Saturday, May 30, 2015

An archaeological expedition

The vacations are coming to an end. The vacation for education is the human civilizational equivalent of disappearing cities. The books have all been covered with layers of mud, forests and infested with dangerous animals - mostly amnesia inducing. But the schools are about to reopen. And those ancient cities need to be discovered. Again. Now.

The discovery is not easy though. The locals say that such cities never existed. The little ones deny that they were ever educated in the alphabet. In fact they are quite sure that certain alphabets do not exist in the Devanagari script. Satellite images clearly show the presence of lost cities under the earth, but the people around are not convinced. Old books have been produced, with their own writing to show that they were once educated in this language. However, a combination of amnesia and denial can do many things to civilization. And only the bravest of the brave archaeologists can delve deep into the mounds, brave the snakes and animals and dig out those forgotten artefacts of civilization.

Two alphabets which were reported missing have been found after much effort. There is still an attempt to deny that these alphabets never existed in the Devanagari script. These are the two alphabets that were needed. If alphabets can disappear, you can imagine that the grammar structure which held the language must have vanished altogether.

All in all, we are now ready for the great archaeological expedition. Armed with tools, we need to dig deep and discover those alphabets. Rebuild those grammar structure so that at some point in time, the edifices stand up to their erstwhile glory. (Pardon the euphemism, but there were no edifices - they were just fragile structures that needed a bit of a light breeze to topple them over.) But yes, we have begun. Two missing alphabets have been traced. The range of other discoveries will be known only as we undertake this perilous expedition.

The expedition to unearth the forgotten cities of Hindi. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Innovation at your level...

Solving a problem..Innovation...whatever you want to call it!

A useful video to share...

On unlearning, learning and bias

It is one of those things that do not need explanation! Worth a watch this one...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

On challenges

Some years ago at a job interview a candidate told me, "I am looking for a challenge that is why I am looking for a new job"

And I asked him,"Why is staying at your current job not challenging enough?"

A few days ago, the little one was building yet another complex contraption with his building blocks and was stuck. He said, this is difficult.

And off went the parental machine,"Well everything is difficult. Things take time and effort. And you know it. But ask yourself how come you do these challenges very well with patience, time and effort while other challenges like Hindi make you crib"

"I don't like Hindi"

Yes, in both cases, challenges are challenges only if the mind sees an element of positiveness in them.  If the learner does not accept your challenge as a challenge but as a drudgery then you have lost the battle.

The 'why' has to be established in the learners mind - and then challenges become challenges worth taking up...

Games and Trainings

Each time one downloads a new game app - the most likely reason is curiosity. Which is really, "Let me see what it is about." And in an area that we are interested in - that is the big pull. Do I care. If I do not, the existence of it is invisible.

Once you download, what sustains the interest for that immediate trial is the novelty - because it is different - either the genre or the treatment or the format or something like that. The second is the challenge - how easy or difficult is it. And the trick is for it to be exactly in the middle  - not too easy not too difficult. And from then on, it is all about sustaining interest - are we progressing while maintaining the level of interest and challenge and that the parents do not see it as a waste of time and so on so forth.

Until now, only two games have sustained our interest beyond 6 months. Take it Easy and Clash of Clans (now deleted because it was eating up too much time of parent and kid). Threes made it for a few weeks but the challenge got too difficult. Push Cars - we finished it all within 3 months and tried it for a second time. Dragon box  - a superlative app that makes maths as addictive as Clash of Clans. Morris Lessmore was a hit for a briefish while.

A bunch of programming games were downloaded on the premise of it being very exciting (parent) - but they were dismissed by the customer (kid). And so were many other games similar to CoC. Racing games were too fast. Word games too complex (for them). Some too slow. Some too clunky and so on an so forth.

Cut to training.

