Monday, December 24, 2018

The Circle of Life

Morning Star by Alex Janvier (Photographed at the Canadian Museum of History, Ottawa, Canada)
The year is drawing to a close and we will soon start a new year and a new circle of our life. The circle is symbolic in many ways and is a cultural, religious but more importantly, a human imagery. A circle represents the sun and the earth and the passage of time and seasons. 
To me, a circle is a metaphor for both life and learning. When our ancestors discovered fire and sat around it to share their knowledge and wisdom, that is when this universal symbol of learning was perhaps born. 
The circle represents wholeness and completeness. The center of the circle is filled with trust and openness. And while the rim is flexible, it stays protective of that what is inside; the core of the circle. There is no hierarchy in a circle because the shape equalizes everyone. A circle is a keeper of democracy and of relationships and intimacy. It represents a journey but one that has no beginning or end and in that respect, a circle is in a continuous process of being. The circle in its true form represents infinity and potential. And all these qualities are true for life and for learning. 
As the year draws to a close, I am reminded of the value of my own circle. I am thinking and reflecting about that what is at the core of my own circle; what fills the inside and what pushes the boundary everyday. I am thinking about the relationships that mean the most to me in this circle and the give and take and the ebb and flow. I am pondering about who is it that am I becoming in this process of being created constantly. In answering these questions, I am flexing the rim of my existing circle to expand it just a little more...
Life is a full circle, widening until it joins the circle motions of the infinite.” 

― Anais Nin

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Role of Critical Reflection in Learning

Why it is important that we surface and critically reflect on the underlying assumptions which influence the ways we see, think, feel, and act?
Our frames of references and the underlying assumptions help us function and deal with the complexity of life. These assumptions and beliefs constitute our points of view and our habits of mind. Unknown to us, our assumptions guide many decisions that we make on a daily basis and make us view reality in a specific, unique way. To add to the challenge, assumptions are not always stated explicitly. There are many implicit assumptions that effect how we see, think, feel and act. Challenging these assumptions means questioning the everyday things we take for granted, accepting that multiple realities exist and that our view is not the only view to the world.

There is tremendous value in questioning our assumptions and surfacing some of the underlying beliefs. If we don’t challenge our assumptions, we continue to see the world in the same way, with the same perspective. We cannot hope for any transformational learning without reflecting on the underlying assumptions. We stay in the ‘auto-pilot’ mode and continue to make decisions without real awareness of why and how we made the decision. Our unchallenged assumptions can eventually become a hindrance to our growth and development.

Through critical reflection we are able to expose and uncover our underlying beliefs and assumptions. And when we state these upfront, we are able to think more deeply about what they really mean and whether they are justified. By doing so, we are attempting to make our frames of reference more open, inclusive, flexible and reflective. At the end of the day, we want to ensure that our beliefs and assumptions serve us well and enable us to learn and grow, to make better decisions and guide future action.

The ultimate goal of education is liberation, or praxis, “the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it” (Freire, 2000, p.60).

Friday, October 26, 2018

Do Grades Motivate Learning?

