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Category Archives: How to Learn Better

About my Whereabouts…

Dear Readers of this Dear Blog-o-mine,

In the recent times, you haven’t seen many new posts on this blog (fine…I stand corrected. You haven’t seen ANY new post in a while!) I am sorry for my inordinately long absence. However, I’d like to present my excuse for your assessment. I’ve been kept busy by Creative Agni – the eZine for Instructional Design and eLearning and Creative Agni’s two Instructional Design Courses.

I invite you to click the following links to see what I’ve been busy with.

You can visit the Creative Agni Home page here.

I am organizing a Free Instructional Design Workshop on January 29, 2012. Click the following link to read about the workshop.

I will write more regularly now because if I don’t, my mind will explode with all the Cognitive Psychology stuff I’ve been reading. The only way to save my sanity would be to share what I learn, and so I’d be back soon:)

Best Wishes,

Shafali

 

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I Need No Education – A Suicide Pact for the Future.

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.
– Albert Einstein

With each passing year, and with each new educational “reform” I believe in this pity statement a little more.

We have to realize that education prepares the society for what lies ahead, and what lies ahead includes challenges and competition. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – when a child learns to walk, the parents don’t give him or her a pair of crutches – but that’s exactly what we are doing to our education system. We give degrees to kids who don’t possess the knowledge to deserve that degree and when they walk into an organization for an interview, we crush their hopes that we ourselves had helped them build, by telling them that they don’t have the skill or the talent.

Let us look at the duality inherent in our system through this case.

A busy career-focused manager in her forties is a mother of a 10-year old. The boy who studies in a primary grade gets homework assignments and is learning to learn. The father of the child works in another organization and his job requires him to travel, which obviously means that he doesn’t have a lot of time to spend with the child.

The child is a normal, happy child, who hasn’t been bitten by the competition bug, and he doesn’t mind that his performance is really top-of-the-band. But the parents do. They want their child to perform, and so they continue to chide him, often indirectly (“Do you want help with that subject?” “Another tuition perhaps?”) and while they are at it – they also want their kid to learn how to play the Casio/Guitar/Violin etc.

Note that the child is stressed not because he has to learn what’s there in his books but because of those ten other things that his parents want him to do, so that they could brag about him in the society.

Now imagine the worst. The kid doesn’t pass. Ignominy of the ignominies. The parents have to hang their heads in shame. The kid might not feel shame, he might just be sad, but the parents feel it all – and through them the child feels it. And then the kid realizes that his parents are ashamed of him – and he ends his life.

This of course is a fictional scenario, but one that has been written after reading a lot of news reports on this matter.

The truth is that the society, which is made of grown individuals, has already found a way out. Though there might be exceptions who may think otherwise, but all parents have to educate their children and the education system doesn’t change itself because one quirky parent wants to raise a child with strong conviction and correct values – this applies to all of us.

Dos – As practiced by the Teachers as well as the Parents.

  1. Don’t let a child fail. Do whatever it takes to ensure this. Keep the questions at BL1 and 2, Let the exams be all objective type, let there be no penalties for incorrect reasoning, as long as the answer is correct…I could really go on and on about this…as this really is going to paralyze our society one day.
  2. Always praise the child for every crooked line he/she draws (or any other silly thing you can think of)
  3. Make sure that the child has enough tuition/vocational training programs to keep him occupied while you work.
  4. Tell the child that he or she is the best.
  5. Always be there to help the child out of every tiny problem.
  6. Help the child in doing the class-assignments – or do them yourself – or pay someone else to do them for the child.
  7. Simplify “being educated” to “getting a degree.”
  8. Value “degree/certification” over “skill and learning.”
  9. Follow the principle, If you pay the fees you get your certificate, instead of following the old, tattered principle, if you learn, you get your certificate. (Note that this is closely related to the first point.)

Don’ts – Again, as followed by the teachers and the parents.

