Monday, December 26, 2011

iPad experiences

After we have acquired the iPad, it has proved to be a boon in the education space for the little ones. There are so many interesting apps on the iPad - like Science360, Ascent (space shuttle), Galaxy walk, Colour uncovered, Morris Lessmore and the flying books. There is of course a good and bad side to it. Good, obviously, because the best way for learning to happen is like osmosis - while you are doing something the learning is a byproduct. And if it happens while doing something you are keen to do, that you find interesting (which is stating the obvious), nothing like it. Thus it is that the iPad and the internet have opened the curiosities of the little one like no other. That being said, there is a downside. There is a significant chance that school will relegate itself to be "uninteresting" and a "chore". This is something we will have to guard or better still, work around, I guess. More later!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Creative pursuits

Take a look at this wonderful advertisement. It beautifully replicates a website into a physical design through the 90 odd seconds that it runs. First of all it is creative - almost burns the light bulb in your head - and makes you go - why did I not think of that. Second, truly, the internet, like life is what you make of it. Third, it is quite inspiring when you come to think of it. But as a creative concept, this has appealed to me for a longish time. We had attempted to do something similar for a website as part of a project at work. We worked on getting the entire website down a book. The whole idea was to make the website "physical". So, literally you would have dropdowns that would need to be folded back and then little windows would pop up as part of the book and so forth. Pages would cut like tabs on the website and would take you back and forth and so on. The project did go through, though to a time crunch in the end, we had to cut down many of the "features" and go with something relatively simple. But this video actually takes that concept to "god" level. Amazing!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

There are books

There are books and there are books. There are Wren and Martins for grammar and there is "Eats, Shoots and Leaves".

There a countless dry and melancholic books for Finance and there is Principles of Corporate Finance by Brearley and Myers.

Ditto for marketing - where Kotler is still one of the best books to read. And then you have Robbins on Organizational Behaviour.

There are a million books on programming and then there is the Dummies series or an even better Head First series.

These thoughts came to my mind as I skim through Thinking, Fast and Slow - which is perhaps one of the best books I have ever read on psychology. There are many other books, but very few like this one by Daniel Kahneman that teach it so nicely and lucidly.

What book would you rather read? Or write, for that matter?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Flinch, the e-book

I saw this post yesterday at The Domino Project on a new e-book - they are giving away for free named Flinch. More than the name, the cover made me curious. What the hell is this about. The preview on Amazon was superb. (It resonated with something I was doing!)

And instead of me expounding it, go download this glorious ebook on Kindle - Flinch which does it so well.

For some strange reason, it is free. So, dont waste your time and go download and read it (it works in India as well). I have started reading it and the book is lively and punchy!

10,000 hours

A significant part of my job goes around answering the question, "How does one increase domain knowledge?"

There are no easy answers to this, but there is a short answer and that answer is experience. Now experience, does not mean standing the non-strikers end in a cricket match all day long- though that too is undoubtedly experience. Experience means, real, solid, experience of doing things. In short practice. There is no shortcut. Read that again. There is no shortcut except putting in real solid hours of practice.

Read this story of 2 pilots and how a simple error made things go catastrophically wrong. Reading through the entire thing will only make you realize that the pilots, a) disregarded some common protocol and b) substituted it with the wrong protocol and c) failed to identify checkpoints and take appropriate action. Why did that happen? Because, they were never exposed to a particular situation.

Now they are flying planes - that carry people - so their trainings are about the best in the world - all across. The last thing you want is planes dropping out of the sky. So, in general, they are trained to respond to particular situations in a particular way. They call it the checklist (do read Atul Gawandes, epic book, The Checklist Manifesto on the same topic).

How is all of this related to domain knowledge - which in my view is a much abused word in the IT, ITES, BPO and KPO industry today?

Every company head or business head or account manager wants the training team to deliver "domain knowledge".

Unfortunately, they cannot. But they wont admit in as many words and respond like governments do in disaster hit areas. They respond by airdropping trainings. Whoever grabs a package gets a bit of food. Unfortunately, that does not really solve their hunger problem. The airdropping helps you survive one more day - they need to be rescued out of the situation. In the same way, dropping trainings on people wont help them. They need to be "rescued" - and that means, offered means to get out - and that means practice. Wherever practice is encouraged, there you will see knowledge bloom.

