in the background, with poor processes on the left, and improved processes on the right. In a growing company, processes that worked 12 months ago may no longer be relevant. We are exceptionally rude to poor processes until they become great processes. Anyone can stick up a red or green card with a poor or improved process.

We are rude to poor process. That's a scoreboard in the form of a soccer field in the background, with poor processes on the left, and improved processes on the right. In a growing company, processes that worked 12 months ago may no longer be relevant. We are exceptionally rude to poor processes until they become great processes. Anyone can stick up a red or green card with a poor or improved process.

4. Honest and straightforward

We are honest and straightforward. Always. The mural lists this value's associated behaviours.

We are honest and straightforward. Always. The mural lists this value's associated behaviours.

5. Relationships Matter

Relationships matter to us. We were born from a family business, involving my Dad (Graham), Mom (Mandy), brother (Rob) and myself. Relationships are the key bottom line in our family, and this value shines through to today. We also depend on key relationships with our partners Universities, earning this value a strong place in our list of key values.

Relationships matter to us. We were born from a family business, involving my Dad (Graham), Mom (Mandy), brother (Rob) and myself. Relationships are the key bottom line in our family, and this value shines through to today. We also depend on key relationships with our partners Universities, earning this value a strong place in our list of key values.

So those are our five values, and each one of them has a themed meeting room at our HQ in Cape Town, South Africa.

So far this office tour has revealed that our purpose is to improve lives through better education, and that we have five values:

  • Honour learning
  • Attention to the right detail
  • Rude to poor process
  • Honest and straightforward
  • Relationships matter

Next on our One-page strategic plan is our 10-year big hairy audacious goal, or BHAG for short. This is the long-term goal, way off in the distance, that guides us. It's like a flag on top of a mountain that helps hikers orientate themselves on their journey to the top.

Our BHAG is to have more impact than UNISA by 2024. UNISA stands for University of South Africa, and it is the dominant distance learning institution in Africa with over 300,000 students each year. It's a competitive BHAG, and it really gets our competitive juices flowing.

The Big Hairy meeting room describes our big hairy audacious goal, which is to have more impact than UNISA by 2024. The room has the big, angry GetSmarter monster chasing after a jumbled up UNISA running away in the right of the image.

The Big Hairy meeting room describes our big hairy audacious goal, which is to have more impact than UNISA by 2024. The room has the big, angry GetSmarter monster chasing after a jumbled up UNISA running away in the right of the image.

On to our 3-5 year goals:

Our Sandbox is the place we play. It describes the area of the market we wish to dominate in the next 3-5 years, defined by the products we offer, the customers we serve and the geography we play in. This is a key element of our strategy, and i'm going to limit what I say on this public platform. We've recently had a local company copy us (we're flattered) and this was partly because we were so open in describing our Sandbox.

Our Sandbox is the place we play. That's a table with a sandbox and spades in the middle.

Our Sandbox is the place we play. That's a table with a sandbox and spades in the middle.

And if our Sandbox is the place we play, our Brand Promise is how we win in that Sandbox. It is the promise we make to our customers when they put their faith in us by buying our online education products. And the strong promise we make is that we're going to do everything we can to bring career advancement closer for our students.

Our brand promise is to bring career advancement closer. That's a snakes and ladders board in the background, with pink ladders that represent us helping people advance their careers. There are many ways we do this, with the primary one being partnering with the best University brands and making their high-quality online programmes available in online mode to people who could previously never have dreamed of studying with a prestigious institution. We also add a unique student coaching service to our courses, which helps students achieve a 90% graduation rate. We're very pleased with this result!

Our brand promise is to bring career advancement closer. That's a snakes and ladders board in the background, with pink ladders that represent us helping people advance their careers. There are many ways we do this, with the primary one being partnering with the best University brands and making their high-quality online programmes available in online mode to people who could previously never have dreamed of studying with a prestigious institution. We also add a unique student coaching service to our courses, which helps students achieve a 90% graduation rate. We're very pleased with this result!

At this point in the tour, you should have a good idea of our business strategy. You know our purpose, what we value, our 10-year goal, the sandbox we play in (sort of, because i'm being deliberately vague - see www.getsmarter.co.za for more), and how we win (brand promise).

Each quarter we set a company-wide theme to unite everyone in pursuit of the most important objective that will move the company forward. Our theme for the current quarter is to "Get Set". It includes a scoreboard (pictured below) and six specific projects that need to be completed in order for the team to be ready for our next financial year.

Our Q4 theme is to "Get Set" for our new financial year.

Our Q4 theme is to "Get Set" for our new financial year.

Our Executive Team meets every morning in our Mission Control room. It's themed like a control room, as you can see below. Every Executive Team member checks in with their team's daily metrics, and in this way we get a snapshot of the company's performance each and every day. It's a great discipline to maintain, and keeps us on top of and accountable to our performance.

Mission Control is where our executive team meets every morning to keep the company executing towards achievement of our strategic plan.

Mission Control is where our executive team meets every morning to keep the company executing towards achievement of our strategic plan.

We're a very visual bunch, and so we have scoreboards up throughout the office indicating progress towards important strategic goals. Our last quarter's theme was to achieve 400 students on our postgraduate degree programmes, which we're well on the way to achieving.

This scoreboard is used to show the team our progress towards our important strategic goal of 400 postgraduate students.

This scoreboard is used to show the team our progress towards our important strategic goal of 400 postgraduate students.

Each and every team member has a set of 90-day priorities that describes the most important objective they have for that quarter (one quarter = 13 weeks = 90 days). Team members check in with their line managers each week with a colour status indicating their progress towards their goal achievement. Our Content Team got creative and created a scoreboard above their desk area indicating their priority status from the previous week.

The Content Team got creative with their 90-day priorities. This is their scoreboard about their desks.

The Content Team got creative with their 90-day priorities. This is their scoreboard about their desks.

Oh, and we have a gym. Healthy bodies, healthy minds. Anyone can sign up for free personal training sessions during office hours. It's a wonderful way to integrate exercise into the working day, and a great perk for all GetSmarter team members. Our biokineticist Sheana, who is affectionately known as Ma-sheana, works us hard! The gym helps us live our value of relationships matter with our team members.

We have a gym. It's an awesome perk.

We have a gym. It's an awesome perk.

And that's the end of our office tour, which also happens to describe our business strategy. 

I can't think of a more important objective for a leader of a company than to ensure that everyone has clear direction, and is in alignment with the company's strategic plan. This will lead to serious commitment from all team members, and the best chance of business success.

Towards greatness.

P.S. Here's a link to a video tour of our office, if you'd like a closer look.

P.P.S. I need to acknowledge the great work our exceptionally talented Services Manager, Amy Grewe, did in putting our awesome office space together.