Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Unfolding Story

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman

Back in November 2019, I completed a FLO MicroCourse: Teach With Stories with Denise Withers. Denise is an award-winning filmmaker and strategist, who has helped over 100 clients use story design to launch new ventures, transform programs, shift policy, engage stakeholders and accelerate innovation.

The objective of this particular course was to describe how stories facilitate learning, identify ways to use story in our teaching and design an effective, story-based learning activity.

Stories have been used for ages (since cave men) and have always been a critical tool for knowledge management. In many non-western cultures and indigenous cultures, elders continue to use stories as a way to talk about the past and their experiences and share their knowledge and wisdom with the younger generations and the community at large. For me, stories are immersive, engaging and emotional. I often find myself a captive audience for my father’s stories. When I hear a story, I want to relate it to my own experience and find a way to make it useful for my current situation.

As I reflected on the course notes shared by Denise and the inputs from fellow participants, I drafted the following storystorm to highlight some of the ways in which stories can be used for learning:
  • to share and learn from mistakes
  • to create a scenario or set a context for the problem at hand
  • as an emotional glue - to generate emotions and make things memorable
  • to situate audience into an alternative reality - one that’s not theirs - so they are more receptive to feedback within that role-play
  • to give deeper meaning to data
  • to capture the key take-away from a learning experience
  • to share knowledge - a key concept or idea when shared as a story is more likely to be shared forward
  • to help audience derive multiple meanings from the same story by using alternative endings; the audience may even draft their own ending
  • to capture the learning journey of how an expert got from being a novice to an expert
  • as a teaser/marketing material to launch new training programs for the organization 
There are many benefits of stories. But there is something to be said about the ethics of storytelling. I am reminded of a powerful TED talk on the dangers of a single story

In 2009, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a fabulous TED talk called “The Danger of a Single Story.” The talk focuses on what happens when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single story thus breeding stereotypes. What are the consequences of a narrative where African children are always shown as poor, malnourished and uneducated? Her key idea was that we need to appreciate and highlight the heterogeneous compilation of stories and that if you reduce people to one story, you’re taking away their humanity.

One of my favourite sentences is from the book, Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide (Sharan B. Merriam, Lisa M. Baumgartner, Pg. 264):

‘Life’s narratives are retrospective, always in process, unfolding.’

We bring with ourselves the stories of who we think we are. But we can also change our own stories and become something we never imagined we could be. Looking at our own life as a story can be so empowering because we can change the narrative anytime. Stories are transformational because we are our own story. 


Monday, December 16, 2019

From Training to Learning - The Journey of a Thousand Miles

In the business world and specifically in the learning world, there has been a lot of discussion about training and learning and between creating a training culture versus nurturing a learning culture. And this discussion isn't new. 

A popular article by Eileen Garger, Goodbye Training, Hello Learning, was published in Workforce, November 1999, Vol. 78, No. 11, pp. 35-42. That was 20 years ago. 

In the article, Eileen says:

"Training as something provided for employees will be replaced by learning that employees initiate themselves. Training, when available, will be replaced by learning, when needed. Training for the masses will be replaced by highly customized, just-for-me learning." 

20 years later, how are we doing?

In the same article, Mark Laurin, director of global HR training and development for Rosemont, Illinois-based Galileo International cautions about technology and says:

“We have to think less like trainers and more like business professionals. We have to forget for a moment the high-tech gizmos, so that we can focus on the big picture. And the big picture is that performance problems aren't always solved by training. We must become fluent and comfortable with evaluating what we do, and recommend non-training solutions when appropriate.”

Have we made the move from training to performance? 

Brigitte Jordan, Ph.D. in his extremely insightful article,"From Training to Learning in the New Economy" writes: 

"Training has come under the gun because conventional training organizations regularly can't deliver the goods. Whatever learning needs to happen for getting work done at the front line -- on production floors, in sales, or in customer service -- often is not generated, or even recognized as needed, by the training organizations." 

He goes on to say:

"...the question is not how to make training more efficient but how to make learning more effective.”

If there was a quick way to highlight the difference between training and learning, I'd say this: training is not learning; learning is work and work is learning. 

I view the move from a training culture to a learning culture as a continuum - it may seem tedious and difficult but every step counts. 
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
-Lao Tzu
The journey can be challenging as it involves letting go of control and moving from a centralized, hierarchical, traditional department to a distributed, personalized, 24x7 endeavor. Organizations and individuals who support a learning culture look at learning as a continuous process rather than an isolated event that happens in a training room, a course or a workshop. 

For true learning culture, organizations need to move away from encouraging efficiency and control and instead focus on enabling effectiveness and self-directed behaviours.

The question is, are you designing and delivering training but find that little or no learning is taking place? Do you feel trapped in the 'death valley' of workplace learning? Here are a few thoughts on how we can walk the road of learning, performance and change.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

L&D As the Invisible Glue

I often think about what constitutes good design especially in embarrassing situations where I try to push a door open when I was actually supposed to pull it. Ironically, in some other situations, I don't think about design at all for example, when squeezing ketchup using the upside-down bottle; it seems so natural that I don't pause for a second! We tend to notice poor designs but more often than not, good designs are unnoticed because they are intuitive or invisible and although we experience them, we don't notice them.

In the early 1980s, Dieter Rams shared the 10 Principles of Good Design. The last principle of good design is, "Good design is as little design as possible." What this means is that good design doesn't need bells or whistles to draw attention to itself. It allows users to engage with the product or service easily and effectively without being a distraction.

How does this idea fit into the design of learning/training experiences?


An article by Josh Bersin in 2016, shared how the learning function has become invisible where, he discusses how "Invisible learning leaders focus more on curation and context, building an always-on learning environment, and becoming experts at embedding learning into work."


In the article,"The Invisible L&D", Dani Johnson defines this idea as An L&D approach to developing the workforce by enabling and assisting learning throughout the organization, wherever and whenever it happens.

In his post, Emmet Connolly, talks about different levels of invisible design. In his categorization of these levels, "Product invisibility is the most dramatic shift towards invisible design, where complete products or entire categories have moved from demanding notice to being automatic." Emmet talks about how "there are more and more products and services that strive to invisibly integrate themselves into our lives in a helpful, human-centered way."


Perhaps, as L&D, we need to strive for this highest level of invisibility where we act as the invisible glue that seamlessly integrates learning into the lives of those we serve. As this invisible glue, we need to:

While we may appear to be invisible as L&D, our work and how that positively impacts the life and work of those it serves must be very visible. 


Photo by: Taruna Goel