Sunday, August 30, 2009

Training Must Be Inconsistent!!!

Consistency in training is one of the advantages of e-learning, we claim, as opposed to a human facilitator who could be tired, irritable, not in the mood, or just not well versed with the subject s/he is conducting the training on.

In comparison, once an e-learning program is created, it comes with the following advantages:
Easy dissemintation
Wide reach
Self paced...blah blah blah

An e-learning program does not have mood swings or give in to frailties of the body. It will behave in the same way even if you click the Next button at wee hours of the night...

It is always blessedly consistent. But what is the nature of this consistency?

Two questions I think of importance are:

1. Is this consistency to do with the presentation style?
2. Is this consistency related to the message/information being communicated?
3. Have we somehow confused/conflated consistency with quality?

Let's take the questions one by one.

1. Is this consistency to do with presentation style?

Just imagine a few f2f training sessions where a trainer is "perfectly consistent"--always saying the same things, presenting the same information in the same way, asking the same questions, carrying out each step flawlessly. Each of his/her sessions are perfect replicas of each other.

Are you shuddering with horror? Probably. How BORING you are saying. What about the learners and their different learning styles. A good trainer has to take into account different learner types and mould his/her sessions accordingly. A good trainer is flexible, intuitive, moving with the learners. To make his/her sessions impactful, s/he MUST BE INCONSISTENT.

I am a learning professional and am absolutely for e-learning. This brings us to question #2.

2. Is this consistency related to the message/information being communicated?
I think when we speak about consistency, it is important to clarify its attributes. In e-learning, consistency IS an advantage. And consistency does not mean the same presentation style all the time, for all learners. This is where e-learning has the advantage.

With sufficient Learner Analysis, it is possible to design programs that take into account different learning styles.

With e-learning, it is easier to design a program that has multiple entry points.
Imagine a program that has 3 entry points:
>An audio-visual
>A quiz
>An introductory write-up with diagrams

The learner analysis has shown that learners are a fair mix of the Auditory, the Visual, and the Kinesthetic types.

It is easy to guess which learner type would opt for which kind of entry points. The advantage of course is that any learner can choose to opt for all three and experience the same information presented differently.

Consistency then is not about presentation. Consistency is about:
~Communicating the same information without any loss of key points and emphasis
~Ensuring the same outcome and proficiency level for all learner types post the program
~Ensuring different learner types and learning styles are accomodated in the program design always, consistently
~Implementing multiple learning pathways in programs for maximum efficacy and impact
~Being consistently inconsistent and considering each learner as an individual

These are some of my thoughts. I would love to know more from you.

I am leaving my 3rd question with the hope you will help me with the answer.

Have we somehow confused/conflated consistency with quality?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Homophily, Group Think, and the Internet

Homophily is a fancy word for the human equivalent of birds of a feather flock together.
The past few months have been one of exploration for me—within and without. As I forayed into social media, social networking, informal learning, knowledge sharing, connecting, collaborating—topics that fascinate me—I found myself connecting with people around the world. People hailing from different countries, continents, cultures with singularly different world views. However, some similarities brought us together—these are shared passions, interests, professions, and the willingness to learn and explore and connect.
Technology (read Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, etc.) helped me to find such people. Our human tendency to bond, to create communities, to be part of and accepted by a group(s) is all supported by technology today. My world suddenly seemed to have opened up from my very desktop and this world was populated by people who thought and felt the way I did. I was in bliss till I came across the term Homophily and its connotations. I call this serendipity.
Three posts and a paragraph from a book gave me a jolt. The following question raced through my mind: Was I expanding my horizon or just looking for verification of my existing beliefs, prejudices and world views so that I could rest in complacency in my comfort zone. So that I would not need to transform myself, challenge myself, but be happy with incremental learning and think of that as self growth.
I retraced the means through which I connected—content. Be these in the form of posts, links to posts, tweets…they are all different forms of content that attracted me because of the shared passions displayed.
I will quote the passages that jolted me out of this self-induced bliss and made me reflect.
1. Worse, I think we're living under this delusion that we're actually BROADENING our experiences because we're connecting to such large groups of people. I suspect all that does is further reinforce our pre-existing beliefs while at the same time making us believe that somehow we're being broad-minded because there are so many more people in our network. More of the same thinking isn't exactly a recipe for learning. (Read the remaining post for a wonderful exposition on how Homophily is actually encouraged by technology. Even Amazon suggests books we would like to read based on our current choice.)
2. Cass Sunstein, an amazing legal scholar, says that one of the dangers of the internet is that we’re only hearing like voices, and that makes us more polarized. Homophily can make you really, really dumb. What’s incredible about the net is we have this opportunity to hear more voices than ever. But the tools we tend to build to it have us listening to the same voices again and again… Search in the future needs to lead us to people, to places, to voices. My hope is that in the future we get over homophily and we start looking for really productive serendipity…”

