Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What makes an amazing learning experience?

This is just from my personal experience. So, your experience may vary. Here are the key snippets from some of my most amazing learning experiences:

Professor: Metallurgy, at college: Passion for subject, deep knowledge. Ability to transmit that passion to students. No rigid rules, but a firm belief that passionate students will get it - and by the way, most of the class did. Being far and strict as far as work was concerned. No patience with those who wanted to crack the exam, but a lot of patience with those who wanted to learn.

There were a couple of other teachers - notably one in Marketing, Operations research, International Business, a couple at classes we went to who taught Calculus, Organic Chemistry. Each of them had a distinct style. But what was common was deep knowledge and an ability to get students 'hooked' onto the subject.

Teacher: Martial Arts: Passion. Crazy passion. Dedication. A great performer himself - the man was amazing. He taught everybody with equal passion. Favorite sentence: "If you walk out of the gym, you aren't doing enough - you need to crawl out of it." Repeating steps till students got it right. Walking the path with students. No air of superiority at all. Never ever.

Learning on the go: One fine day the vice president calls me, a management trainee and says, now you go handle the 3 crore banking funds yourself from tomorrow. And you have your mentor there who will handle accounts and help you. That was something. Working fast, really fast - managing funds in a company that had almost no funds with production dependent on funds from us, supplies screaming at us and finally at one point, the banker calls us up and asks for the rules that he is supposed to know. His logic, "You guys do this everyday, you probably know more than us."

Swimming with the sharks: Many of my earlier assignments were the kind where the learning was live. Crazy clients, new software, tricky business, experienced partners and a lot of crazy learning. I wish these could be taught, but  mostly the learning here was the hard fall (the fails, if you will) kinds. You fall, you rise, and then rinse, repeat and by the time the project is done, you are a changed person. 48 hours working nonstop, weekends spent at work, trying to crack an unsolvable problem - that eureka moment, things going wrong, being held responsible but ultimately being able to deliver. The testing team that I had set up, grew up from being at the receiving end of developers to taking the lead by figuring out how to crack the code.

Many such examples, but the best learning happens on the go - and they are far more powerful. Doesn't mean that is the only way to do it, but if there is a way to replicate 80% of it, you have got it. But human survival instinct knows that  a simulation is a simulation and reality is reality. Which is why the army trains its people so much in simulated environments that reality is actually easier than the simulated environment (that is overstated for the bullets are real in reality).

Learning from other life experiences, learning from elders, learning what to do from good managers, learning what not to do from bad...life is full of them.

And that is interesting, none of them are trainings (the metallurgy was a class, the teachers were all in classroom trainings and mostly about preparation for exams - the martial arts was a learn/do, learn/do sequence and of course, very effective)! That is food for thought for us learning experience developers eh? But that is not surprising is it. Because a training is not about getting everything done.

So, what does a training do? A training can only give you the tools. What you do with it is what makes a learning experience and a reality. The training given at the right time can take you to a different level. But there are certain situations where training cannot be given that way - because reality is way too fast to take a training break. Trainings can be good and fun too.

So, what is a training? It can give you the practice, the help, the tools, the coaching before the big match (or exam or project or sale). Ultimately the big match has to be played by the participant and the learning experience has to be measured there.

(Training) I can only show you the door, you have to walk through it.

So, how to make those practice, the tools, the coaching stick? Work well? Isn't that our job!

So, where does that leave training? Is there no value for training at all? Not all. Each of these swimming with the sharks experience could have been made smoother with some training. That is the value of training. Every realtime mistake costs the company time and money, not to mention stress. And that is the ultimate takeaway for us in the learning profession. What is the business problem you are trying to solve?

1 comment:

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