Simon Sez IT: “Learning is like a muscle that you need to constantly exercise”
Simon Sez IT has been providing online education for over ten years and has taught hundreds of thousands of students through their online course platform and their popular YouTube channel. They offer courses in the world’s most popular software including Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop Elements and QuickBooks. Adam Lacey is the Operations Director of Simon Sez IT. He spoke to Alison about the revolution of online learning and the importance of continuing education.
Simon Sez IT is a learning company founded over ten years ago by Chris Calder. He was working as an IT project manager at the Museum of Modern Art in Los Angeles and he needed a project management tool and, at the time, there was only Microsoft Project. Microsoft Project isn’t that easy to use. The UI and the UX aren’t 100% intuitive. So he started to learn Microsoft Project via a big textbook. He would pore over this book in the evenings to get himself and his team set up on Microsoft Project and he did eventually and the project was a success but the whole time he was like there’s got to be a better way to learn this. It was about that time, the late noughties, when online training was starting to become a thing. People were starting to transition from textbook to digital modes of learning. So he made a Microsoft Project course and started to sell them as DVDs on ebay to start off with. That expanded into other Microsoft tools and then a couple of years later set up the online learning platform SimonSezIT. We’ve now got over a 100 courses.
We have a really popular YouTube channel where we put up free videos and that serves as quite a good shop window for us. We saw the positive impact we where having on YouTube, in terms of making some of our training available for free. And then I came across Alison and I thought it could be quite a good model for that as well. We’re a very small company and it’s quite expensive and difficult to get your name out there among a lot of the big online learning players. We’re all for making learning as affordable as possible, so if we can make some of it freely available and get a lot of eyes on it through Alison, then hopefully that benefits us down the line. Also, hopefully it benefits those learners who get to acquire skills they might not have been able to otherwise.
If you’re making a course, care about the quality of the stuff you’re putting out: record it in high definition, use a proper microphone, edit it, don’t have spelling and grammar errors in the text. I look at a lot of other people’s training and it does seem like sometimes there hasn’t been a proper quality assurance process that they’ve gone through.
I would love to teach a course on focus – teaching people how to bring focus into their professional lives so that the time that they spend working is as affective as it possibly could be, giving them more time to spend with their family and friends and enjoying life. A lot of time in business is still wasted by unnecessary meetings and emails.
The course I’m most proud of is our PivotTables course. I maintain that if you only learn about one set of functions in Excel, learn PivotTables because you can do amazing data analysis and you really don’t have to even be that good at Excel. A skill like pivot tables could have a massive impact on your professional life because it could be the difference between being sent a big sheet of numbers and coming back with something inane or coming back with some really detailed and interesting insight.
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As a training provider, we just have to balance how much we’re able to give away for free versus charging people for training. And Alison is part of that balance for us. Alison provides us with a really good and engaged audience of students that can consume the content for free and then we have different audiences from different places that will pay for courses. I believe in the democratising aspects of online learning. 10 or 20 years ago, if you wanted, as an adult, to go to an evening class or do further education, either your company paid a lot of money for a trainer to come in, if you were lucky enough to be working at a company like that, or you paid hundreds of pounds out of your own pocket to go and take an evening class. The fact that you can now access online education for tens of pounds instead of hundreds is amazing. This is something online learning has enabled.
I think the most important thing you can do as a learner is build learning into your daily, weekly, monthly habits. If you’re continually building on your skills, the impact that can have on your value to an employer, your ability to start your own business, your ability to progress and succeed in life is a profound. Treat learning and skill acquisition like a part-time vocation or include it as part of your full time priorities. Learning is like a muscle that you need to constantly exercise and without doing that you’ll find that you’ll slip behind other people. So if you’re a student at Alison you’re probably two steps ahead because you’re already starting to learn and that puts you in front of a lot of people.
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