3. From Wisdom of the Crowds: The wisdom of crowds comes not from the consensus decision of the group, but from the aggregation of the ideas/thoughts/decisions of each individual in the group. Quoted in “One of us is smarter than all of us” :

Some questions I am still struggling to find answers to:

  1. Are the aggregation and collective wisdom we are talking about only of “like-minded people”?

  2. Does such an aggregation contain conflicting voices, different world views, radically different representations of situations?

  3. Are we trying to “deliberately” find disparate voices so that our understanding can be more holistic, rounded?

  4. Is “mass collaboration” also reinforcing the feeling of Us vs. Other?

  5. Is “Wisdom of the Crowd” only the dominant voices we are hearing, the privileged with access to the Internet? What about the remaining silent part of the world? How do we gather that wisdom?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Love-Hate Theory, Learner Motivation, Connectivism and Other Such Thoughts...


I missed IDCI session yesterday but am thankful for the tweets from @gargamit100 and @sreyadutta. These followed by Sreya’s post gave me some idea of the discussion. You can read the post here: Business-driven Learning and LH Theory (Love-Hate Theory).

The post set me thinking about when do we use “Love vs. Hate” to design a training program. This triggered thoughts related to learner motivation and how even a “business driven” or “business centric” program benefit from motivated learners.

This further led me to mull over some of the fundamental theories all of us IDs start out our ID career armed with. In the initial years of being an ID (when we are still at the novice level as per Dreyfus Model…for discussion on this, please check here:, these learning theories become our guiding light. Subsequently, we internalize them and they inform our design decisions and instructional strategies almost at a subconscious level.

The Love-Hate discussion made me cull them out from the depths of my subconscious and pin them down for my own scrutiny and examine their application in what we do.

Below is the result of my self-reflection and soliloquy that I spent the better part of my Sunday morning engaged in.

Recently, while surfing the web, I came across the National Survey of Student Engagement Report (NSSE) for 2007.

The report begins with the following quotation:

More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways. Every one of the qualities I have described here—listening, reading, talking, writing, puzzle solving, and truth seeking, seeing through other people’s eyes, leading, working in a community — is finally about connecting (Cronon, 1998).

Point 1

Learners learn best when they are able to align the new knowledge with knowledge from the past. Motivation is intrinsically connected to this ability to make the connection; as soon as this connection happens, we feel that we are progressing, that the new knowledge/skill is not beyond our ability to master, and we feel confident. This confidence sustains motivation and engagement. Thus, while the learner has some initial motivation that prods him/her to take up the challenge of learning a new skill, chances are that de-motivation will set in unless s/he is able to “construct” associations between the existing knowledge and the new knowledge.

Conclusion #1: When designing with “love” and to have motivated learners, help learners to connect new knowledge to their pre-existing ones.

Supporting Theory: An understanding of the Constructivist Theory helps to conduct Learner Analysis keeping in mind the importance of capturing the existing knowledge level.

Point 2

Once this connection has been established, the learner will very likely exert himself/herself to acquire the new skill. All learners (I am not talking of compulsory schooling) come to any course with a “What’s In It For Me” approach. Constructivism plays a large role coupled with Cognitivsim in catering to this aspect. As soon as a learner is able to make the association, s/he is able to add to the existing schema for that area of knowledge. Thus, that specific schema expands, increases, instilling confidence and increasing engagement.

Once the learner is motivated to learn and attains the new skills/knowledge/understanding of a process, this brings about a change in his/her behavior. This is a definite requirement in most business driven training where the learners have to perform certain actions to meet the business objectives.

Conclusion #2: Motivated learners will make that extra effort to acquire and internalize the new skills required to meet the business objective.

Supporting Theory: An understanding of Constructivism and Behaviorism helps in designing training solutions using instructional strategies that leverage the existing knowledge, provide feedback at critical points to reinforce the correct “learning” and act as deterrent for the incorrect behavior.