You cannot have domain knowledge unless the employee has had sufficient practice. Which means, if you dont have simulators, sandboxes, jam sessions, "Olympics", that let people practice, watch themselves, talk about it, spar and learn, there is no way in hell they are going to know beyond the obvious routine mechanical things that are put on their plates.

Ask yourself this question. Are your employees getting 10,000 hours of practice doing real stuff that leads to domain knowledge?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pull versus Push

Imagine you have a choice of trainings.

One is a training format with teams competing against each other in predetermined subjects in a league format. Each team "owner" gets to select a captain, coach and then they build their team from there on. From that point on, it is the teams responsibility to build their skills so that they could win the competition. The members of the team were purely volunteers - so there was no conscription.

Contrast this with a training where you attend as individuals, show up for classes and a stick hanging over your head in case you miss a class. The mode of instruction is classes - normal facilitator led sessions spread over a few days. At the end you give an exam which decided if you pass or fail. Imagine that both of these have a spread of about 6-8 weeks.

Which one would you choose and why?

Sure, the same commitment is required for both and the people who are committed in one will also be committed to the other. But dont you think that the former will get you a wider level of interest and audience participation than the latter? Which one of these is pull and which is push? Are both pull - but for difference audiences? OR are both push?

I would vote for pull anytime...whatever makes people do what they are doing by their own volition, they do it because they want to do it rather than they doing it for someone else or somebody else's targets!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Does technology impede learning - 1

When I was a little boy, I had the chance to go to a traditional mantra class. Like Bal Vihar classes organized by the Chinmaya mission or Carnatic music classes, the teaching was purely oral. Our Guruji explicitly prohibited the use of books - as he said it impeded the learning - which placed a lot of emphasis of intonations and pronunciations and rhythm. He was able to resist it so far - books were available very easily and so the books made inroads into our class. And he was right - the books did impede the learning for some (the older ones who could read Devanagri). That was temporarily though. Later on, they got used to using the books when they had a doubt or some such. And for me it proved useful when I wanted to pick up the threads of the mantra where I had left it off. If I did not have to access to a book, that learning would have been lost forever.

Why I say this is because I am sure when books first made their appearance, people reliant on traditional methods must have cried hoarse saying that the "new" technology will "impede" learning.

One more example. While growing up, my mother often told me about the "mental sums" that they were encouraged to do while in school. She opined that the lack of mental maths was making our understanding of maths that much difficult. And that we did too much of "statement sums" with "Step marking". Tough to say if it did or did not, but my road in maths was not easy. Many years later, I did get over the fear of maths and became quite comfortable with it. I mean, it is like not liking a vegetable - karela of example. I would never order a main dish of karela, but if it is there as part of the course, I might try it out. Ditto maths. I would never have majored in maths, but was able to sail through engineering with a generous use of calculators.

Moving to to calculators. My dad learnt engineering using slide rules and log tables. I had the power of a scientific calculator while I studied. The next generation would probably have a computer (or more likely, a cellphone) handy.

It is arguable that each of these technological advancements - writing, calculators etc. slowed down the progress of learning. Just that I dont agree. Each technical advancement makes us able to rise to better challenges.

To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it."

This is my thought for those who think that the internet or Google is making us stupid. We could have argued the same on libraries or books or anything else that we have advanced over the years!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Push cars and the future of learning

Push cars is one of the new game app on the Apple Store. We downloaded this quite by chance.
It takes off where "Unblock me" (video above) and its parking counterpart (same game using cars) left.

Myself and the little one have been playing this with gusto for the past few weeks (except somewhere during the iOS5 upgrade, the game went kaput). There are versions of physical unblock mes available - and are used quite widely in schools as part of their co-curricular (usually paid separately) activities.

Where push cars scores is making the whole damn thing so mobile, and just so simple. The bad cars have to crash while the good cars have to escape. Every city introduces a new car (good or bad) with slightly complex features and keeping it all in mind, one has to ensure that the good cars escape and the bad cars crash.

The levels are not simple. And require quite a bit of contrarian thinking to make it work. And yes, they are far better than mindless single person shooting games - there is no exposure to mindless violence.

I believe that playing such games enhances childrens (and adults) thinking skills - far more than when they are taught about thinking skills. It is self driven, quite challenging yet solvable, the mind is open and receptive as well and they learn by doing. Unbeatable combination!

