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Category Archives: Adult Learning

The Experiment – Stanford Prison, Milgram, and The Threshold.

It happens because we have the ability to absolve ourselves by shifting the responsibility of our actions to another entity, which may be a person or an organization. We are not responsible for the atrocities that we committed in the Auschwitz concentration camp, said the German soldiers who tortured and killed their captives. We were just doing our jobs. We were just following orders.

The Milgram Obedience Experiment

Stanley Milgram conducted what came to be known as the Milgram Obedience Experiment. In this experiment, perfectly normal people like you and me were assigned the roles of the teacher or the learner. They were separated with an opaque wall, but they could speak to each other. The teacher was given the task to teach the learner some words by asking him/her questions. If the learner responded incorrectly, the teacher would give the learner and electric shock that increased by 15 volts with every incorrect answer. Actually, the learner was replaced by an actor, and he’d not receive the shock but scream nevertheless. To make a long story short, the shocking outcome of the experiment was that there were people who continued giving electrical shocks of upto “450 volts” to their “learner” even after the learner begged for mercy. Why? Because they were asked to do so!

The Stanford Prison Experiment

I was prompted to make this post, after I watched the Adrien Brody – Forest Whitakar movie, “The experiment” yesterday. This movie is based upon another, yet more gruesome experiment called the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this experiment, Philip Zimbardo a psychologist with the Stanford University got together 2 dozen students who had absolutely no criminal record/tendencies for violence, and assigned them either the role of a prisoner or of a guard. They were to stay within the prison walls for 14 days (the initial plan) but the experiment lasted only 6 days. Reason: only after a day, the role-players began to take their roles for real. The “guards” began misusing their authority while the “prisoners” either revolted or turned completely passive. The “guards” ended up torturing the prisoners – and a riot broke out.

It’s obvious that an experiment of this nature was considered immoral and unethical, and never repeated. Yet, it underlined the conclusion of the Milgram Experiment, which was that authority does make people do things that they otherwise won’t do.

The Training Connection – Authority & Obedience

More often than not, I can predict the conversation that would take place, if I were to meet an HOD or a CEO of a company, and discuss instructional design with them. I won’t take you through the entire conversation, but at some point the gentleman or the lady is bound to tell me that his/her training programs have always been such grand successes, despite knowing nothing about this mythological critter called Instructional Design.

Obviously they do. Because they are the authoritarian figure. Nobody’d dare question what they say in their training programs. We the humans are more evolved than our brethren of other species yet we haven’t completely flushed out our pack mentality. We succumb to authority all the time.

On a positive note:

Classroom trainers can use their authority to really reach their audience. They know that their authority allows them to steer the discussions and the lectures; and that their trainees don’t have an option but to accept your authority. Now you can either misuse the authority the way those “guards” in the Standford prison experiment did, or you can use it productively. The trainees are your sheep and you are the shepherd.

Do read about the two experiments. The Wikipedia links that I gave above are portals to more details on these experiments, so please explore them.

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Walking the Tightrope between Structure & Flexibility – from Design to Implementation

In my previous post, I raised a question that was inspired by an IDCWC Online Course Participant. The question was, “Is Design an Inhibitor?

I received a detailed thought-provoking response to that question from Tricia Pottratz. You can visit her new but promising blog “Tricia’s Teacher Toolbox” here. Thank you, Tricia.

Here are Tricia’s thoughts.

Having designed many classes myself, I understand where you are coming from.  Curriculum seems to take on a life of its own.  Once written, it becomes what the instructor deems it to be.  I think a big part of that comes from two sources: who you are designing for and what your objectives are.  I work for a multi-million dollar for-profit corporation with campuses all across the United States.  Before our small campus was purchased, instructors had the academic freedom to modify curriculum to meet their needs while still teaching to the objectives. The key was in keeping the objectives simple and few.

Since the buyout, the curriculum has evolved.  The first revision was similar to the original, but the coming revision is vastly different.  Sadly, the objectives are many and room for changes is few.  The idea is to create uniformity across the company; however the result is that the company’s curriculum does not leave much room for interpretation or regional flavor.

