Monday, June 28, 2010

My Thoughts on Geetha Krishnan's session on Learning and Technology

I had this great opportunity of being at the right place, at the right time. What am I referring to? I got an opportunity to attend Geetha Krishnan's session at Kern during my one week long visit to Hyderabad. Geetha conducted a dynamite session where he introduced teasers that made us to think about several aspects of learning and technology. You can read (must read, actually) what was discussed during the session here. Now, given below are the truths and my response to these. 

1. Learner's real world is full of distractions.
Do we really assume that the we have the learner's undivided attention? We sure do. We think we have designed an absolutely compelling, thought provoking, visually appealing training program that will glue the learners to their seats. Keeping our massive egos aside, let us accept the truth. For the learner, this is 'just another training program.' There I have said it! They will do any or all of the following as they take your training program - take calls, chat, check their mails, scratch their head, think about what they are going to eat for dinner, talk to a colleague, wonder how long your training program is going to last, and so on. Think about it. We have done all these and more when we were in school/college. Why should our learners be any different? So, what can we do?
  1. Take your content dump and attack it with a butcher's knife. Chop out all the unnecessary things, slice out extra information, keep information that is directly linked to the learning objectives.
  2. Ensure that you keep your course as close to the learner's reality as possible. Why? Because this increases their chances of remembering it. During the session, Geetha mentioned that it is important that the content is 'familiar to the learner' but not 'obvious to the learner.' Don't teach him things he already knows. But, ensure that what you teach him is very close to his world. 
  3. Design the course keeping in mind the learner's work and work environment. For example, we had to design training on grooming and personality development for sales executives of a retail store. They had to stop everything they did to attend to a customer. Therefore, we designed really short learning nuggets for them. On the other hand, in a very recent project, we were told that the learner will take this training program in the first three months of joining. First three months are totally dedicated to training, therefore, we know for sure that they will not be interrupted by customers.
  4. The advantage of eLearning is that they can revisit it whenever they want to. Therefore, do not expect them to remember everything. Ensure that the most important information registers. 
  5. Strike an emotional chord. The higher the impact of training, the more interested they are going to be. 
  6. Understand them before you design for them. Find out what makes them tick, what inspires them. During the session, Geetha Krishnan mentioned that he was not a big fan of usability testing as people tell you what you want to hear. I think any form of testing is an attempt in the right direction. Whether controlled or not, you are making an attempt to design for your learner. And if the interviews are conducted right, people are going to give you valuable information. 
2. Learners in eLearning are quasi-customers
First and foremost, I think it is great if teams truly design eLearning based on mental models of the learners. In most cases, it is typically the mental models of clients and IDs (or their bosses) that the team keeps in mind. Learner diversities can be kept in mind by doing extensive research during learner analysis. At Kern, we do contextual inquiry, mystery shopping (for sales related roles), interviews, observations, and secondary research to understand who our learners truly are. Based on the learner profiles, we also create learner personae if we see contradictory or a variety of prominent traits and characteristics. While I agree, that a trainer in a classroom has 30 participants in front of him and he needs to cater to different mindsets. I don't think this is any less true in online training. Having said that, I must accept that I have had a chance to meet and talk to learners in 90% of my projects. Some others are just not as lucky. 

Also, I have attended training programs where the trainers have a very sketchy idea of who their participants are. They gauge the learner's reaction for half the day and then change their training style to meet the learner's needs. While it is great that these trainers think on their feet and quickly undo any damage done, I think half a day is crucial and if you don't make the right impression immediately, you have already been judged. Also, in most classroom sessions, you have only two days and therefore, half a day is a long time. Understanding who the learners are and how they will react to your program has to happen much earlier.

3. Faculty considers technology to be their enemy.
Why? Because they are worried that technology will make them redundant? They think that they may not be able to provide ALL the information a learner may need? They are scared of parting with 'their' content? Your guess is as good as mine. Another interesting thought that jumped to my mind is... why do ID's love technology? Because it gives them more control? It gives an opportunity to try fancy things or do things differently?

4. If technology helps people learn, what do ID's do?
As Geetha mentions, technology is only the 'way' a training module is delivered and ID the 'how'. Technology plays a crucial role in the learning experiences and therefore, must be selected carefully. Instead of the client telling you that they need an eLearning course, it should be derived from the learner's needs. It is not about using the latest technology to awe the learner. It is about using the most effective technology to deliver your training. Remember the technology that inspires you, may just scare your learner off. For a project, we wanted to introduce web 2.0 tools to encourage discussion and informal learning. But, during concept testing, we realized that our learners were not comfortable sharing their opinions out in the open. Therefore, technology must be decided based on the learner's needs/attitudes.

This doesn't mean that we continue doing things the way we have been doing for ages. If we do not explore newer technology, how will we know the learner's reaction to it? Ensure that you do your research well, involve your learners, seek their feedback/opinion regularly. Geetha mentions that faculty love their content most. Do IDs love their technology and tools most? What do you think?