Is this the future of learning?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Good and Bad

The little one and the father prepared for yet another story session. A common routine for us is that every now and then, the little one will bring something he has created - a drawing, a model or something - and we have to create a story out of those things. The story usually has no limits - you can concoct the most implausible story with those things.

This time it was two small ship models - armed to the teeth with dazzling weaponry and bristling with technological capability that has not yet been invented or perhaps even conceived of.

"Here are the two ships. Which one do you want?" he says, offering me something with no real choice. I take it.
"I want to be the good ship. Now tell me what do you want to be?"
"I will also be the good ship."

"What? If both ships are good, then what story will we make?"

I smiled at the observation. We did make a story with no "bad", but he had stumbled on a very basic question, had he not!

Friday, November 4, 2011

How to communicate

A few years back, I had the great opportunity to sit in one of the trainings conducted by this “one man army”. He blew us away by his knowledge, his timing and his ability to hold nearly a room full of people with about 10 odd years of technology experience. So, with about 15 people, effectively it came to about 150 years of experience. And he was able to convince us all – regardless of what questions we threw at him – on the subject at hand. The best part of it was that he was not the slick, suave, savvy presenter that you think would do this. His language was quite rusty – not some convent educated fake accented English – he did not use any jargon – he used a lot of common sense and simple examples and in my books, he will perhaps be the best trainer who I have ever trained under. Why? He was able to connect with the audience like no other. No fake smiles, no brotherhood – just pure subject matter expertise – and ability to relate and connect with people and their field of work.

That actually took me back to a performance I had attended many years back. Actually couple of them. The Chakyar Koothu (I have had the privilege of attending more than one of these sessions by a master story teller, who is no more) is one example as are the professional traditional story tellers. They are usually seen at festivals and they tell stories. It is usually one person telling the story and they are usually accompanied by one or two musicians. They break into a song or a quote from the scriptures or joke about or even dramatize a bit. But each point they make drives the story ahead. And each digression they make brings them back to the main story. Each audience example they quote hammers the point into the audiences head. Great communicators they are – as much as they are great influencers. They hold the audience spellbound with their delivery.

Watch any great TED talk and you will find that much is common to the above two paragraphs as well.

And in the end there is no difference between a great facilitator or a great story teller…

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Trainings I loved

I distinctly remember the first training I loved. Perhaps it was on day 1 or day 4 as a management trainee. It was a full day session and run by this very friendly gentleman. I don’t recall the topics that we discussed that day nor do I recall the whole objective of it, but it did make us all feel very good. The exercises they made us do and the way it was structured all made for some really good “feel good” factor. As management trainee, I really thought, I had arrived – as did the others in our batch. And it was done, unconventionally for us at that time – which has now become the new conventional. We were used to classroom seating – this one had conference room seating. We were used to dull drab presentations, this one blew our minds away. And I remember the facilitator had great personality – he could build rapport in an instant and all of us connected with him. There were group exercises and de-briefs and it was a challenge for all us management trainees to outdo the other. Overall, a great learning experience.

The second training which I loved was the “first time managers” training in a very well known global software services company. It was a “rites of passage” as well – and we will cover that at some point. But they way it was done – as an outbound training is still fresh in my mind. From then on, I have been to many an outbound and offsite training, but even today, I would rate this particular training higher than the rest. So, what made this different and what keeps it so different even today? The first thing was the fact that the duration was about a couple of days. The second was that the training was quite intensive. The third was that it was quite experiential – there were more self learnings than the things that the instructor taught us. We had travelled out as a group and came back as a group. The bonding that the group had was amazing – something I have not come across ever. (This was one aspect that I felt could have been better tapped, but that’s for another day.)

The third training I distinctly remember was this training conducted by an individual (actually there were two like this at separate points in time). This was a fairly technical training and the trainer was professional and extremely knowledgeable and had great facilitation skills. I have not come across this deadly combination ever after. Either people have knowledge but cannot really share or facilitate. There are others who are great communicators but lack in depth or the ability to talk to the trainees “in their language”. And there are some who are just professionals who know a narrow interpretation of their worlds and are unwilling to look beyond it.

So, the first two trainings were different for me at that time, but the third example of normal classroom trainings completed the circle of what memorable trainings are all about.

Great facilitation, time commitment, group bonding, challenges and self learning - have I missed something?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Everything can be re-imagined!