The solution depends on the parameters.  If you have any flexibility or say in the curriculum, I would suggest creating simple objectives, which leave the instructor the room for interpretation.  A really good article at http://itdl.org/journal/sep_05/article03.htm suggests that to be effective at brain-based learning, instructors should incorporate 4 basic things: memory and retrieval, learning styles, attention, and emotion (Clemons, 2005).  I find that in order to accomplish those goals it is important to offer a variety of media and classroom activities that vary in size and scope.

The other two-edged sword in education is the rubric.  As an instructor and as a student, I love the fact that it sets specific parameters.  The dilemma is still the same: the more specific the objectives, the less creative the project.  I have found that the only way to overcome this is to allow for students to develop the rubrics themselves.  After all, if you give a template, they will only follow the template.  This line of thinking also works in the classroom: if the students design the projects (based on the learning objectives) they become more emotionally involved and willing to go further with the project than I would have ever expected.

A friend of mine also suggested going with a tiered learning system. Her argument is that it gives options for the students while still ensuring the quality of the project is within the set parameters.  My problem with tiered learning systems is that it is not always feasible and can create conflict in the classroom.  I am more for offering options with a similar difficulty level instead of varying the levels.  In that way the “slower” student does not feel like they are being singled out and the “quick learner” is not feeling like it is unfair in the classroom.

Have you ever had any luck with tiered learning in the classroom?  If so, I would love to hear about it.

Sincerely,

Tricia Pottratz, BS, LMP

I attempted to address Tricia’s question by sketching a paradigm with two basic assumptions. 1. The learners are all adult learners. 2. The learners constitute a heterogeneous group, especially in terms of their existing skills and/or their ability to learn.

I believe that the answer has to be chiseled out from the goal of a training program. What is it that you want to achieve for your group? Notice that I don’t speak of what the learners want to achieve, but what “you, a representative of the learning provider” wish to achieve.

Let me illustrate through three simple examples:

1. You wish to orient the learners towards a new corporate policy.
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This is a lower level goal of awareness generation. You might want to use a tiered system here. You can create your learning groups on the basis of individual motivation and learning ability. At least everyone would take away something. As you won’t be grading their performance in this sort of program, you will possibly see a lot of happy faces at the end of your training.

2. You wish to train the learners on a specific role-based skill so that they can do their job proficiently.
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I don’t think that a tiered system will help you achieve you goal in this case. You need everyone to reach approximately the same level in the new skill. Eventually everyone might not reach the desired level, but then you’d like to see the distribution of marks and ensure that only those who reach the required level of competency are certified to do the job.

However if your program is flexible enough to accommodate the slow learners by allowing them additional practice/time, tiered learning may work. (We should also review the impact of this on learner motivation and individual egos.)

3. You wish to train the learners for a skill that demands accuracy and precision (for instance: a career in medicine?)
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Attempt to take all the learners to the same level, and use the rubrics wisely to grade the post-training skills. Sometimes the assessments have to be done against very specific objectives. I think that creativity is related more to the content-type than to the specificity of the objectives – especially when you create the learning and reinforcement activities.

I should also mention that I completely agree with Tricia’s belief that allowing the learners to participate in the creation of the assessment rubrics is a double-edged sword. I think it could work well with a group of mature and motivated participants, but not otherwise.

I know that heterogeneous groups are a reality and this reality contradicts the dream that every trainer and instructional designer has, which is 100% learning effectiveness.

A Note for the regular readers, who might’ve been wondering why my previous two posts have been replete with ATDs:  I guess my excuses are the same as the ones given by everyone else – I was too tired and a little ill, and then I was busy trying to meet the deadlines for my deliverables and delivering on my promises – but then, excuses don’t help, do they? So, I spent some time going through whatever I had written and removed the ATDs …thanks to a cup of coffee and the zoom-in capability of my new laptop. I prefer not to get my stuff edited (for better or for worse, this is how I write,) so bear with me…and ignore the bad to focus on the good 🙂

 

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A Question – Is Design an Inhibitor?

In one of the discussion groups of IDCWC Online (Wavelength’s Instructional Design and Content Writing Certificate – Online Course), a participant raised an interesting point.

She said that when a teacher or a trainer is required to follow pre-designed content, the opportunity for creating something that will enhance the effectiveness of the program for the learner, disappears.