Photographer:Krzysztof PuszczyƄski
There are some educators who believe grades motivate learning. Perhaps, the underlying assumption being that a lower grade can encourage learners to try harder and a higher grade can give them the motivation to keep going and stay engaged. In this discussion, I think it is also important to highlight various type of motivations - external, internal and amotivation (the absence of motivation). If grades do motivate learners, it is external motivation in terms of grades as a reward or grades as a mechanism to avoid a negative consequence. In the form of external motivation, grades can change behavior but the real question is, do grades motivate learning?
I am of the belief that grades don't motivate learning. In my view, grades only motivate learners to work towards getting better grades. This belief comes from my own experience as a learner and as an adult educator. Over the years I have participated in several professional development courses. This includes open-courseware such as MOOCs, paid courses offered by LinkedIn and University-level certificate programs. There have been no grades for MOOCs and for the LinkedIn learning courses. But that didn't change my learning process, the time I spent on each course, and the gains I received from each course. In a majority of workplace training that I have been involved with, I have neither received nor given grades yet I still learned and I know that participants also learned in the absence of grades.
"Multiple studies of students at various levels of education, in various subjects, and across various time periods reveal that grading has the general effect of replacing internal motivation with external motivation."
(Docan, 2006; Kohn, 1999; Kohn, 2000; McClinticGilbert et al., 2013; Schinske & Tanner, 2014 as cited in Krawczyk, Roxanna M. 2017).
So, what's the issue with replacing internal motivation with external motivation?
"Grades can dampen existing intrinsic motivation, give rise to extrinsic motivation, enhance fear of failure, reduce interest, decrease enjoyment in class work, increase anxiety, hamper performance on follow-up tasks, stimulate avoidance of challenging tasks, and heighten competitiveness."
(Harter, 1978; Butler and Nisan, 1986; Butler, 1988; Crooks, 1988; Pulfrey et al., 2011 as cited in Schinske, J., & Tanner, K. 2014).
"Grading is philosophically, socially and politically driven" (Fenwick, T. J. & Parsons, J., 2009, Pg. 140) and grades have become "a commodity in an exchange relationship" (Pg. 136). The meaning of grades can be very different for learners and adult educators. In general, learners tend to view grades as a tool for gate-keeping and for making comparisons with others. But as an adult educator, I don't see grades with that lens. To me, they are not a motivational or comparison tool. If anything, I see grades as a communication tool to provide feedback and guidance along the learning journey. I guess what a learner may make of a grade may depend on many things including what they score. If they are performing well, grades are a validation mechanism. If the performance is not up to par, grades provide them with an evidence of failure. Therefore, as an adult educator it is important that while I don't see grades in a certain way, I must acknowledge how grades are seen and understood by learners. 
So if grades don't motivate learning, what does?
In her 2010 presidential address to the Midwest Sociological Society (a published version of the speech is referenced below), Diane Pike said: 
Interesting and relevant assignments, timely feedback, connection between student and teacher, connection among students, meaningful use of time—these things motivate learning. Thinking more explicitly about grading and evaluation, finding out what students experience by asking them, and reconsidering what grading does motivate, we can unleash new practices that just work better for all of us.” (Pg. 6)
Fenwick, T. J. & Parsons, J. (2009). The art of evaluation. A resource for educators and trainers.  2nd Edition.  Toronto: Ontario. Thompson Educational Publishing
Krawczyk, Roxanna M.. (2017). Effects of Grading on Student Learning and Alternative Assessment Strategies. Retrieved from Sophia, the St. Catherine University repository website:
Pike, D. (2011). THE TYRANNY OF DEAD IDEAS IN TEACHING AND LEARNING: Midwest Sociological Society Presidential Address 2010. The Sociological Quarterly, 52(1), 1-12. Retrieved from
Schinske, J., & Tanner, K. (2014). Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE life sciences education13(2), 159-66.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Don't Go Back to School!

What comes to your mind when you hear or read the words, back to school?

I have often wondered about the phrase, back to school and its significance with respect to how we perceive education, training and learning. Like many students in North America, I will also be going back to school this September. But I only mean it as a way to highlight the courses I will be undertaking as a part of my Certificate in Adult and Continuing Education program at the University of Victoria that I have been pursuing part-time since the last two years.

But is going back to school all about courses and curricula? What about all the learning that happens outside the school; does it not matter? Is September 04 more important than any other date just because we have a backpack telling us we are going to a place to learn something?

On September 04, more than any other day of the year, I remind myself that learning is not about classrooms, courses and training days; it is ongoing and happens everywhere. As an L&D professional, I take it upon myself to make sure I act as the champion of informal learning and help others make their own informal learning more visible, accessible and usable to them.

I suspect September is a time when many adults might contemplate going back to school to learn something new, improve their job prospects or get a promotion. While I respect that thought and encourage the decision, I urge everyone to not go back to school; instead, try never leaving the school. I urge everyone to keep learning, continuously, every day of the year in this school of life.

This September, discover a new way to learn: listen to podcasts, read and comment on blogs, share your insights on LinkedIn, participate in twitter chats, meet professionals in your community, volunteer for causes that matter. Remember, you don't need to sign up for courses in order to learn.

“The more I live, the more I learn. 
The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.” 
― Michel Legrand

Friday, August 31, 2018

What Can L&D Learn from Marketing?

Both marketing and L&D share the single-minded goal of influencing thinking and behavior. They deal with similar challenges including how to build more connection and engagement with their target audience. So, is there something L&D can learn from marketing?

  • Treat learners as customers - Whether we call them learners, participants, workers, professionals or customers, as L&D, we need to know their goals and motivations, existing knowledge and experiences, demographics, learning preferences and behaviours. Marketing starts with understanding their customers and marketing teams are diligent about audience analysis and use that information to design the right message for their target customer. As L&D, we must be clear about our target audience and create a compelling learning experience that is suited to their needs. One of the ways to do that is to adopt and adapt the concept of customer journey mapping to visualize each learning experience through the learner lens. As we take our customers through the learning experience, it is important to think about all those critical points of connect that L&D will have with them through the entire journey and focus on keeping the journey contextual and connected to real-life and work.

  • Tell a story - We have all heard a good marketing story. Simply put, a good story makes the message more memorable and personal. For marketers, stories help engage customers so that they buy into the product or service. It is safe to assume that the same can be done using the right stories around learning and performance. As L&D, we can leverage the impact of powerful, meaningful stories and narratives. Stories can help us engage our learners in conversations that are important to them. Besides, a good story is able to make a deep emotional connect where a perfectly designed training manual can't! As L&D, it is important for us to not only know who our learners are but specifically know how emotionally-invested they are into the learning experience. Knowing this, we can use stories and narratives to address some of their mental roadblocks and challenges and create the right expectations before and after the learning experience. 