I read and re-read this article multiple times.The camera has been re-imagined, again! (link via @lukew)

And that too without a megapixel notation next to its name! And it is not too long ago, in this generation, that the camera went digital from analogue. We barely have said goodbye to film cameras, haven’t we? And I purchased my first digital camera in 2000 – and felt good to be part of a digital revolution. The camera was the Sony DSCP something – which gave me a grand 2 megapixel resolution. Today that camera would perhaps command a place in a museum – given its rather chunky design and weight. And now this – the Lytro camera is almost a requiem to SLRs and all those knobs and buttons and things that you needed to create a great picture.

Hell. This is crazy is it not.

Just a few years back, we saw those chunky keyboards on phones being replaced and now they are all over. Even as we speak, the PC and laptop era is going away - and giving way to the tablet revolution and those keyboards we grew up with will be history. And before we take a breath to pause, voice recognition “Siri” is promising to be the first of many steps in which our interaction with machines will change drastically and dramatically.

Think about it. Everything can be changed. Everything. Everything that you thought as ubiquitous is disappearing.

And when was the last time you dusted your training that you plan to offer to those unsuspecting audiences yet again?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Staying contemporary II

So, if that is not the way to training people on customer service what is? I have not crystallized on an idea right away, but there are some formative thoughts.

But more than that, as a trainer, it is important that a training deliver cutting edge stuff to you. Especially when it comes to senior managers. Usually companies have a culture of service (by and large) - when you train frontline management it is important that we reinforce the culture (how do you do it - therein lies a later post). But as you go higher up, what does one do? What do they expect out of it? What can we give them that we already dont know? Most senior managers would be well read in those usual suspects - the HBRs, the McKinseys and other magazines. So, giving them anything out of any of these publications would be a waste of time for them. And mind you, most of these publications are not necessarily ahead of the curve as much as they are on the curve.

So, what constitutes your trainings? How do you get them? How do you keep your trainings contemporary? How do you stay contemporary as a trainer?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Staying contemporary

I recently underwent a training on something related to Customers. I forget what it was - Customer Focus or Customer Corner or Diagonal or something. And I came out of it feeling quite lost. The first half an hour into the program I could sense that it was not getting anywhere - but at that point I asked my intuition to stay put and tried to see if I could get through to what the person was going after. After all, an open mind is essential for any learning to happen. So I tried.

The examples of exemplary customer service offered were the same. Nokia, Google, Apple, Fedex and Southwest airlines. Well, trainers, grow up.

Nokia was big 10 years back. Today it is being chased by Micromax at the lower end and Apple at all other ends. HTC and Samsung have redefined itself and me, a Nokia loyalist myself for many years now switched to Samsung. All around me - friends are opting out of Nokia and its market share is steadily dropping. Hardly an example of great customer service.

Apple, yes - but really at Apples core are its genius products - not really the traditional notion of "customer service" - which, really, if you asked any customer for their needs - nobody would be able to define the iPod or the iPhone or iPad in the way that we see it today. Google, slightly different, but not very - it is mostly about technical genius.

Fedex and Southwest - well, how many of us use Fedex on a daily basis and as for Southwest, they dont fly in India. And this is what gets my goat. If customer service is only about regurgitating what is found in textbooks - then it is not a training on customer service.

I could go on and on. But think about it - how does one teach customer service or customer focus or customer whatever to your participants? Surely there is a better way?

Learning from Steve

Perhaps the one person who has captured the imagination of the learning community in recent times - is an unlikely man. But of course, he has inspired everybody. From rocket scientists to ordinary trainers. I am talking about Steve Jobs - who needs no introduction.

What if our vision for trainings were like Steve Jobs vision for Apple? What if our trainings made people go wow when they went through it? What if we could make people wait for our trainings and book it in advance and wait for their turn with bated breath? What if every upgrade of our trainings (and I know most trainings are not upgraded in centuries) made people drool? What if...

Thank you Steve!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Phineas and Ferb

Try an experiment. Hear this video and see how much of the lyrics you can follow - its a lovely catchy song and all that, but see how much of the lyrics you can follow at first try or second or third....

Now hear the same after seeing the lyrics...

Now try the same with this video (another good song from the same series)

And here are the lyrics...

Dont know about you, but for me it is far more easier to follow the lyrics once I have read the lyrics!!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

iPod and learning

The little ones have taken to the iPod like fishes to water. No, I exaggerate. They get only limited time and access to it. I am talking about the iPod touch. The games in it are quite a learning experience. The younger one learnt colours using the iPod - there are a couple of apps - Learn colours with fruits and Learn colours with vegetables.