I think she’s made a valid point. When we begin to roll-out a program, we are extremely sensitive to every little signal that we receive from the audience, and we don’t let go of our own instructional knowledge while implementing it; but with each pass, the content begins to harden. We start believing that there could be nothing better than to just follow the content. Thus, we stop directing the learning experience, and allow the content to become the director.

Having spent more than a dozen years developing eLearning content, and about 7 years implementing the content that I was instrumental in designing; I think that with every phase of ADDIE, some degree of rigidity is introduced in the content; and by the time it actually reaches the Audience, it acquires a sort of permanency…and nobody then wants to question the design at all.

Still wondering…is there a way out?

 

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Re-introducing Sloth and Froth!

I am not sure if I’ve ever formally introduced you to Sloth and Froth. They appear in my posts off and on. In other words, they’ve been freelancing – but now I intend to offer them a permanent position here. Thus, it becomes all the more necessary that they are introduced to you, their real audience.

Meet Sloth.

He (yes, HE) is a personification of his name. He is lazy. He is someone who’d love to have a droid doing his work for him. Sloth hates to get up in the mornings, he abhors the idea of taking a bath (even of  brushing his teeth, but he won’t tell you that,) and his daily To-do list begins with the task of finding an unsuspecting mule who’d do his work for him.

Fortunately, Sloth is very intelligent. His huge body houses an equally huge IQ…and so he’s not a complete loser, but he is absolutely NOT charismatic…and he doesn’t care. He loves to complain, and he is of the opinion that the entire world has been paid to conspire against him.

Now meet Froth.

She (yes, SHE – what did you think?) is bubbly, quite like her name. She’s full of energy. She resembles a freshly uncorked bottle of Soda. She’s extremely energetic and you’d think that she’d never tire out – but she does, because she’s also a perfectionist. She is an extreme hardworker – to the extent that she burns every extra ounce of fat off her perfect body. Froth’s charismatic; she’s attractive, and she’s very lively.

Froth is a career woman. She wants  to do well in her career and she doesn’t want to do it by cutting corners (if you know what I mean.) She is always politically correct but at the same time  she’s also quite emotional. This makes her feel stressed at times.

Following are the posts in which Sloth and Froth have featured so far. I hope you like them, because you’ll be seeing a lot more of them on this blog:)

PS: Does this post smack of Reverse-Gender-Bias?

Froth says: This isn’t gender-bias, this is how things are. Women are blah…blah…and men are blaher…bhaher!
Sloth says: Who cares? Pass me the mustard!

 

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Social Influence – Part III – How Social Influence can be Applied by a Trainer?

This is the third and the final post in this series on Social Influence.

Our discussion so far tells us about the existence and impact of Social Influence. In a classroom, it can become a debilitating force when exerted by a disruptive participant. It can also alter the behavior of the participants for no “apparent” reason, thus, making it important for the trainer to understand the social under-currents in a classroom to ensure learning effectiveness.

Let us look at the six important factors of SI, once again; and review them from a trainer’s viewpoint.

  • Charisma
  • Reputation
  • Manipulation
  • Peer Pressure
  • Emotion
  • Authority

Of the six factors of SI that we learned about through the previous post in this series, Charisma and Reputation reside with the trainer, and the trainer can use them to exert a positive, directional influence on the class. The trainer needs to aware of Manipulation, Peer Pressure, and Emotion, so that he or she may identify their presence in a classroom and take appropriate measures. Authority is a factor that is always present with the trainer, but the trainer needs to use it with care.

Here’s how each of these factors could work in a trainer’s favor.

Charisma:

In the previous post of this series, we discussed the charismatic participant, who automatically begins to exert a certain influence on the other participants in the class. Now, let’s see how charisma becomes a trainer’s ally. If you are already a trainer, chances are, you already possess a certain charisma. This charisma could be a product of your good looks, your quick wit, your body language, your good dress sense, and/or your ability to tastefully and subtly make a statement of affluence.

