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Tag Archives: Learning

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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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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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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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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Learning, Learning Mediums, and eLearning!

Let us continue our exploration of the phenomenon of learning. Remember learning is “acquisition” of knowledge, skills, and attitude. When we speak of acquiring something, we also speak of “someplace” from where it shall be acquired, thus, we refer to an “environment”.

So we can say that Learning results from an interaction between the learner and the environment. This interaction could be learner-driven or environment-driven, and it takes place through a “medium of communication.”

Let us understand it by analyzing the behavior of an old acquaintance, Ms. Froth. Froth wants to learn “how to blog.” Here’s how we can explain her behavior in the terminology that we’ve now “acquired.”

Froth (the learner) wishes to learn (the learning process is thus, learner-driven) “How to blog” (a skill to be acquired; if she already knows how to blog, but now wishes to learn how to blog more effectively, she’d be “modifying” a skill, which is another aspect of learning.) For this learning, she will have to interact with the environment (comprising her friends, colleagues, trainers, books, and of course – the Web,) through an appropriate communication medium (speech, text, training material, online content.)

You got it…right?
Now you are ready to lift the shroud of mystery that surrounds the learning mediums.

Simply put, a learning medium is a communication medium which is used for the purpose of learning.

Thus, you have:

  • Classroom trainings (where the communication medium is primarily non-tech (apart from some non-interactive, soporific PowerPoint presentation.)
  • ELearning (where the medium of communication is electronic – usually computers.)

I am not going to spend a lot of your precious time on expanding upon classroom trainings. That you are reading this post goes to prove that you’ve had enough of that experience. So let us try to figure out this exotic bird called eLearning.


Photo by kodomut

ELearning is the name given to all such learning, which uses technology as a medium to communicate. Thus, online courses and trainings as well as standalone computer-based training programs, and even blogs such as the one you are reading now, comprise elearning.

Actually, eLearning isn’t an exotic bird at all. It is the same learning that we know so well – with the medium of communication being the only tangible difference. There’s no difference as far as the learner’s psychology and the instructional design principles are concerned.

However, there’s a lot of difference between the way both kinds of learning programs are designed, developed, and implemented. As you might’ve guessed, most of the difference results from the technological angle, which unfortunately bugs many of the traditionalists.

So when Froth searches the web, or buys a CD that tells her “How to Blog”, she learns through eLearning. From the learner’s angle eLearning isn’t very different from classroom training. Froth still uses her senses (seeing/hearing) to absorb the new learning, and then processes it cognitively; the way she’d do in a classroom-training program. But yes, there’s a lot of difference between the way a classroom trainer would prepare the content and an eLearning instructional designer would.

In my next post, we’ll ponder over some of these differences. We also haven’t spoken of the blended learning solutions (where you blend elearning with traditional classroom learning) – but I believe that if we understand the two ingredients of blended learning correctly, blended learning would explain itself.

Until Friday then:-)

 

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Learning – Definition & Scope

This blog is called “The Zen of Learning” and so most of what you will find here would pertain to learning. Through this post, I intend to define the scope of learning and through it, the scope of this blog.

Let us begin by understanding the term learning, and then illustrate its meaning from two different perspectives.

The Webster on my desk defines learning as:

  • “The act of acquiring knowledge or skill” (when used as a verb,) and
  • “The knowledge or skill thus acquired” (when used as a noun.)

This definition, I find somewhat incomplete. So let me introduce another dimension into it, and define it as:
“The act of acquiring or modifying knowledge, skills, and attitudes.”

With this definition of learning in view, we can surmise that the scope of learning is vast. It goes beyond a set of formal activities designed to influence the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitudes of a specific learner segment. Thus, when we speak of learning, we relate to everything that’s got anything to do with personality development, skills acquisition, attitude transformation, instructional design, training, cognitive psychology, self-learning, observational learning…and so on. The list is long – so don’t worry about it.

Just remember this – if you are a human, the concept and the methods of learning are relevant to you.

Check this out:

  • If you are a homemaker, learning about how learning happens and how you can expedite the process of learning could help you raise smarter kids, build a better and stronger relationship with your husband, and make your chores easier and simpler.
  • If you are an engineer, the knowledge of how learning happens can make you analyze your own learning methods and learn faster.
  • If you are a marketing professional, this knowledge to help you market your products better, because you’ll be able to devise the best strategy to help the client learn why your products are the best for him or her.
  • If you are a writer, it could help you make your writing more relevant to your audience.
  • If you are an instructional designer, becoming comfortable with the phenomenon of learning could enable you to create content that always strikes the right chord…in your audience’s mind!

I can go on and on…you tell me who you are, and I can tell you how this knowledge could help you do better in… whatever you do.

And if you are a parent, this knowledge could come in handy when you teach your son, the nuances of skating:-)


Photo by dnamichaud

I’ll try to make short individual posts too, but you’ll often find serial posts on topics that demand space. As the blog evolves, I’ll try to classify the posts and help you navigate. For sometime however, I request you to join me in my exploration of this medium. Use the sidebar categories to find what suits your temperament and learning needs.

On Friday, I’ll return with a post on the different mediums through which learning may be enabled. It will introduce you to the different ways in which learning is imparted in today’s fast-paced environment. I am averse to technological jargon, so if you are looking for someone who could help you catch on with the new fangled methods of learning, without making you feel like you’ve lost your way in a rain forest, be here…on January 26, 2010!

 

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