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Category Archives: The Philosophy of 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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A Manifestation of Approval-seeking Behavior – Do you like the new look of my blog?

I hope my readers like the new look of my blog.
I hope they approve of it.

Do you see a similarity between me and Charlie Sheen? Both of us are seeking approval – he of his audience, and I of mine.

Most of us succumb to the need to seek approval only once in a while, but there are some of us who are habitually seeking approval, primarily because we are worried that we might not come up to the expectations of others.

Approval-Seeking Behavior – Some Examples

Here are some examples that illustrate general approval-seeking behavior in humans.

  • A woman dresses up for the evening, and looks for approval in her husband’s eyes. (The husband continues to look at the TV and… approves!)
  • A child gets a puzzle right, and looks at the mother for approval. (The mom who’s got to do the holiday shopping, take the sick dog to the vet, and cook dinner; doesn’t pay attention – check out “The Middle”.)
  • A mother cooks dinner for her son, and waits for the son to say something; but the son is oblivious to his mother’s need for approval.
  • An executive designs a PowerPoint presentation, and seeks approval from his boss (You know all about this one – don’t you?)

When we do something, we want an approval from someone special/specific…from someone who matters.

Approval is sought only from those who Matter

I am reminded of a situation from Ayn Rand’s masterpiece, “Atlas Shrugged.” If you’ve read the book you’d remember Dagny Taggart telling Hank Rearden that she had finally discovered what Dr. Robert Stadler wanted from her. She tells him that for some reason, he wanted her to approval the course of life that he (Dr. Stadler) had chosen, because he believed that among all the people who hadn’t disappeared, she was the only one whose opinion mattered.
(If you haven’t read the book, please excuse my using this example here. However, I’d recommend that you find your car-keys and rush to the nearest bookshop. You have to read “Atlas Shrugged.” It will help you analyze the forces that drive the complex machinery of the human society.)

Approval-Seeking in Learning and Training

Despite its clinical undertones, approval-seeking behavior is present in most of us – and for this reason, those who are associated with learning, should look at it more closely. There is a strong possibility that our learner might be seeking some sort of approval from us. For instance, a pat on the back for working hard on an assignment, or a positive stroke of some sort for answering or even attempting to answer a question correctly.

The learner seeks the trainer’s approval because the trainer matters. In other words, when the learner attempts to elicit approval from you, he or she does so because you are important.

As trainers, it is a good idea to train our minds for becoming more sensitive to the approval-seekers. We should practice the fine art of picking up clues that the learners are sub-consciously throwing at us. Remember, we aren’t talking about the Charlie Sheens of the class here, but about normal learners, who want you to tell them that their efforts were worthwhile, and that they were noticed and appreciated.

Now…
What was I saying when I started this post?

I hope my readers like the new look of my blog 🙂

 

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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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Using Games in eLearning – Part I – How Games & eLearning came Together?

How Games & eLearning Came Together?

There was a time when Online Content looked and also functioned exactly the way a book did! There would be some content on the screen, and when the learner pressed the NEXT button (or “flipped” the page) the content would change.

The eLearning content of today is dramatically different from that of the past. As in the case of all other products and services, this change too was driven by demand. As the eLearning consumers began sampling a wide variety of online content, they became more aware of the interactive possibilities . And so there came a time when they became immune to the charms of basic navigational interactivity.

This demand from the audience resulted in eLearning content becoming much more interactive than ever before. From the vanilla navigational interactivity, we’ve already moved to Multiple Choice Questions, Drag and Drops, Click and Views, and a variety of other interactive hooks to retain the learner’s attention. But for our ever-curious, ever-exploring audience, even this wasn’t enough.

The reason behind the audience’s ever-growing need for more interesting content isn’t difficult to understand. The game developers of the world were busy creating almost-life-like experiences for their audience, and as their audience was often our audience as well, we found ourselves looking at a target audience that was still not happy with the level of interactivity they found in their eLearning courses.

Remember that it’s the thrill of winning that keeps an individual glued to a game; and the suspension of disbelief makes the gamer a character in the game! There was no way to beat games in their ability to gain and sustain the audience’s interest, and so, the eLearning providers moved forward and embraced games as a potential learning activity.

Now, almost every good eLearning course includes games, which are designed and developed with two parallel and equally important objectives – educate and entertain.

In the next post of this series, we will discover how games are different from other types of learning activities.

 

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How Should Adult Learners Learn – 6 Tips for Learning Better!

This post isn’t for trainers, or instructional designers, or content developers; or any such individuals who are worried about making others learn. This post is for the adult learner. The adult, who for some reason becomes a learner, is the audience for this post.

Before I begin with the tips, I want to say that an adult might be in a training program for a variety of reasons. These reasons could vary from “having a genuine learning need” to “having been asked to go.” Irrespective of your reason, once you find yourself in a training, you have committed to spend the most precious of all your resources, your time, for the program. So, it’s now in your interest to get the best from it – even though at times, you might find yourself in a program that has no “immediate need/application” (ref: Knowles’ Andragogy) for you.

With that settled, let us now review the six steps you should take to make your experience happy and fruitful.

  1. Use your Prior Learning Smartly
  2. Strip your Mind of Preconceived Notions
  3. Share what you “Understand” and not what you “Know”!
  4. Peel the Jargon Away before your Share
  5. Delegate the Driving Activity to the Trainer
  6. Focus on the Training Goal and not your Personal Goal

Let us quickly look at each of the above six guidelines in some more detail.