What makes a good learning experience? One is novelty - of the learning goal and method regardless of the topic. If instead of a person standing in front of you, you see a game board or a set of things or something different - how would that make you feel? The caveat - novelty for the sake of novelty is passe - the audience has to care about the topic at hand - and if that is not happening then one needs to know why and how to create that interest and so on (and perhaps eat humble pie that the audience does not care). (The easiest thing is to do what the audience cares about.) So, the novelty has to be established to take you forward to whatever the learners have come to learn. (I am looking for a strategy game - any new thing in a racing game won't attract me, but a new flavor of a strategy game will.)

The second is usually, "show me something new" and not new for sake of it, but new in a way that adds value to me. That is insight. Even if it is plain old presentation skills, give me insight, that  I can use. Clearly, a whats in it for me question. It doesn't matter which one you establish first - but both these need to be established as part of the experience. (Learning maths by stealth as an example)

Third, within the learning experience, stretch me. Make me think. Make me do stuff. Make me discuss, argue, experience. (all the above games fall in that category)

Fourth - have a bit of competition. Not too much, but just a bit. And make the competition on teamwork or collaboration or a skill that they have newly learnt. Just that make it as a group rather than individual. (Ditto)

All this will not work if the learner in question does not have a strong 'why am I learning this'. (like those programming games).

Developing thought!!

Questions, questions...

I read a fascinating article in Swarajya magazine the other day by Sanjoy Mukherjee (the content is behind a paywall), on Prashnopanishad and on questioning. Apparently the story goes that the students asked 6 questions, one after another and after one question was answered, they asked the second one and so on. Each question took them to a higher level of consciousness and so on from which they never turned back. That got me curious about the Prashnopanishad.

(From the wiki page)
The opening verses of Prashna Upanishad describe students who arrive at a school seeking knowledge about Brahman (Ultimate Reality, Universal Soul).[13] They ask sage Pippalada to explain this knowledge. He does not start providing answers for their education, but demands that they live with him ethically first, as follows,[13]
तन् ह स ऋषिरुवच भूय
एव तपसा ब्रह्मचर्येण श्रद्धया संवत्सरं संवत्स्यथ
यथाकामं प्रश्नान् पृच्छत
यदि विज्ञास्यामः सर्वं ह वो वक्ष्याम इति ||

To them then the Rishi (sage) said:
Dwell with me a year, with Tapas, with Brahmacharya, with Sraddha (faith),
Then ask what questions you will,
If we know, we will tell you all.
—Prashna Upanishad, 1.2[13][14]
This preface is significant, states Johnston,[5] as it reflects the Vedic era belief that a student's nature and mind must first show a commitment, aspiration and moral purity before knowledge is shared.[15] Secondly, the method of first question by the student and then answer is significant, according to Johnston,[5] as it reflects an interactive style where the student has worked out the question for himself before he is provided an answer, in contrast to a lecture style where the teacher provides the questions and answers regardless of whether the student understands either.[16][17] The three ethical precepts emphasized in this verse of Prashna Upanishad are Tapas (austerity, perseverance, fervour), Brahmacharya (chastity, self discipline) and Sraddha (faith, purity, calmness of mind).[16][18][5]
The second interesting part of the answer is the implicit admission by the teacher with "if we know", that he may not know the answer, and thus acknowledging a sense of skepticism and humility into the process of learning.[5][19]

(From the wiki page)

And I found this site which has explanations and links to the questions in short and I was quite fascinated by it. Still digesting that site and the explanations it has to offer.

But connecting it back to learning experiences, how would it be if we structured an entire learning experience on questions? Just questions? From an organization development standpoint, what would that look like?

PS: I had this approach tried out in part recently and it is still WIP because the project stopped midway due to time constraints...but the facilitators were happy because we said just come and we will ask you questions and you need no more preparation. 

Monday, May 11, 2015


As we played Valiant Hearts - the game is free only unto a point - it becomes chargeable. And the game, engaging as it is, stops at a crucial point and says, "Want to know what happens to these heroes?".

It is as great as a pull as you can get. The game was engaging - for all of us across age groups and it was particularly interesting because everyone was involved, taking charge, guessing and working it through.

