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Category Archives: motivation

The PowerPoint Coma, Dilbert, and Trainings.

Three days ago, on April 5th 2016, The Times of India ran a Dilbert strip about the PowerPoint Coma. About a week ago, on April 4th, I was in a meeting with a senior training manager, discussing an upcoming program for their organization, attempting to outline the focus areas. The training program would address senior and mid-level managers of the organization, who are often called upon to share their domain-expertise with others. “One of the areas,” said the gentleman, “is PowerPoint. They walk in with a PowerPoint presentation, dim the lights, and for the next hour, everyone dozes off! They can’t do away with the PowerPoint presentation, because it keeps their content grounded and ensures that they stay within the scope.”

Two days later, I saw the Dilbert strip, and the term “PowerPoint Coma” stayed with me. I’m not a fan of PowerPoint, but that doesn’t make me blind to its advantages. I know it has many, especially in the training scenario of today, where the rapidly reducing half-life of knowledge makes its almost mandatory that the trainers have a cue-sheet to keep them on track. How then, do we handle this double-edged sword? How do we use the strengths of PowerPoint without falling prey to its weaknesses?

Read “PowerPoint Coma – Causes, Effects, Prevention, and Dilbert,” for a rapid-fire round of quick tips.

 

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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 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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Using Games in eLearning Part III – The Basic Structure of an eLearning Game

In the previous two posts of this series, we discussed:

Let us now determine the structure of a game and see how this structure helps us establish an emotional connection between the learner and the content.

A learning game isn’t very different from the entertainment games, except that the theme of a learning game is “learning,” and not “entertainment.” The basic structure of the two types of games is almost the same.

A Learning Game consists of:

  • An environment
  • A Challenge
  • A Reward/Punishment
  • The Learning

Let us look at these four factors in more detail.

The Environment of an eLearning Game:

An elearning game like all other types of games has to first gain the attention of the gamer, and then it has to sustain it. A game, unlike other learning activity, should be high on immersion, and establish a suspension-of-disbelief, to whatever extent it can. Thus, an eLearning game requires that you establish an environment. You can do it through a story, a visual, or a scenario.

The Challenge in an eLearning Game:

Every game should include a challenge. A challenge is “a demanding or a challenging situation,” or, if we speak in terms of motivation, it is something that urges you to act towards a specific objective. A challenge can be incorporated in an eLearning game, by asking the learner to use the knowledge gained/skill developed through the content to <achieve a goal>. Remember that goal has to be designed keeping in mind the audience’s profile.

The Reward/Punishment Associated with an eLearning Game:

Every learner wants to “gain something” from a success, and is driven to avoid “losing something” through a failure. A challenge doesn’t transform into a game unless the learner has something to gain or to lose. Thus, an eLearning activity will not convert into a game unless you establish a reward/punishment for the outcome.

The Learning in an eLearning Game:

A game is a game and NOT an eLearning game if it doesn’t result in learning. Remember that learning or reinforcement of learning should result from the process of playing a game, and not as a reward for the game. Very often, eLearning game developers end up creating games where upon completing a game successfully, the learner learns – but otherwise he or she doesn’t learn! Instructionally, such games leave nothing for a person who doesn’t play well. Make sure that your eLearning game doesn’t suffer from this issue.

That’s all for now, dear readers! If you’d like to learn more about developing eLearning games, drop me a line, and I’ll write more about it.

 

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The Advantages of eLearning (2 of 2) – The Doppelganger Advantages

Note: This is the second post in the sequence, “The Advantages of eLearning.” Please read the first post here.)

In “The Advantages of eLearning (1 of 2)”, we reflected upon the advantages, real and apparent, that accrue to the client organization and the audience. We also spoke about some of these advantages not being real, and gave them the somewhat exotic name – The Doppelganger Advantages. (As the ID-aware readers must’ve already surmised, the nomenclature served the purposes of curiosity arousal, one of the three ARCS techniques to Gain Attention (Refer: Keller’s ARCS Model.)

(Doppelganger – a ghostly double of a living person that haunts its living counterpart – Source: The Free Dictionary) (Simply said, you think that you are looking at someone, but that someone isn’t real!)


Photo by jcoterhals

Here are our three Doppelganger advantages once again. Let us now remove them from the “Advantages” class, and shift them to the “Characteristics” class, as their status as an advantage is being questioned through this post.

Following are the Characteristics of eLearning, which have been touted as advantages by some.

  1. Create Once and Integrate according to the Requirements (The client’s perspective.)
  2. Cost Reduction of Different Kinds (The client’s perspective.)
  3. Offer Flexibility and are Easy to Complete (The audience’s perspective.)

Let us analyze each of these once again, but now let us look at the overall impact (the long-term impact on the client-audience duo) of these characteristics, instead of looking at only one part of the picture.

Create Once and Integrate as per Requirements:

This is one of biggest selling point of eLearning. Unfortunately, when reusability is stretched to a point where the content turns so brittle that it can barely be kneaded to impart digestible learning, the learners shut their minds off and stop learning. Organizations often remain blissfully (and sometimes, deliberately) ignorant of the fact that the sharable learning objects created by them fail to attract the audience’s attention completely. This aborted attempt at learning is often clocked as valid learning hours – and the organization has a “trained” employee who doesn’t have the competencies that his role requires!

If we stay true to instructional design, we’ll realize that a blinding passion for sharability doesn’t work! Unfortunately customized eLearning is expensive to develop. According to instructional design, it is that audience-mapped customized eLearning that would work best! However, the decision-makers in the client-organizations are human too – they need to see the impact of their decisions on the annual results – and so the long-term impact of such content doesn’t connect with their schema.