Use your Prior Learning Smartly

We adults are burdened with tons of prior learning on almost half the things under the sun. This is a good thing for us only when we know how to use our learning – if we don’t, we have a tendency to spill it all over the place, in a random pattern. This may work when we are trying to impress an impressionable audience, who’s a blank slate when it comes to your esoteric knowledge area. Unfortunately it doesn’t work in a program that’s laid out to achieve a predefined learning objective, for a specific group of learners, within a given time-frame.

However, when we filter our prior learning and share only what is relevant, we initiate productive discussions. We also form a strong bond of learning with the trainer and the other participants.

So, use your prior learning smartly instead of shooting random arrows from the hip!

Strip your Mind of Preconceived Notions

  1. So you didn’t want to come for the training?
  2. You also don’t think that trainings help?
  3. You feel that the trainer is a moron – and that if anyone was worthy of doing a training program on the subject – you were?

Let’s see what you should be doing for each of the three points above.

  1. Cool off! Let us reflect upon it. You didn’t want to come, but for some arcane reason, you’ve ended up in the training. Now accept it.
  2. You don’t think trainings help – right? So why are you in the training then. You didn’t have the nerve to speak up and give your boss a piece of your mind…and so you find yourself in the program. Good. Now accept it.
  3. The trainer is a moron and you could do a better job? Great. Next time, apply for being the trainer not the trainee. Now…accept it.

Accept it, go ahead, and make the best use of the training by becoming more generous and more pliable. Remember, a dry and rigid stick breaks, the soft and the flexible one doesn’t – it dances and smiles, and it has loads of fun!

Get rid of your preconceived notions. Once you’ve crossed the threshold and entered the training hall, they can only hurt your learning and image. Leave them behind.

Share what you “Understand” and not what you “Know”!

We, the adult learners often act before we think. We are often driven by “esteem needs” and we try to put our best foot forward even before the party begins.

Don’t share every little speck of information that you had squirreled away, once upon a time. Weigh its relevance to the training content, decide if it could help others in some way, and then share it! But of course, for such mature decision-making, you’d need to have some understanding of what you want to share – just recalling a term wouldn’t help!

So if you are sitting in a training program on motivation, and the trainer has not yet begun to explain the MBTI personality types, don’t just point your finger at the trainer and shout, “you are the INTJ type!” Reflect upon your action. It was probably triggered by the need to let everyone know that you “knew already.” Nevertheless, had you understood MBTI personality types and not just remembered one of the 16 types, you could have waited until the topic was introduced. It would have helped you come up with a more useful contribution, which made the participants and the trainer respect you.

Peel the Jargon Away before your Share

As we all know, shop jargon is a very useful thing in shop. Unfortunately jargon doesn’t make a lot of sense in training programs that draw the audience from different backgrounds. Don’t use jargon when you discuss something in a training program. Yes, there could be some terminology that is introduced in the training program, or, that you are sure everyone in the training program would know – such terminology could be used with care.
Also be ready to explain any term that you use in your queries or discussions. If the use of such a term is unavoidable, preempt confusion  by explaining the term to everyone’s benefit.

Delegate the Driving Activity to the Trainer

We all like to be in command. We all like to be in the driver’s seat – especially if we think that we were better drivers. However, in training programs, it’s better to take a back seat and delegate the driving function to the trainer or the instructor.

Stretching the analogy a little further – you might be an excellent driver who driven for 20 the American roads. However, when in India, I’d recommend that you hire a local driver who knows how to navigate through the Indian city traffic and who’s conversant with the Indian traffic rules and guidelines. It would be a definite (and rather foolish) suicide attempt to take the steering wheel from this driver.

Let the trainer steer the training. He or she probably knows the subject terrain better than you do. You sit back and enjoy your learning ride.

Focus on the Training Goal and not your Personal Goal

We all have our personal goals. These goals are usually driven either by “safety/security needs” or by “esteem needs.” (Refer: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.) Sometimes the personal goal becomes too distant (Ex: My supervisor needed to send 4 people of this training – and because one of the originally selected team-members became sick, I was asked to go,” In such cases, we often yield to supervisor-pressure and agree to participate despite the training goal having no direct personal relevance. But look again, you agreed because you thought that it could help you forge a stronger relationship with your boss, or on the other extreme, not to face his wrath at the time of your appraisal, thus fulfilling your “safety/security needs,” or more precisely your “job security need”:-)

Thus the fact that you “elected” to go through the training program “proves” that you found a match between your personal goals and the training goal. After all, theoretically speaking, you can’t bulldoze adult learners into doing something that they don’t want to do.  So, “practically” speaking, if you didn’t have the gumption to stand up for your right to say No to the training program before you came into the program, there’s no point standing up after you’ve committed three days of your precious time.

The training goal is put in place beforehand and the trainer’s goal is to ensure that the training goal is met. Like it or not, your best bet is to accept this fact and try to achieve the training goal. That’s the only mature way of handling such a situation once it has arisen. Of course, the most reasonable course of action would be to not attend such programs where the training goal doesn’t match your personal goals.

Sometimes however, we have no choice in the matter. I understand. Yet, do remember, you have the choice of either making the best use of your time or of rolling it up and smoking it away!

 

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