This was quite apparent - a totally new way to play with some learning was bound to be a hit.

But the other aspect of this is what I seen in the older one. His drawings and colours have taken a "great leap". The vividness and richness of colour and the levels of details have taken off after he has played a few games on the iPod - especially "Storm in a tea cup".

Also, games like "Push Cars" and "Rail Maze" really make you think in different way to arrive at a desired solution.

More on this later...but surely the iPod is a great tool for learning. Are your trainings making your people think?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Theory of multiple intelligences

Howard Gardners theory of multiple intelligences is well known. The intelligences listed are Spatial, Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Naturalistic.

I am not sure if Existential intelligence is added as an intelligence or not - the wiki entry sort of confused me. But I suspect that it exists - it almost classifies as spiritual intelligence - or what can be called perhaps a higher state of awareness.

I also strongly suspect that there are other intelligences that we are not yet aware of or explored - or perhaps present in too few individuals to be captured at a global level.

I dont remember which book I read this in -where it said that as much as we would find a tribal newly introduced to urban life to be fairly stupid - the reverse would be true too. Most of us, removed from our urban habitat will be a complete loss in a village or a tribal settlement. And we attribute much of what we do to our intelligence - yet a lot of this would be useless in different context. Which is why I believe, the entire spectrum of intelligence is not really explored. For example, other than the above, highly accomplished artists or cooks or spiritual persons might be people with some more intelligences that are not yet really documented.

The future sure looks interesting.

Each one of us should explore each of these intelligences to see if we can become good at it - or at the very least, expose the brain to a side which it would not naturally explore.

I have tried it and each new thing we learn, if not anything, it sharpens the mind...

Monday, August 22, 2011

The child prodigy

When I was at violin class, there was a prodigy alongwith me. He was the teachers pet. He could do anything on the violin - while we lesser mortals struggled. On the face of it, his ability was sheer talent. But, as I grew up, I realized that it was neither talent nor was it self motivation - it was more of practice and discipline. Not taking away anything from the kids or parents (and they both surely did a lot for the child to reach there).

If a chlid starts at age 5 - anything - be it violin or music or dance or karate - it is hard for a child to be self motivated. You typically cannot start anything before that - except perhaps swimming or cycling, but age 5 plus is when you can start most things. The one way to be self motivated is when the child people around her do all of these things - which is why in a musical household - the children learn much faster - because the learning not by catching the child and plonking them down in front of a teacher - but they learn by seeing whats happening around them. Everybody is singing - they sing too - they think it is the natural thing to do.

Corollary: If our child is learning to watch TV, the chances that we are sitting around watching TV are extremely high. If your child is learning to read  - the chances that you have spent time with her reading aloud is very high.

That is stage zero. The next stage where the child has to be made to put in effort to learn something. So, if it is a musical household, the child is made to put in the effort with various members of the household or if they run a class with various students. This is the difficult stage. Putting in effort is difficult for children. It is tough for adults - so you can imagine how it is for children. Here parents, teachers or guardians put in the effort to make the child learn. It is not easy - especially in an age like this where there are many distractions and "enjoyments". A fair amount of rigor is required.

After this stage, the child probably gets to enter competitions, get encouragement and knows that "she is good". It is only after this level that self motivation kicks in - atleast to some extent - but the parents and guardians and teachers and coaches continue their work.

This is my theory. It has fitted in well with almost anybody I have known till now. Is it right? What are the lessons that can be drawn from it from a training perspective?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Multiple intelligences in Tamland

This is essentially a Tam post. Before the Englishmen had their industrial revolution and passed on some skills to the Indians who in turn made gadgets which robbed the Tams of their prized skills. Yes, Tam land was a glorious land - a land where supermaamas and supermaamis walked the earth.

But hell, this is a learning blog, what is all this Tam culture doing here? I am trying to imagine if Howard Gardner had to map the skills of Tam to his theory of multiple intelligences, what would have happened? What were the skills expected of an average maama or maami in the 19th century? or early 20th century?

Let us try. Take a typical Tam day that begins at 5 am. (Mind you, 530 IS LATE - wake up you stupid fool and find a kick landing on your backside.) I dont know if waking up in the morning is a skill - but before it becomes a habit, it has to be practiced. In a Tam household it is not very difficult considering that even the insects in the house follow the time to a T. And besides at 445 itself stray elders would have started pottering around for their cup of coffee and the accompanying noise would even shake up polar bears out of hibernation.

