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Returning…

Dear Readers,

It has been a while that I posted anything here. A medley of reasons kept me away – the most important being some critical health issues. Yet, every dark cloud that hovers over your head filling your view of the world with darkness and gloom, either explodes into a storm of rain and drenches you cold, or sails away in time. This cloud is sailing away, and though I can still see its tail on the horizon, I am confident that the wind won’t reverse its course to bring it back. At least I hope that it won’t.

So, in all probability I am back.

I intend to dust away the cobwebs and scrub this blog to make it sparkle again. I also want to thank the latest follower of this blog who inspired me to return. (If you followed this blog yesterday, you are the one I am talking about.)

As I couldn’t move about a lot, I spent the last whole year experimenting with some new learning mediums. I worked extensively on the mobile platform (specifically iOS) and this year I intend to work on development of Android apps. I intend to share my learnings on content development for the mobile learning or m-learning medium here along with my thoughts on e-learning. I am also experimenting with Kindle. Recently I have once again started accepting corporate training assignments in Instructional Design and eLearning. I also plan to share my experiences from those programs here.

This blog primarily focuses on the psychological principles that relate to learning (directly and indirectly) so expect to see the regular stuff on cognitive psychology too 🙂

I leave you with a link to my latest article on the Creative Agni Website.

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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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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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Creative Agni eZine, Sloth & Froth, and Some ID Fiction.

The Creative Agni eZine notification was sent out today. I know that it should’ve been done earlier, but I just couldn’t get down to wrapping it up until this morning.

If you haven’t subscribed to it, you can do so here.

I should say that there are two posts (among many others) that I would really love to share with my blog-readers.

  1.  A Short Story – Dushyant & Shakuntala – Why Love kills Logic?
  2. Sloth & Froth Comics – Teamwork Training and Decision-making

While you are there, you can also explore rest of the site and also meet Coffeebeans the Pup.

 

 

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Norway Killings by Anders Breivik – Is it just the tip of the Iceberg?

Anders Behring Breivik is a name that the world won’t forget in a hurry, even though it may be remembered for all the wrong reasons. Breivik who rationalized his killing spree through a 1500-page manifesto in which he spoke of how the vote-seeking politicians were instrumental in the spread of multiculturalism in Europe, doesn’t comes across as a brain-washed fanatic, the kind we’ve learned to associate with the acts of terrorism. Yet he killed about 90 young Norweigians. Why?

Though I don’t know the answer to this question, and I believe that nobody really does – except of course, Breivik; but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that it lies in the fact that now-a-days societal changes are happening too fast.

If we glance back at the history of the world, such changes were slow. If we specifically look at the Indian example, the spread of Islam happened over a period of 500 years, and by the time the British arrived in India, Islam had ceased to be a foreign religion and their culture had already meshed with the Hindu culture, initially through force, then through inter-religion-marriages leading to ethnic mixing, and then through the political moves of the Mughal rulers. So by the 18th century, the Muslims along with the Hindus began calling India their home. Thus, when the British arrived, they were the outsiders, while the Hindus and the Muslims were the insiders – regardless of their own differences.

500 years is a long time to accept another culture, and even become amenable to its ills. When your mindset changes over a dozen or more generations, you don’t even feel it.

You can possibly surmise the reasons why the assimilation took so long. The reasons were simple: Low population, no technology, and of course, the kings, who didn’t have to establish the vote-banks.

Now we experience whirlwind changes. Take the example of the unrest in Middle-East. It spread so quickly, because it was aided by technology. The case of islamization of Europe is similar. It’s happening too quickly for people to adapt. It isn’t easy for a culture to give up its values in a matter of decades. It requires centuries.

However,

  • with technology, people don’t have to walk on foot for years to reach another country;
  • with greedy politicians who are looking for votes, people don’t have to learn another language nor customs to become part of the host-country’s society; and
  • with the world not wanting to take stronger, collective measures against fundamentalism, people don’t have to give up being fanatics!

So the kids growing up in these host countries feel that they are being treated as step-children by their own country – and because the leaders of these countries are busy looking at their vote-banks, one of these kids begins to think that if the society is ready to condone the terrorist acts done by one or more members of these “pampered” communities, they too have the right to do the same, and save their own culture from losing its identity.

I think that we are looking at just the tip of the iceberg. We shouldn’t think that in a population of 6.7 Billion, there won’t be another such misguided soul. I also think that the only way to prevent more incidents of this kind could be to review all religions and communities and weed out the irrationalities from them. The question is – who’d bell the cat? It has to a collective effort from the political and religious leaders of the world, who will have to throw away their personal axes and write a new world order, with common goals and methods, and with a structure that is rational not fanatical.

We cannot accept intolerance as a given for one group of people and close our eyes to it, and treat it as an exception in another. Intolerance begets intolerance. It’s contagious too. It won’t disappear from the world, unless it’s weeded out from everywhere.

 

 

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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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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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