  1. Don’t let the child realize that the world out there will accept real performance.
  2. Don’t tell the child, even a grown-up teenager that goodness and badness both win or lose…it isn’t that goodness always wins and badness always loses.
  3. Don’t let the child understand that earning money even by doing the simplest of chores is good. (After all it could be bad for the image of the school and also of the parents.)

Do you see the problem?

We are taking the easy way out. We are being selfish. Instead of doing what’s needed, which is setting up the right value system for our next generation, instead of acknowledging that the world of tomorrow will be a tougher place to live in, we are stressing out the kids by pushing them to perform in areas that won’t matter when they grow up.

The essence of these changes is that they:

Allow the parents and the teachers to breathe easy by removing the imminent threat of suicides, without striking at the root-causes, which comprise the incorrect value-system and the self-esteem needs of the parents.

Push the threat of nervous-breakdowns and suicides further into the child’s future, when he is grown man or woman – but then…who cares what happens to them when they grow up? Not our responsibility anymore, are they? The parents would’ve grown old by then, the teachers would’ve retired…and they’d all wring their hands and say, “we did the best we could – but it’s the bad-bad world that led to this.”

 

 

 

 

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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 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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Pros and Cons of Rapid e-Learning

Have you been blinded by the glare of Rapid eLearning Products yet?

  • Yes
  • No

What’s your answer?

I know that it’s difficult to answer this question objectively.  Don’t worry – let’s begin by first looking at some of its obvious advantages.

Advantages of Rapid e-Learning:

Rapid e-learning has multiple advantages. Here are 3 important benefits of employing Rapid eLearning.

  1. It can be produced by an SME-ID (Subject Matter Expert and Instructional Designer) team, thus trimming the development costs.
  2. It can be quickly put together depending upon the need of the hour – and note that with the rapidly changing technologies, the learning needs are in a flux.
  3. It can lead to standardization of eLearning content quality.

Rapid eLearning has the concept of the shrinking half-life of knowledge at its core – and it does help an organization benefit in the above three ways. Unfortunately, the obvious advantages of rapid e learning have led to its being employed for all kinds of content and all types of audiences.

Such indiscriminate use of rapid elearning tools, leads to certain disadvantages in the long-run.

Disadvantages of Rapid e-Learning:

Here are three serious issues with the use of Rapid eLearning.

  1. The content begins to look stale after a few lessons, and loses the learner’s attention.
  2. The best-possible instructional strategy is sidelined and the next possible one is applied! Thus, there’s a reduction in the learning effectiveness.
  3. The overall loss of learning effectiveness kills the learner’s appetite for eLearning…because the learner doesn’t know that all eLearning isn’t rapid elearning.

It doesn’t matter how many interactivity templates a rapid eLearning product offers to you…and how different they look on the surface…internally they still are “templates”. I agree that there is content with little or no longevity, and that such content can use rapid eLearning to avoid the loss of precious time – but I don’t see how non-technical high-longevity content or its learners can benefit from rapid eLearning.

Using rapid eLearning tools all the time could be like eating burgers three times a day for the rest of your life. It’s fast to cook, easy to order – and it saves a lot of time…but you can’t eat it all the time…not if you want to live!

 

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Using Games in eLearning – Part II – How are Games Different from other Learning Activities.

Why People Play Games?

Simply put, most people play games because they want to satisfy their esteem needs. The first three needs in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (the physiological needs, the safety needs, and the family & belongingness needs) are known as the deficiency needs, which prompt us to fulfill them through their deficiency.

However, everyone who has his or her deficiency needs fulfilled, experiences the need for esteem. We all wish to be famous, or victorious, or rich, or brilliant…essentially better than our neighbors (real or virtual) in some or the other way.  We play games because games help us to vicariously fulfill our esteem needs.

Another reason for playing games is physical. Our brains have a neurotransmitter called Dopamine. When our system is flushed with Dopamine, we feel energetic and excited. In other words, Dopamine helps us experience thrill and adventure – It gives us pleasure.