Cooker whistles go off around 525. Doing what only god knows - even cookers would not be ready for this sort of stress testing. Damn - there were no cookers in the 19th century. No. This is not getting anywhere. Lets try again.

Let us look at all the skills that are expected of a Tam - man or woman and you will see that the demands were quite a bit - from an intelligence standpoint.

Ok. Let us just go step by step. Early morning bath - no intelligence, but surely needs a lot of willpower. Milking the cow - one needs something called empathy - how to empathise with animals perhaps. Wow - I think I have discovered an intelligence already.

Second, putting a kolam on the floor for ordinary occasions - or putting bigger ones for bigger occasions - solid combination of spatial and artistic intelligence. Wow. Is that another one? 

Ever tried to make a kai murukku - it needs a combination of spatial and kinesthetic intelligence. It is almost a work of art. I still cannot make one (and I am no standard - since I cannot even get a round chapati right), but amma can make one effortlessly.

And then grinding on two types of stones - one, the larger one for bigger quantities and the smaller one for obviously, smaller quantities. This is another damn skill - quite difficult to acquire and physically quite demanding as well. No wonder, maamis never went to gym and were in ship shape. What intelligence? Well, I dont know - just practice I guess. Is cooking an intelligence? I dont know. Thats too much of discovery for one post - will leave it at that.

For catching up and keeping with all the neighbourhood gossip, one needs both intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence. And without language-verbal skills, can you beat the maamis in debate - no chance. No doubts on that front.

Most maamis were expected to know singing at the very least. Most maamas were expected to know raaga, taala and atleast a musical instrument apart from numerous shlokas and mantras. Surely, musical and existential intelligence was required.

Maths and logical skill were not prized for Tams  - I suppose - but many people have it. Especially when it comes to comparing kitchen vessels and looking at jewellery from a distance and estimating the weight and subsequent value marked to market. I suspect having these skills made maamis supermaamis and gave their progeny 180 plus IQ.

What else? More later, as I develop my own intelligence...


I am not sure what is easier. Working 8 hours at your job or getting the little one to do abacus homework. One is obviously about self motivation and the second is motivating someone else. We have tried different methods - Saam, Daam, Dand and Bhed! But one thing that is not mentioned in the above 4 is - Competition.

What is working now is that me and the little one have a race. I calculate on the calculator and he on the abacus. And both of us are supposed to get the same answer - that is my objective. His objective is more about racing the calculator and me. And is it working? Yes, in limited doses it does work. Empathetic teaching - where he is allowed to take breaks when he wants to and play alongside the competition seems to help more than fervent appeals or telling him about future benefits which he has no clue about.

This is the current trick which is working - many other tricks have long outlived their utility. And therein lies an important learning - you can fool the mind for some time with the same trick or can you fool the mind for a long time with a bag of tricks, but unless the mind is convinced from within - there is no way long term learning and sustained learning will happen! (Actually this is debatable - but there is a tipping point which makes it happen -more on that later).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Show and Tell

A few weeks back, the little one had a show and tell. Now, I am of the firm belief that a show and tell should not be mugged - or rote learnt. Then how to get the child to say what he is supposed to say flawlessly?

Here is what worked for me. I gave him the object - in this case a huge envelope look alike on a cardpaper with illustrated stamp, to and from address. And using the prop as a mnemonic, he had to say just a sentence or two on each point.

So,he started off from the letter, then came from the top left to bottom right - starting at the stamp, followed by to address and then the from address. It went off like a dream.

This was followed by something where he had to speak for a minute on the family. So, we got our points and asked him what would he like to talk on. His thought was a simple one. First about the family as a whole, then its components and what we like to do together.

In both the cases, using his thought process made us give him a script that he can never forget - because it is his thought converted into a script. Very often, we impose our script on the child with the result that the child has to stop his natural thought process and imbibe a newer one.

This is exactly the same thing that would have happened at our first speech or elocution. We would ask someone else to write - which is a reflection of their thought process - and we try to superimpose that on our own thought process. And in a situation that we are familiar with, our thought process gives in to the strain of remembering that is not its own. End result -we "forgot" our speech. Well, we forgot it because it was not ours in the first place!