Hidden in the above statement are clues to enhancing your charisma. If you think that you don’t look good, work on your looks. Reflect upon the possibility of a gym-membership, or a visit to a beauty parlor! If you think you aren’t quick-witted enough, read up anecdotes and practice them upon your unsuspecting relatives. Dress well for your training programs, improve your posture along with rest of your body language, and of course, don’t look like a pauper when you walk into the classroom. You must be a cool dude, who prefers to wear Bermudas and who sports a tattoo on his neck, you might want to wear tee-shirts to the training program – resist your urge. Wear good clothes, sensible shoes, a formal watch; and women trainers, please wear the bare minimum of jewelry – make an impact! Be charismatic!

Reputation:

This is simple to understand, though somewhat difficult to apply. Build your reputation – not so much as a trainer, but as an expert in the area in which you train. For instance, if you are a Communications Trainer, you should be considered an expert in that area. Expertise will help you exert a very strong influence on the class. The cognitive dissonance will be reduced substantially, if not eliminated completely. Your expertise will help you make your training programs more efficient.

If, however, you are not an expert (nor have willingness to become one – especially in the current era of multi-skilling,) bring the “knowledge of experts” to your classroom. Learn about the subject, and what the experts have to say about it. It will lead to similar though not equally strong influence.

Manipulation, Peer Pressure, and Emotion:

I am taking them up together, because I don’t think that a trainer can do a lot with these factors, but I believe that their awareness could help the trainer reduce friction and improve harmony in the classroom.

The first step is, of course, identification.

Try to identify:

  • the possible manipulator.
  • people who’d given to peer-pressure and groupthink.
  • People who might have an emotional connection with one another.

Now,

  • Restrain the manipulator, by taking charge and letting the class realize that your SI is greater than the prospective manipulator’s.
  • Raise the confidence levels of people who might succumb to peer-pressure. Motivate them to ask questions for seeking clarifications.
  • Establish physical distance between people with emotional connections.

Authority:

As a trainer you are always equipped with Authority. Authority is the greatest of influencers. Wars would never be fought if it weren’t for authority, terrorism would vanish from the face of our dear Earth, if not for authority! On the other hand, no organization would be able to create value in the absence of Authority.

Thus, with Authority, the issue has more to with its usage. How should you use the authority that comes with being a trainer?

I’d recommend staying aware of the flip side, and reviewing the feedback to determine whether your authority is being received positively or not.

Authority will make the participants do what you ask them to do (remember the Milgram Experiment?), but whether or not they do it willingly is a question that you need to answer…and then ask yourself, whether unwilling participation is better than willing non-participation!

I guess that there’s a lot a trainer can achieve by understanding and then using Social Influence correctly.

 

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Social Influence – Part II – Its Manifestation in a Classroom

This is the second post in this series on Social Influence and its manifestation and application in a classroom.

As trainers, it’s important for us to understand how Social Influence impacts a training program. The six main factors of Social Influence can easily be traced in the behavior of the students or trainees in any classroom.

Let us discuss the presence of the following six SI factors, in a classroom.

  • Charisma
  • Reputation
  • Manipulation
  • Peer Pressure
  • Emotion
  • Authority

Charisma:

It is an accepted fact that some individuals are more charismatic than others, which means that they are better endowed in terms of looks, personality, and/or wealth.  Some participants come into a training program with one or more inherent advantages or Charisma. For instance, a beautiful woman or a handsome man, with automatically become an Influencer. Similarly, a woman who walks in carrying a Gucci handbag, or a man who strides in wearing a Rolex watch or dangling a BMW key; would automatically exert an influence on other not-so-charismatic participants.

In case of a disruption of training, a role-play, or even a question-answer session, others will expect such individuals to lead, and will sub-consciously follow them.

Reputation:

Reputation isn’t a natural advantage – it’s more of a man-made one. A person may have a reputation that others in the classroom are aware of – and it might put him in the shoes of an Influencer. Thus, a “perceived” expert could easily influence others into accepting something completely incorrect.  For example, in an open training program attended by participants from different organizations, an employee of a bigger and more respectable company will be able to exert considerable influence over participants who work for lesser known organizations.

As a trainer, you should try to identify such Influencers even before you step into the classroom.

Manipulation:

In short training programs that address a diverse audience, manipulation might be completely absent; however, in longer duration training programs, or programs that address a group where people have known one-another for long, could fall prey to this SI factor. Manipulation requires a manipulator (a good non-training example is the typical politician.) A manipulator would have a way with words. He or she would influence others in the class with a definite purpose. (for example, to become the teacher’s pet/ to become the class-bully / to have fun on the trainer’s expense…and so on.)