And as you might imagine - we purchased the first episode. Not sure if we will buy the rest (though they have used some really smart behavioral psychology methods) - because it depends on interest being sustained etc., but the post purchase experience has been good either. The graphics, the game, the clues, the interest - have all been flawless.

What if we did this with learning experiences? What if, we were able to give a teaser of a learning experience (of anything - online, offline, virtual - whatever the mode)? And tell the learner that if you want more, you need to do something - maybe pay, maybe perform, maybe learn...something.

Would the design of learning experiences change if we used this approach?

(And I am not talking of the free sessions organization run - those are marketing. This is something more than that. This is designing an entire learning experience based on the above approach...)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Creativity within constraints

Anyone can build a castle in the air.

But to build a real livable castle on the ground, on time, within budget, with all the approvals and still create a wow factor - that is something.

And that is the reality of any environment.

Whether it is building a house or organizing an event or building a training.

Creativity within constraints is where the ability of the really creative people come out. How can one do a truly outstanding job with the constraints at hand.

But there are times when one sees this creativity in action delivering something truly out of the box and yet very relevant.

What can one do as a leader?

Push the team to think harder. Just that little bit. Like the challenge for the learners in the previous post - pushing the team to think a little more works. (How and when you do it is the secret sauce.)

What can do one do as a person?

This is trickier. Because, for one, creativity may or may not be appreciated. Second, the stakeholder may or may not want creativity (yes, this is true).

And third, by the time creativity meets committee meets consensus, rainbow becomes cloud and then rain.

Developing thought...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Challenging the learner

As we usually do, the little ones and I explored the app store for trying out a game or anything that catches our fancy.

This is something we do quite often. Explore. Discuss. And then try out. Sometimes we try out someone that someone has recommended on the net (and usually paid apps fall in this category). Sometimes, we try out something on a whim. And a few clicks later, some apps fail the initial interest test and are deleted ruthlessly. Some sustain interest for a longer while. Some keep us occupied for a long time. And so on and so forth.

(As customers, someone who explores the app store is more ruthless than a channel surfer on television. But thats for another post.)

As part of this process, we chanced upon an app named Valiant Hearts. It is part graphic novel, part strategy game, part war game, laden with juicy clues as 4 people make their way across a war theatre (WWII). (Aside: There are zero games with Indias freedom story as a backdrop as much there is a ton of WWII stuff out there). There is a lot of information - so it is not just a game. And perhaps, the episodes are from real theaters. 

So, what sort of games do we like? We do not like shooting games or action games that are purely depending on reflex action. We prefer games that are a little slower paced and make us think and so something - rather than just go click, click, click. 

The nature of the game is such that it falls into this category fair and square. At every level there is that perfect level of challenge that makes us want to try - multiple times, not want to give up and try till we crack that level. 

Usually, it requires the intelligence of all of us, some level of effort, plus a bit of serendipity, trying out various permutations and combinations and even a little thinking on resourcefulness before we hit that a-ha moment. Such games are fun. And the challenge has to be just perfect. Not too tough that the user gives up. Not too easy that the users intelligence is insulted. But just about there to make the user think, discover an a-ha moment. And each day for the last few days, we have woken up and tried to 'crack that level'!

(In this particular game, it has been amazing - it has taken a combination of collective patience and intelligence and some fearlessness to get to where to want to get to. It is not just one person or the so called smartest person who can solve it. And therein lies a learning - how we get stuck in paths, miss blind spots and how fresh thinking in liberal doses solves the problem - every single time.)

We have experienced this before in push cars, threes, dragon box, clash of clans - almost any app that has kept us enthralled has this perfectly balanced level of challenge.

As someone in learning, this is a great meta-challenge to think about.

How do we, as we design a learning experience, make learners reach this level of 'play' where they want to engage - not in mindless banter, but in an engaging, absorbing contest of the mind? Where they want to try and reach a different level of learning? Where the learning is sticky and makes the user want to come back to it and later on revisits it when she needs it...