I still have to figure out how to make it work if the show and tell is a longer one, but this will perhaps be the broad guideline! Be Natural!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hand cricket

Hand cricket is a form of lazy cricket that I have seen in Bangalore. It may be prevalent in other cities as well, but it was surely was not there while I grew up. (We had something on the lines of book cricket and we used it while away free time in school.)From the looks of it, it seems invented to use in school buses or other areas where there is less space like school benches or queues.

The rules of hand cricket seem complex. But it is simple and quite intuitive. Two boys (and it is usually boys) play something that looks like rapid dumb charades displaying what looks like numbers. The numbers on a closer look mirror the runs in cricket - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Except 6, the rest are quite intuitive. There is a bowler and a batsman - and if their runs match, the batsman gets out - there are but one or two other ways in which a batsman can get out. The boys play this quite rapidly - with the added benefit that their counting ability improves at a rapid rate. The passion of the game is evident in their eyes when they play. It is tough to put it in words, but it is truly amazing to see them play.

The side benefits are many, but thats for later.

What is really is amazing the speed at which they pick up this game at about age 6 mostly. Really quick learning - barely a day is required for them to pick it up and hit the ground running (or gesturing). They play the game all the way till they reach school and presumably in school as well when they get some time. They have entire "tournaments" based on this.

Learning happens when it is of great interest in a peer group. Competitive learning comes into action as well. Great to see it in action. Can actually be tapped in real life training programs, eh?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Blue Gandhi

Last year, a little after Gandhi Jayanti, I was at my sons class attending a routine Parents Teacher meeting. After the usual meeting and greeting, it was time to go back. And as is my wont, my eyes wandered around the class and I noticed that the teacher had pinned up various Mahatma Gandhi's coloured by the children. These were the outline of the face of Mahatma Gandhi that had been distributed to the children and they were presumably instructed to colour it. The faces were all coloured identically - orange and yellow in some combination. I looked around and it did seem like all the childrens drawings were there spread across the many boards in the class.

Not able to spot my sons drawing, and knowing that he would usually know where any of his stuff is pinned up, I asked the little one, "Where is your drawing?"
"The teacher did not put mine on the board." he said, quite indignantly
"Why?" I asked curious to know
"Because I coloured Mahatma Gandhis face with blue crayon when the teacher asked us to use yellow and orange."
"Why did you use blue?"
"I felt it would look nicer."

I smiled a little - imagining a blue Gandhi in my head. As I tried to figure out it could look, sure enough, he pulled it out from his bag, he showed me, very confidently - the Blue Mahatma Gandhi that was his prized creation. Yes, Mahatma Gandhi did look a little funny with a blue face to my eyes but who was I to judge his choice. The blue Gandhi was not like the others at all. It was quite different. But, I am sure, the great man himself would not have minded. He would have smiled and patted the childs head.

That set me thinking.

Very often, it is the notice board that is our goal - to be there with the others and that is not decided by us, but by someone else in charge - and getting through the gatekeeper means conforming to the requirements of the gatekeeper. And in that process, we often, compromise our own thinking and sometimes what we stand for as well.

The Blue Gandhi is now one of my prized possessions - something that reminds me to be myself when all the crowd aspires for something else.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Practice is the key

Over the course of our life - day in and day out - we gather/learn lot through our 5 senses. Out of that, what sticks in our minds? And why is that? Undoubtedly bad memories last for a long long time - and so do good. And both of these can be triggered by certain "triggers" - in the absence of a better word. But in the context of this post, I dont mean just memories - I mean, things we learn. But as you will see, memory is an important part of the learning process.

Click here to see the types of memory.

A typical example of how we learn something is best explained using the bicycling paradigm. The four stages of competence. We start from "unconscious incompetence" - I dont know I know. Then we move to "conscious incompetence" - I know I dont know. Then "conscious competence" - where we need to put in effort to learn. And finally, the rewarding stage - "unconscious competence" where the learning is internalized.

Each of the memory types listed can be "trained" in the learning process - as depicted in the Atkinson Shiffrin model.

But leave that aside for the moment - can we learn anything or memorize learning without practice? In my view, that is just not possible. Anything that you learn needs practice and sustained practice. And while we do practice, it is also about the right technique. Take anything - Swimming, Driving, Kayaking, Music, Dance - expertise in any art or subject is all about the technique and practice that ultimately results in it becoming a "unconscious competence".

If practice is the key, how to use it in behavioural training delivery?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The surprising truth about what motivates us!