These two reasons combine and drive us towards playing games. Games enable us to vicariously experience fame, victory, affluence, respect, even thrill and adventure.

How are Learning Games Different from Other Learning Activities?

The main difference between learning games and other learning activities is that Games establish an emotional connection with the learner. The learner “feels” something (thrill, pleasure, esteem) when he or she plays a learning game. In other learning activities, the learner doesn’t “feel” but only “thinks.”

This feeling is what makes learning games different and more sought after than other sorts of learning activities. Recently, one of our online course participants spoke of how she was drawn into a particular learning interaction because it was a “game”. She had a lot of fun trying to get a term to land in the right place, and without even realizing that she was learning, by the time the game ended, she had learned.

Thus, in a learning game, the conscious experience for the learner remains the game, which learning makes its way into the learner’s mind silently, almost effortlessly. The learner “enjoys” the game and its corresponding rewards and experiences the corresponding emotions. Thus, the learner’s attention is fastened on to the game while the learning is conveniently transferred to the learner’s mind. This isn’t possible in any other kind of learning experience.

The Psychology Behind Games” is an excellent read for those who want to get into the mind of the gamer.

 

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Four Important Differences between the Online Learning Environment and the Classroom Learning Environment

My temporary absence from the blog can best be explained through the hackneyed, cliched, beaten-out-of-shape excuse of having been busy. I was indeed busy with matters in the real world and so the demands of the virtual world were automatically shunted back into the yard.

A quick analysis of my behavior helped me draw some parallels with the online learner’s behavior.

There’s a world of difference between the environments of the online learner and the classroom learner. These differences often result in learner behavior that doesn’t explain itself readily to us.

The Four Important Differences between the Online Learner’s and the Classroom Learner’s Environments are:

  1. Distance from Family & Friends
  2. Flexibility of Time
  3. Strength of Supervision
  4. Urgency vs. Importance

Distance from Family & Friends

During the learning process, the online learners are much closer to their family/friends than their classroom counterparts. While classroom learning requires that the learners transport themselves to a specific location for completing a training program, the online program merely requires online access and so people often take online courses from home.

Thus it becomes difficult for the online learners to ensure that while they are going through their online classes, they aren’t disturbed. They often are, and in absence of a formal learning environment, it becomes difficult for them to refuse the demands of friends and family. This leads to either a short break in their learning schedule (to talk, to reply, to help) or a longer one (to go for a movie/game together.)

Flexibility of Time

Even if we leave everybody else out, the online learners have to play with the dangerous double-edged sword called “flexible timings.” When timings are flexible, we tend to procrastinate more. When we can do something whenever we want to do it, we get down to doing it only at the last moment. So the online learners with the flexible time option often find themselves running errands for those who don’t have the same option. “You can do it later, I can’t” makes them feel guilty about refusing to do the errand.

Strength of Supervision

The Online learners usually don’t have any sort of direct supervision. This isn’t good. I agree with Dr. Knowles’ Andragogy in principle, and I do feel that he captured the intentions and the motivation of the adult learner well. However, the intrinsic load for the learning content varies and content with higher intrinsic load often requires that the learners put their minds into high gear.

Direct supervision helps. It enables the learners to stay focused and master such concepts. The online learners are responsible for cultivating this ability to stay focus, despite the cognitive load of the content. Unfortunately, as we’ve discussed earlier, online learners often study in environments that aren’t all that accommodating.

Urgency Vs. Importance

Every question that pops up in a classroom learner’s mind is urgent as the class has a definite time frame; every concept that’s taught needs to be handled by the mind immediately. In the case of online learning, the situation reverses. Everything else around our online learners becomes urgent. The course, though important, isn’t urgent. The submissions become urgent only on the due date – however, the days before the due date are lost because of those urgent (though unimportant tasks) that demanded to be done first.

I too was led astray by some urgent matters! I hope to tune out the urgent but unimportant matters in the coming month; and attend to this dear blog of mine.

 

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