Point 3

In today’s Digital Era, Connectivism adds another crucial dimension to the traditional learning theories. With the shelf life of knowledge rapidly decreasing and new “knowledge” increasing exponentially, the importance of the ability to synthesize and make connections has increased manifold.

Ongoing change is going to make current knowledge obsolescent. Thus, even the most current information is not going to be current by the time it goes through the design-development phase and reach the learner’s plate as a packaged training program. This is where, to quote Tony Karrer, we need a shift from the design of pure courseware solutions to reference hybrid solutions designed to be just-in-time supports.

These can be in the form of just-in-time aids, access to experts via social networking tools, podcasts, screencasts, and anything besides that address the need of the moment. Such aids are ephemeral in nature and thus suit today’s rapidly shifting “knowledgescape”. From a business perspective, they are cheaper and faster to create and deliver.

We moved from an oral tradition that was discourse based to the written medium with the invention of the printing press. The latter innovation began the process of codification or “capturing” of knowledge from individual sources in the form of text. With the advent of technology and the rise of web 2.0, we are going back to the discursive model of knowledge acquisition where how we make connections and network is more critical. Knowledge and understanding is being constantly reshaped and built through interactions across different platforms.

Conclusion #3: Today’s learners will benefit from being guided to make connections, be given access to information just in time and in just the right amount, and be exposed to technology that will help them in creating their own learning environments.

Supporting Theory: An understanding of Connectivism is important in such cases where the “knowledge is needed, but not known, and the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.”

This is my understanding and I am still grappling with the dilemma of applying these when creating programs under time constraint.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Formal vs. Informal Learning: Gathering My Thoughts Post Learnchat Session Today


Today's #learnchat question revolved around formal and informal learning. The initial part of the session was spent on trying to pin down the meanings—denotation as well as connotation—of formal and informal. This led to some interesting Derridean debate bordering on Deconstruction in a bid to unravel the layers of meanings and possibilities encompassed by the two words.

One point that struck me was the use of the word social:

Social = culture; Social = Group

All learning need not be group driven or take place in groups. However, all learning, and I am not talking of education or training here, i.e., the interpretation and internalization of what comes our way are inherently social where “social” signifies culture. The way we learn is thus a manifestation of our culture, worldviews, and upbringing. However, we need to be careful to not conflate social with sociable or collectivist here. That is a different point altogether. (Interesting, provocative post from Venkatesh Rao on this point:

Wikipedia has an interesting definition for the word “social.”

The term Social refers to a characteristic of living organisms (humans in particular, though biologists also apply the term to populations of animals and insects). It always refers to the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence, irrespective of whether they are aware of it or not, and irrespective of whether the interaction is voluntary or involuntary.

I think, when it comes to learning, the last sentence in the definition above is of importance. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our learning and what we seek to learn and from whom (especially, if it’s informal learning) is driven by our instinct of co-existence. Hence I believe Homophily plays such an important role in our interactions, especially in informal social learning.

A snapshot of formal vs. informal learning:

Formal Learning:

1. Structure driven—usually decided by a figure of authority who takes the call on what needs to be learned
2. Fixed objective-oriented
3. Scheduled
4. Most often top down
5. Typically followed by evaluations and grades and certificates = proofs of apparent success (presumably of the training program)
6. The solitary aspect of this is more individualistic because we typically select to opt for these programs/courses
7. Solitary formal learning is more self driven than formal social learning like classroom trainings that typically take place in organizations

Informal Learning:

1. Serenditpitous and incidental
2. Structureless and unscheduled
3. Lifelong = there’s no beginning or end
4. No course-end certification as learning does not end
5. Without any measurement or performance matrix
6. Self-paced = individual or the group sets their own pace; occurs out of a refusal to have an authority figure set the pace and impose rules
7. Personalized = “Outcome is what the learner desires”
8. Learner empowered = requires effective “self learners” and good knowledge networkers since it involves connecting with and finding expertise
9. Pull learning= just in time, just the right amount
10. Meaning formed via social interaction since no learning can happen in a vacuum
11. Can happen as a follow up to formal learning when the latter has been inspiring enough to drive learners to explore further
12. Can take place through one or more of the following means: discussions, observation, experience, traveling, reflecting, and anything and everything we do throughout our lifetime
13. Requires being able to learn across and bind different learning ecologies

As Roger Schank points out, “People who learn on their own learn exactly what they find interesting and potentially useful.”