Superb video. Dont miss it - if you havent already seen it.

Where good ideas come from!

Another great video. Take a look.

The story of stuff

A great example of storytelling - using vivid illustrations - and this is only about Bottled water. The whole series can be seen here - lovely stuff. All part of a project called "The story of stuff".

On memory and passion

When I was in school - about 10 years old - I used to go to shloka classes to learn the Rudram and the Chamakam among other things. OK. That's a lie. My father used to send me to those classes and I used to go because I had no choice. Here is where I learnt, by experience, that you can take the horse to the water, but cannot make it drink.

The prime reason I did not like those classes was because they clashed with those stupid DD soaps of those times. Come of think of it, those miserable soaps. Luckily my father won - and thankfully I realized it about 15 years later.

As you might have guessed, I went to those classes, but did not learn. For 5 long years, I went and did not learn. These classes were taught in the traditional gurukul system - with the guru leading and the students repeating it twice. Pure auditory learning. No books given or encouraged - books were allowed at your own risk. Books make you focus more on the text and less on the diction and comprehension the guru argued.

The age groups were phenomenal. From 5 to 55 under one roof. And there were not more than 10 students - with about 7 attending regularly. I was among the latter. And yet, I did not learn beyond the first few paras - exactly the point where I lost interest.

Somewhere along the way, studies took the drivers seat and I found it a convenient excuse to stop these mantra classes. And like a hidden treasure I carried my learning with me. No. That's a lie again. It was there with me.

And then one day, like many human beings, I figured that this knowledge was useful (long story for some other time). And in a span of a week - I learnt what I had resisted for 5 years. Shows what passion can do, can it not? With passion learning is easy - without passion, learning is all but impossible.

So, what does one do? Especially with children? Wait till show passion in something? Or do you decide for them? Or can you, as parent or guardian or teacher be the talent scout? More on this later - not that I have the answers.

On Teachers

During my random survey with my friends on the teachers they have encountered through school or college, my findings have generally been similar. Over the course of the entire school and college, we would have typically encountered no less than 100 teachers, if not more. The real figure is closer to 200, if you were among those who went to coaching classes and tuitions. And yet if you ask them how many teachers they remember from their school or college days (for what they taught), most of the answers are in single digits.

Think about it. Barely 5-10 percent of your teachers are "good" - that you remember them 15-20 years later. It's a travesty is it not? That the nearly 15 to 18 odd years we spend studying, we barely remember a few teachers.

So, here is the story of one such teacher who has left an everlasting impression in my mind.

Metallurgy, as a subject, to those who do not know about it, can be interesting as watching paint dry. And that in essence is what great teachers are about. They can bring about even the driest subject to life - and it goes without saying that the opposite is true for bad teachers.

So this professor walks into the first day of Metallurgy class in second year engineering and asks us "What have you heard about this subject?"
And one of us, replies "We have heard that it is a boring subject"
And he replies, with supreme confidence in his usual unflappable self that we came to associate with him over time "I will prove to you that Metallurgy is an interesting subject. I would have failed in my job if you go back thinking that this is a boring subject."

Over a semester, prove he did. His passion for the subject was evident as was his deep knowledge (is one possible without the other?). He managed to transfer this passion to a few of the students. Whatever else he did, he managed to have good attendance in his class (notorious as engineering students are, this was a big achievement).

So what made him a great teacher? His passion in the subject. His ability to transfer this passion to his students. His ability to "pull" students into the subject. And the way he taught, undoubtedly. He was sharp, no doubt. Post engineering I sold many of my books, but the metallurgy one still remains with me.

The man himself went on to become a great storyteller. CPN was what we called him - Narayan Parasuram is his name. And I am sure you would have heard of the company he created...Karadi tales. I am honoured to have been taught metallurgy by him. Hats off to you Sir.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Journey into Learning

It is unlikely that you would have spotted this blog. In the unlikely event that you have spotted this blog, I welcome you here.

This is a space where I plan to share my rather serendipitous journey into the world of learning. If someone told me ten years ago that I would be planning for a career in learning and training, I would have laughed at them. But thats how it is. If I knew what I would be doing ten years ago whats the fun in it.

But then, as life would have it, here I am, heading a Training team. And enjoying it immensely. These are some of my own learnings in this space which I hope to share. Thank you for coming here and I hope you enjoy your time here!

After all, life is learning, is it not?