5. Why are marketing and learning the first two industries to explore technologies?
I do not think these industries are insecure. I believe they are early adopters and constant learners. From the learning industry's perspective, it is necessary to explore technology to know whether this will excite the learners, reduce drop out rates, engage them further, make learning more entwined with their work. I think it is important to add newer ways of delivering content to the already existing basket. You can pick from wider range of choices based on your learner's needs and your client's budget. I don't believe that a technology will replace another. I am reminded of this point that Geetha Krishnan brought up - Informal learning and networking will kill eLearning. While I agree that we can not design/control/measure informal learning, I don't believe that eLearning is going to die. Yes, eLearning as we have seen it or understand it, may cease to exist. But, it is not going to die. Secondly, Kern does not believe that eLearning is the only solution. While eLearning is our forte, we do understand that other forms of delivery may just be the answer to our learner's needs. This, I think, is the mark of a learning solutions company.  Informal learning is important. It has always existed. In online training, informal learning can ensure that the learner get an opportunity to share their thoughts and reach out to a wider audience. Having said that, informal learning will continue to take place even if you do not design avenues for it.

6. Adult learners hate eLearning, why?
 I think adult learners hate training, period. It doesn't matter if it is eLearning or classroom training. When delivered at the wrong time to the wrong people, this is the response we are going to get. Discourage clients from implementing 'one size fits all' training programs. Encourage them to understand importance of customization and relevance to learners. Geetha opened my eyes to a very valid point. We teach within a very specific context and this context is typically true for that organization only. But when we design training for our clients, we try and ensure that it meets their organization objectives also. Training vs education is an interesting discussion. I think training meets an immediate need and education a larger need (which may not be obvious to the learner).

7. Training happens at transition points.
Training happens on a verge of a role change. This is why training is necessarily specific to the organization and this immediate need to ensure that they adjust well and quickly. 

Geetha Krishnan also asked why people give so much importance to networking. I think it is the basic social need to be known and to connect. People want to share common experiences and find out what others are up to.

Finally, is learning open-source? This is question Geetha left us to chew on as he ended his session. It left several more queries in my head and I am not sure if I am closer to an answer. Help me out, guys. Learning is open source. Everything is available on the Internet, on the job, and in the social interactions. Learning is also very personal to the learner. He draws his own inferences from the training based on his experiences, attitudes and his motivations or immediate need.

Learning is open source today when you involve the learner in design, development, and implementation process. They have a say in what they are going to learn. They share their opinions and feedback. They have an opportunity to approve/disapprove. They have an opportunity to be more in control of what they learn.



Anonymous said...

I take issue with:

"6. Adult learners hate eLearning, why?
I think adult learners hate training, period."

Over the last couple of years I have read multiple research based articles that take the exact opposite view. You might "think" all you want... but what is reality?

Archana Narayan said...

@Anonymous: Research also says that drop out rates are high. Research also says that people click next to finish modules. So, what is reality?

For me, reality is what I have experienced (which includes my interaction with learners and what I have read so far in my career). Though I do have strong views, none of these are cut on stone. Feel free to share these articles.

Based on my interaction with learners, very few learners actually say 'yes, I need training and am extremely motivated to take your course.' If this were the case, designing an effective course will be a piece of cake as your learners are motivated and eager to learn. I think this is a Utopian outlook.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I think there's a chance you may have misunderstood anonymous's comment above. It was (in my reading) a bit aggressively phrased above, but it is still valid.

In the source material you linked to, the very general phrase "Adult learners hate Learning, why?" was clarified by some specific examples which rung true for me. The actual simplifed five-word "truth" is not accurate - but condescending to your learners is fatal in terms of their interest and ultimately, their respect.

So in further generalising that statement you have wandered away from a very insightful observation into an inaccurate stereotype.

Speaking as a person who has found themself trapped in an offensively obvious and frustratingly ratcheted e-learning course, I assure you that Yes! I have clicked next just to finish a module. This does not contradict Geetha's truth - it confirms it! But it does not apply to your extension to truth number 6.

I apologise if I'm belabouring the point - but for a training designer to perceive all her customers as unwilling is an injustice that I must correct for both our sakes!

I would therefore suggest a different hypothesis for you - an extension of the trajectory of the first statement ino the general, but one which I think you will find more rewarding.

"All adult learners hate badly designed training, period."

You are right to identify that his statement is not exclusively about eLearning; Chalk and talk can go as wrong if one were to make mistakes in the level.

But cheer up! Adult minds are not closed.

Archana Narayan said...

@Anonymous Thanks for sharing your thoughts. First things first, I absolutely agree with "All adult learners hate badly designed training, period." It was neither mine nor I am sure Geetha Krishnan's idea to condescend learner or show any disrespect. If you are a regular reader of this blog or Kern's blog, you would realize we are extremely learner centered. My point was that training delivered at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons has made several learners wary of training. Their attitude toward learning is very different from their attitude toward training.

However, I do agree that it would be wrong to say that 'all' learners 'hate' training and therefore, I take that back. Learners who are over exposed to bad and unnecessary training hate training. I agree with what you stated above learners hate bad designed, untimely and unnecessary training.

Great dialogue. Thanks.