LCB’s blog post “Characteristics of Formal and Informal Learning Episodes“ lists 10 reasons why learners prefer to learn on their own based on an initial survey done in the 1970’s:
1. Desire to set my own learning pace.
2. Desire to use my own style of learning.
3. I wanted to keep the learning strategy flexible and easy to change.
4. Desire to put my own structure on the learning project.
5. I didn't know of any class that taught what I wanted to know.
6. I wanted to learn this right away and couldn't wait until a class might start.
7. Lack of time to engage in a group learning program.
8. I don't like a formal classroom situation with a teacher.
9. I don't have enough money for a course or class.
10. Transportation to a class is too hard or expensive.

Some pertinent questions that can be applied in the current situation of corporate training and learning are the following that I came across in one of the comments to the post:

1. Can formal learning lay a foundation that will support the informal learning process?
2. Can we provide tools and systems (e.g. Subject Matter Expert Location Programs, Knowledge Repositories, etc. ) that enable the informal process to be more efficient and effective. Reduce the 15 hours a week to 10?
3. What can we learn from the informal process that may - or may not - inform a somewhat more formal approach?
4. How can we figure out when any learning - formal or informal - is not even needed? Where does 'just doing it' and moving on without ever learning a thing, become acceptable in terms of performance?
5. Can we discern where a more formal approach is really useful? Where does it realy help someone learn to begin to know and/or do something?

What could then be the points of leverage that will encourage informal learning in an organization?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reactive vs. Proactive Blended Training...

The two phrases caught my eye some time back during one of my surfing the net moments. It was a case of pure serendipity. I had been looking for something completely unrelated. The thought that generated the phrase was not new but the way it had been put stuck in my mind.

How often do organizations/learning solution consultants advocate a particular learning/training medium—today, it is e-learning for the following reasons:

1. Wider reach
2. Global spread of organizations
3. Reduced cost of training
4. “Consistency” in the training
5. Availability of technology
6. Because everyone is doing it and it is supposed to work

Don’t get me wrong. I am an e-learning proponent and that is also my profession. If organizations decide to not go the e-learning way, I will be out of a job.

However, there is something called as too much of a good thing. There was a time when the concept of e-learning had to be sold to representatives from the L&D department or the training department. Today, the concept has caught on and the scale has swung in the opposite direction. In a bid to embrace e-learning, many organizations have dumped all their existing training content into a format that can be delivered over the web. Once done, the training department proudly ticks this off on their to-do list and waits for different miracles to happen—productivity to increase, quality to improve, turnaround time to lessen, delighted customers to call up…This phase of anticipation is followed by a period of anxious waiting and then disillusion with e-learning per se.

In a bid to salvage the training and justify the cost, some of the training “modules” are shifted back to the classroom mode. Reactive Blended Training comes itno the picture. And e-learning gets a bad name.

What, as Learning Consultants, we should do and this is common knowledge—I am iterating here to give completeness to this post—map the training needs, the content, the context, the organizational set-up, the learner profiles and most importantly, the strengths and weaknesses of technology supporting the training. Post such an analysis phase, what hopefully should emerge is a clear picture of training areas and requirements that can be mapped to the best mode of delivery. This will lead to the creation of a “learningscape” or a “learning ecosphere” that will be composed of Proactive Blended Training.

Today, the options for this blend have expanded and can have two or more of the following (with many more soon to follow I am certain):
1. Web-based training
2. Classroom training
3. Informal learning platforms (these are platforms like wiki, forums, etc., that some organizations are trying to put in place to motivate employees to share knowledge and experiences—tacit and explicit)
4. Social networking (I am keeping this separate from informal learning because in many cases, learning happens incidentally through networking that does not strike the “learner” immediately but may be recalled later.)

Such proactive blending will always have a better chance of success. However, this requires experience with and understanding of the strengths, possibilities, and limitations of each of the medium and also the learners’ usage patterns.

It is important too to have a finger on the pulse of the organization itself to know what blend will work and what should be the proportion of each component within the blend.

I had some experience in creating a blended learning solution of this sort…but that calls for another post.

I am still struggling to reach that perfect blend where the training requirement exactly maps to the delivery mode and each component of the blend compliments each other to form a perfect “learnscape”. Would be glad to receive inputs…

Organizations as Communities — Part 2

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation with Rachel Happe regarding the need for organizations to function as communities, I wrote the follow...