So the question is – who’s the ultimate loser?

While you try to answer that question, let us see the impact of the different kinds of cost-reduction!

Cost Reduction of Different Kinds:

We know that organizations are happy to cut their costs, which of course is a noble objective. We spoke of some costs that organizations expect to reduce through the implementation of eLearning. They expect to have a reduced number of onground trainings, which would result in the reduction of

  1. Trainer Costs
  2. Logistics Management Costs
  3. Opportunity Cost (working hours lost in classroom trainings.)

Now let’s quickly look at the eLearning implementation costs. There are the technology costs (procurement and implementation,) the content costs (if the content has to bought/extracted from the Subject Matter Experts,) the development costs, the facilitation costs, and the management costs! I may have even missed some. Think about it – eLearning implementations aren’t cost-free.

Remember, in the short-run, eLearning is more expensive that classroom training; and if eLearning content is created without considering the audience, it may turn out to be more expensive in the long-run too.

Flexibility in Submission Deadlines and are Easier to Complete:

Often the audience assumes that online/eLearning courses are self-study courses, and that the only commitment required from their end is to spend x number of hours a week on the course. This perception has its roots in two different realities.

  1. There are online courses that work on this premise – they provide the content, allow the learner to ask questions if he or she wants to, make provisions for an online objective test, allow the learner y number of attempts at the test (to ensure that he or she passes), and finally, generate a printable certificate by running a program, which the learner can print and file away. Course ends – competency achieved at BL2 (if at all!)
  2. The adult learner’s exaggerated application orientation coupled with the belief that concepts don’t matter, only application does, is the second reason behind this incorrect perception! So the adult learner often assumes – If I can take a course – find what I need to apply now and skip the rest – I am done!

The truth is the opposite of this. Online courses can be great learning experiences, if the above two realities don’t exist. The learning provider and the learner, both have to share the responsibility of making the experience successful. The learning provider has to ensure that the learner learns. The learner has to realize that the online courses require the participants to be internally motivated, organized, and punctual. The instructionally sound online courses require a lot more from its learners than a classroom training program.

End Note:

eLearning can result in a win-win relationship between the client organization and the audience, if it is designed, developed, and implemented according to instructional design principles. A departure from the ID principles on any pretext can reduce the learner’s motivation levels, and can lead to the failure of the learning experience.

(Short Link to this Post: http://wp.me/pFZ5p-3N)

 

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Courage is the First Virtue – Knowledge is the Second!

Aristotle said, “Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.”

He was right. Courage is the primary driver of any action. We need courage to face the day, to get up and make our coffee, and then to drive our car or ride the bus to work. If we lose our courage, our ability to act in face of a risk, big or small, then we’ll never be able to achieve anything, ever!

But the action that results from our courage could be right or wrong – and to differentiate between the right and the wrong, we need to know. So our first act of courage should be to learn.

According to Aristotle, the differentiation between the right and the wrong is the most important outcome of learning – so this is the kind of learning that our courage should first lead us to. If we use our courage to do this – we would win the most important battle in this war for happiness in life.

Remember – Learning to tell the right from the wrong is our most important act of courage.

 
 

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How is eLearning Different from Classroom Training?

I missed my self-imposed posting guideline by a day, and I am grateful for this lapse. It reminds me that the quest for perfection is the perfect killer of motivation:) So, with my recent lapse, I am completely rejuvenated!

Let us quickly review the recent posts on the topic of learning.

Now, through this post, let us differentiate eLearning from classroom trainings. Actually, eLearning means different things to different people, and despite being around for about two decades, eLearning is still fighting for acceptance. It’s not that people and organizations don’t know about eLearning – and in social circles, they’d often speak of eLearning in a positive, slightly emancipated manner – but this acceptance is quite like the way live-in relationships are accepted in our society. It’s acceptable as long as someone else is doing it.

But let’s leave the philosophical discussion for now and review how eLearning is different from classroom training.

Here are some of the ways in which eLearning is different from classroom training.

  1. The Audience’s Attitude & Skills
  2. The Content Presentation
  3. Anticipation of Cognitive Dissonance
  4. Accuracy in Content and Language
  5. Open Channel for Communication & Doubt Resolution

The Audience’s Attitude & Skills Should be Oriented towards eLearning.

The success of eLearning is often determined by the attitude (maturity, internal motivation) and the skills (time-management, stress-management, and technological competence) of the learners.

The Content Presentation Needs to be More Engaging.

In the absence of external bonds, the learner’s attention could stray more easily in an Online/eLearning course. eLearning needs a conscious effort towards personalizing the eLearning content delivery.

Cognitive Dissonance should be Anticipated.

In eLearning content creation, you need to project the worries that will assail your learners; and you will have to build the resolution of those issues in the course.

Accuracy in Content and Language are More Important.

You need to be much more careful while dealing with content and presenting it to your audience. In a classroom training program, you can correct your error easily and without fatal consequences – but in eLearning, your error may remain undetected for a long time. Also remember that language errors that aren’t even noticed in an on-ground training program become monsters in eLearning.

Open Channel for Communication & Doubt Resolution is Essential.

Classroom trainings are characterized by direct synchronous communication. This helps boost the learner’s confidence. ELearning either has no two-way communication (CBTs) or it has asynchronous communication and doubt-resolution (I am not speaking of the virtual classrooms here.) Special attention has to be given to these details in eLearning.

I’ll be back with what I call the Doppelganger Advantages of eLearning!

 

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