Manipulators are difficult to identify, and when identified, they’d be difficult to manage.

Peer Pressure:

This factor is often seen either in long-duration programs, or in programs attended by participants who know one-another well. Peer Pressure or groupthink has a negative impact on the learning of the entire group, because it makes everyone think in the same direction – it takes an unhealthy toll on critical thinking, and leads to unquestioned acceptance of the group’s ideas.

In most classrooms, Peer Pressure is easy to identify.

Emotion:

Emotion is a very strong Social Influence Factor, in general. In training programs, you often don’t see this factor in its full glory. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to witness it a couple of times – once when a couple decided to take a course that I teach and then when two people in one of my courses, fell in love. These two participants would usually support each other’s answers to my questions. In the group activities, I’d put them in separate groups (to ensure that their emotions didn’t disrupt their learning,) but even then they’d try their best not to contradict each other.

A General Note Here:

If we look at the world history, it’s easy to see how love can make a couple take a stance against their entire community. Though their impact is considerably more dilute, yet, friendships, even belonging to a temporary group, can all lead to some degree of social influence.  Look for it.

Authority:

Authority is the factor that I am sure, requires the least amount of explanation. If you haven’t read about The Milgram experiment and Agentic State Theory, you should, because they explain the impact of authority extremely well.

Essentially, the Social Influence of Authority is absolute. Once someone’s been given the authority to do something, or get something done – people seldom question it (though there’s no physical barrier stopping them from questioning the authority.) I’ve seen this SI factor at play in one of my recent training programs, which was attended by young instructional designers along with their content head. In one of the discussion, some of the participants deviated from the guidelines. I had noted the deviation and was about the intervene, when the content head raised one of her eyebrows and looked at the errant participants – the discussion immediately moved back to track.

Authority works like nothing else does!

In my third and final post in this series, we’ll learn how trainers can use this knowledge of Social Influence to improve the effectiveness of their training programs.

 

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Social Influence – Part 1 – Definition, Explanation, Factors/Forces!

This is a 3-post series on the nature of Social Influence and its impact in a Classroom.

As classroom trainers, we could make our training programs more effective if we could find the answers to questions such as the ones listed below:

  • Why some people become leaders and other followers?
  • Why a bully might be capable of disrupting a classroom full of adult learners?
  • Why it’s difficult to regain lost learner engagement?

There’s a long list of whys that can be answered only if we understand the concept of Social Influence.

So,

What is Social Influence?

Before I fall into the trap of defining it in a crisp and concise way and lose your attention in the process, let me take you on a trip into your past.

  • As a teenaged girl, you wouldn’t step out of your house in something that went out of fashion two years ago.
  • As a teenaged boy, you had to be part of the cool-dude group in your college.
  • As a daughter, you had to comply with your mother’s rules about the time you got home.

These or similar experiences happened because we were “socially influenced” – by the group of girls in the college, by those uber-cool dudes you were friends with, and by your own mother!

Social influence – The Definition:

Thus Social Influence can be understood as the influence that society (social groups, friends, family, and others) exerts either deliberately or unintentionally, and which brings about changes in someone’s behavior.

Social Influence – Factors / Forces:

As it’s clear from the above definition, Social Influence has many dimensions and it factors in different forces.

Some of these forces are:

When we as individuals come across such forces, we change our behavior.  Let us take some examples:

Charisma as a Factor:

A charismatic person (the religious guru, the motivational speaker) might be able to influence our thought process by saying those very things that we’ve been hearing all our lives but never paid heed to.

Authority as a Factor:

Similarly a person who has some kind of authority recognized by the society (a policeman, a teacher, a doctor) can make us do things that we would probably never do if we didn’t know of their authority.

Groupthink as a Factor:

Members of group often begin to accept the majority view (despite their own views being different) because they don’t want a conflict.

Reflect upon the other three factors – it isn’t difficult to see how they influence the behavior of people, all the time:)

I’ll discuss more about these forces and how they manifest themselves in a classroom in my next post. Until then, keep an eye on what’s happening around you. I am confident that you’ll find many examples of social influence strewn around you as you navigate your way through your day.

 

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