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Tag Archives: training

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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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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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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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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Attribution Theory & Self-Serving Bias – Application in Training & Content Development (3 of 3)

Following are the two posts that precede this post.

  1. Attribution Theory & Self-Serving Bias – Why People play down the Achievements of Others?
  2. Attribution Theory & Self-Serving Bias – Stability & Controllability

This is the third and final post in this series. Through this post, let us discuss some applications of the Attribution Theory.

Recall how Sloth and Froth applied different causes to their own and other’s successes and failures. What we saw was something that we’ve all experienced intuitively – the primal human tendency to improve ones appearance. An interesting application of Attribution theory, which popped into my head just now, can be seen in the behavior of a young woman viewing a picture of another woman (someone that her spouse or sweetheart may have found attractive.) The reasons that this woman would attribute to the “success” (read: attractiveness) of the woman in picture would probably read as:

“A play of lights. Those photographers can make anyone look beautiful! And I wonder why you don’t see those spots on her face that I saw when the camera did a close-up in…what was that show – Oh…Koffee with Karan, I suppose. And that figure?! Hasn’t anyone heard of Photoshop! She’s got curves?! Hah!”

And upon viewing her own photograph…
“The photographer didn’t know his work! Look at the way he messed up the lighting! I don’t have those three rumbling chins – no way! And my skin is actually many shades lighter. What’s that spot on my cheek? Must be a speck on the camera lens!”

Funny…but true! And we all know that it is true:-)

What’s Lacey’s Viewpoint?

The question is how can we use this reality to make learning more effective?

Here are a few tips.

1. Empathize. Feel what your Audience Feels!
2. Appreciate the Cultural Angle of Attribution
3. Ascribe Failure to Unstable and Controllable Causes
4. Ascribe Success to Internal and Controllable Causes

Empathize. Feel what your Audience Feels!

Remember that the audience attempts to view his/her success or failure in the best possible light. This of course means that for everything that happens during a learning experience, the audience’s mind is busy determining causes. By the time, you get around to explaining something, the audience has already booked a cause for it. So, Never tell the audience that his or her failure was due to an internal factor. (In all probability, the audience has already pinned the blame of failure on to something else, such as you, or the study material, the methodology, or even a visiting aunt.) If you differ, your explanation will be met with a cognitive dissonance.

Appreciate the Cultural Angle of Attribution

Always review a learning issue within the context of the culture. For instance, as Indians, we make external attributions for a person’s undesirable actions more often than the westerners. This is so because as a society we are driven by external obligations, humility, and the demands of our social/familial roles.

Thus, if a person is caught taking bribe, a westerner would probably be more disposed towards attributing the action to that person’s trait of dishonesty, while we would most probably blame it on the system.

Here’s another example.
My personal experience of dealing with the topic of plagiarism in a training program taught me that this topic has to be handled very carefully, else it would hit a wall of resistance. Discussing plagiarism as a malady to be remedied results in more productive discussions that discussing it as an act of dishonesty (which results in drawn swords.)

Ascribe Failure to Unstable and Controllable Causes

This is an old one, and I am sure that you are already a master at doing this. Ascribe failures to unstable and controllable caused (for example, if a learner fails to perform according to expectations, ascribe it to “lack of directed effort” (something that can be controlled, and which isn’t stable – are you wondering whether all that is internal and unstable can be controlled? Reflect.) Don’t ascribe it to “lack of aptitude for science.”)

If you think that a learner has developed the tendency to ascribe failures to external, stable, uncontrollable factors, gear up to steer this learner away from this defeatist attitude.

Ascribe Success to Internal and Controllable Causes

In societies such as ours, we grow up ascribing our successes to the hand of fate. When I was growing up, before and after my exams (until the results were declared,) I’d pray and hope that somehow my prayers would improve my results. Thankfully, my prayers were never answered and I learned to ascribe success to “internal and controllable” causes. I shudder to think what kind of person I would’ve become had I turned “lucky.”

We should attempt to help the learner view his/her successes as a result of her internal, stable, and controllable factors (such as the output of concentrated effort,) instead of external, unstable, and uncontrollable factors, such as luck.

I believe that such positive attributions can go a long way in bolstering the confidence of our children who would find themselves in control of their destiny instead of being controlled by it.


Photo by mikebaird

Of course, Attribution Theory has many other applications, and I don’t think that I can cover all of them, but I do feel that a conscious effort to keep the three parameters of Attribution Theory in mind could help all kinds of learning professionals – the trainers, the teachers, and the instructional designers. It could help us reach out to our audience, empathize with them, and become a positive influence in their lives.

 

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The Core Principles of Learning Don’t Change – An Illustration from History – Ancient Sparta

Through the ages, the primary purpose of education has remained surprisingly unchanged – to make good citizens who performed their duties correctly. The duties that the society expects from its people, however, continued to change. As humans evolved, the roles that they were required to perform changed. Diversity in the roles available for the individuals increased too. And all this, required that the training methods too evolved alongside.

When I watched the movie “300”, I was spellbound. With my Learning and Education schema activated, I was obviously drawn towards learning more about the Spartan training programs.

The Spartans were a military community. They didn’t value the fine arts, they weren’t interested in spending their time learning to read and write – instead, they were keen on military training. Let’s review their actions from the viewpoint of training.

How the Spartans Lived?

1. War ruled the lives of the Spartans – from birth to death.

2. When a child was born in Sparta, it was checked for birth defects, and only if it was completely healthy, it was allowed to live. It was important for the Spartans that they didn’t spend their resources on a child that won’t be able to bear the burden of their tough military training.

3. The training began early. For the male child, it began at the age of 7. The child was trained to survive in the most unforgiving circumstances. The ethical system that prevailed in Sparta condoned stealing – what was punished was getting caught.

4. Women too were trained in self-defense. They received military training too – but they weren’t forced to go through it to the end.

5. When the Spartans reached maturity (about 18 years of age,) they had to undergo fitness and ability tests. Those who passed became the soldiers; those who didn’t were “reduced” to the ignominy of doing business. They didn’t receive the citizenship of Sparta.

6. Family wasn’t expected to be important to the Spartan soldiers, who remained soldiers until they were physically able. The wives were self-dependent and ran their households on their own.

Training Design & The Spartans

Let us see how well we are able to map all this to what we know of training design.

1. For the Ancient Spartans, it was important to find a role-competency match, and they began at the beginning. If a child didn’t have the pre-requisite (a healthy body) undergoing the training for completing the task (fight and win) he wasn’t “recruited.”

2. As the training spanned all the three learning domains (with the cognitive domain at the end of their list), the training began early when the mind was impressionable (affective domain) and required a lot of hands-on-practice in fighting and surviving (psychomotor domain.)

3. Women, the first tutors of their children, too needed an attitude conversion (women wouldn’t often be willing to allow their newborns being left to die on the hillside, or taken away from their laps into the barracks at the tender age of six), and so they too were trained to respect military training right from their childhood. A soldier mother is less likely to stand in the way of her children joining the military.

4. The assessment at 18 (when humans have developed some degree of self-concept) clearly spelled out the rewards (citizenship) and implied the punishments (no citizenship/relegated to handling the “dirty” money.) It also allowed the Spartans to ensure that only their best would be included in the army, while when need arose, everyone, including the women and the adolescents could provide reinforcements.

The Spartan training program was obviously designed to achieve its goal – “make the best soldiers.” This, of course, had a sublime esteem reward, as through out Greece, the Spartans were thought of as a warrior race and the other Greeks including the Athenians held them in high esteem.

 

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