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Category Archives: Theories & Models

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – Is it just Around the Corner?

It isn’t everyday that you read a book that makes you feel grateful for not being born sooner or later, but exactly when you were born. It is only once in a long while that you come across a story that makes you look for that inflection point in the history of humanity, which made the world become what it is today.

This isn’t a review that I am posting today. It isn’t even a suggestion or a recommendation that you read this book. It is a short Thank-You-Note to Aldous Huxley who penned “Brave New World”, and made me feel grateful for being what I am and for what I have been given – the freedom of choice. I don’t want to discuss the extent of this freedom; I don’t want to flick out a tape to measure it; I just want to experience it.

Huxley had written this novel in 1931 – a time when Behaviorism had matured, its spread aided by the industry; and a time when scientific advances were being announced every day.

Conceptual Summary of Brave New World

Let me quickly summarize the concept of “Brave New World” for you.

The world has “evolved” (degenerated?) where humans are mass-produced under controlled conditions, using the Bokanovsky process. The humans come in different varieties or castes, each variety suited to accomplish the task that it would be required to perform. Thus the humans range from Alphas (the highest caste) to the Epsilons who are nothing better than zombies. The production as well as the education of humans is the responsibility of the State. Sex for procreation is a taboo, people are expected to spend all their free time in the company of others, and ideas of individuality are considered dangerous.

Ivan Pavlov, Sigmund Freud, and Henry Ford have become icons in this world of the future. The calendar begins with the year of Ford’s birth (the story is set in AF 632 or about 530 years from now.)

Education of all the castes is carried out partly while they are asleep (by making them listen to numerous repetitions of such statements that define the desired behavior) and also makes tremendous use of behaviorist principles (repetition, reward, and punishment.)

The Wake-up Call

The goal of the story is to contrast the life-style and philosophy of the Reservations (places that refused to change) and the world – and it is this contrast that wakes you up. You find yourself wishing that the world had taken a midway approach, and then you realize that you sub-consciously begin to see yourself in both the worlds, wondering how “A Brave New World” is a very real possibility – and how you need not wait 500 years for it to happen.

Returning to my ruminations…

 

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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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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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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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Behaviorism – Have the Behaviorist Methods Lost their Potency in the New Age of Learning?

Can you stop reading?
Yes, I mean now.

Checking out Operant Conditioning:

Now pick up your phone and dial your parents, or grandparents if possible. Ask them whether they were ever punished in the class – and then ask them whether they now think of the punishment as unnecessary.
My take is that they’d gloat over those days of spanking and knuckle warming. I believe that they’d tell you that they owe their success to those teachers who beat some sense into them.
My parents do, and I do too.

We were conditioned to accept punishments as corrective measures. We were also motivated to learn for the rewards of non-material (parental-acceptance,) and the material (movies/ice-creams) kind!

Checking out Classical Conditioning:

Call your parents again. Pester them to tell you about the homework they used to get and the lines that they had to do. Do they think they learned by doing their homework?
My parents and I – we feel that we did. About three-decades ago, my Grandmother used to tell me about how she became so good at Mathematics (She’d help me solve Math problems when I was in my final year of school.) She told me that she’d spend hours solving mathematical problems and the repetition made her an expert at it. Note that she did solve different kinds of problems and so there was a lot of cognitive processing involved – but expertise is a direct function of practice.
We were conditioned to accept repetition as a reinforcement mechanism.

Our grandparents, our parents, and some of us too, went to school when Behaviorist methods of imparting learning were a norm – and we learned. We learned better and we learned without hired help teaching us extra hours. We managed to do it because nothing beats practice – and because we knew that learning would help us avoid punishment and it might even lead to a reward.

The Behaviorist Framework helps Structure Learning Experiences:

As children, if we were expected to learn without the framework of reward and punishment then despite those beautifully crafted, highly relevant examples (cognitivism) we’d find no reason on earth to spend extra time and effort to make that learning our own! No punishment to avoid, no reward to obtain!

As kids, if were allowed to come up with our own interpretations (constructivism) and then our teachers would’ve guided us towards the correct conclusions; without repeatedly going through the logical connections that led to those correct conclusions – we’d lose ourselves completely in the woods of new learning.

I speak of us as children, because as adults we always have a strong reason in form of an immediate application, which drives us to learn despite the absence of behaviorist frameworks. However, it doesn’t mean that what applies to children wouldn’t apply to grownups.

The Behaviorist framework enables us to motivate the learners by structuring rewards, punishments, and also practice into a learning experience. Thus in the case of children, a behaviorist framework often becomes the only motivator that establishes a habit of learning; while in the case of adults, it becomes and add-on motivator to the adult-learner’s internal motivation derived from an immediate need.

~~o~o~o~~

Instructional Design Principles Referred in this Post:

 

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