  • Align to business - Marketing closely aligns with the business at all times. Infact, I don't think it would exist without this alignment. L&D needs to do the same. I spoke about the value of alignment to business in an earlier post. A constant focus on business and how L&D can impact the bottom line by improving everyday work performance is critical. In the absence of this alignment, we tend to design training or learning experiences that have little or no value to the business and to the learners. To take this a step further, marketing constantly demonstrates the value it adds to the business through various metrics and L&D must do the same. Using ROI, ROE, surveys, feedback, anecdotal evidence, etc. L&D must make a conscious effort to articulate its value to the business and to all its stakeholders including learners. Establishing an L&D brand positioning and using that as a guideline to identify the core capabilities and the unique value that L&D brings to the table is also a part of staying aligned to the business. 

  • Go where the learners are - The mark of a good marketing strategy and excellent customer service is to go where the customers are. Marketing teams don't wait for customers to get to them; they anticipate customer needs, build products and solutions and identify multiple ways of reaching and engaging with their target audience. L&D can do a lot more of that with their customers. L&D needs to move away from the 'if you build it, they will come' mentality towards 'how do we best provide learning and performance tools at the point of need.' L&D needs to make an effort to listen to what the learners need and where and when they will find the learning most useful. This means providing greater flexibility with learning including at work, online or via blended learning models and empowering learners to choose what, where, when and how they want to learn. L&D departments have to be where the learners are. They need to explore the themes of personalization and customization and think about using informal learning, social learning, microlearning and other emerging concepts, tools and technologies to reach learners and respond to their needs. 

If L&D wants to be customer-focused like Marketing, then it is time to:
  • stop managing and start empowering learners.
  • stop directing and start responding to learner needs. 
  • stop creating courses and start solving business problems. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

My Top 10 Learning Tools - 2018

It is that time of the year when Jane Hart ( polls learning professionals around the world to weigh in on their top 10 learning tools.

I submitted my vote via the form available on this website. But I also wanted to use this blog post to share my submission with my peers and friends in the L&D community.

Here are my Top 10 Learning Tools for 2018 (in no particular order):
  1. Google Search - This tool has made it to my list for the last few years. If there is something I want to learn, Google Search is almost always my first tool of choice. 
  2. Blogger - All that search is of no use if I am unable to learn from it and then reflect on what I have learned! This tool is the home for my blog and my sanctuary to reflect and learn.
  3. Twitter- Over the last few years, I have developed my PLN even more strongly via twitter. This is my go-to place for new ideas and thoughts and to share my own discoveries and insights. I use Tweetdeck and especially enjoy using 'lists' to create streams of conversations on things that matter the most to me. If you are looking for people to follow, Jane has a public list here: 
  4. LinkedIn - I have found myself using LinkedIn more than ever before. With access to more video-based and curated posts rather than 'reshares', I find myself drawn to my LinkedIn feed every morning. I am especially enjoying getting to know people as they are and not just as a 'list of skills and recommendations'. This year, I also used LinkedIn Articles to cross post my blogs and found a different type of audience. 
  5. Podcasts - I have always loved listening to podcasts but I have subscribed to more professional podcasts this year than before. I am so glad to see many learning/training/human performance topics being discussed in the airwaves and I especially appreciate real-world examples. Sam Rogers is currently curating a list of L&D podcasts:
  6. YouTube - This is my 'how to' tool. I use it for microlearning when troubleshooting tasks. I also find it extremely useful to discover and watch important talks and conference excerpts. Following specific Youtubers feeds my 'need for information' around my hobbies and interests. 
  7. Meetup - Over the last year, I have found myself being drawn to more F2F conversations and engagements. I have discovered several members of my own tribe through local meetups. It is also easier to engage with people from different fields with diverse experiences through meetups. In that sense, I have found this 'tool' as a useful way to consciously break my filter bubbles, engage with a wider variety of people and stay open to learning new and different things. 
  8. Instagram - I started using this tool primarily to share and publish nature photography. However, I have been able to meet a few local instagrammers who share the same interest in photography but work in diverse professional fields. This is another way to connect with people who share some things in common with me (hobbies and interests) but are not necessarily related to my professional area of work. The conversations are getting refreshing and engaging. 
  9. Dropbox - I have discovered some neat features over the years and rely on this tool for working in the cloud, collaborating with clients and teams, for synchronizing my work across various computers/laptops. I have even got my 14-year old hooked on to Dropbox for her collaborative school assignments with other students!
  10. Microsoft Word - I do all my professional work using Microsoft Word and can almost 'forget' about this tool since it has become seamless with my work. I use Word to create design documents, content and complete other client projects. I especially enjoy the 'Track Changes' feature to keep a sense of all review feedback and track each item to closure.
Other mentions:-

Email - While most email is transactional, ever so often, I do find myself pondering about deep questions related to my work that come to me via emails from clients and other teams. I often type long responses to such emails and these responses eventually make way into a blog post! I specifically use Gmail as it allows me to work with other Google services including calendar, drive and photos, etc.   

WhatsApp - I don't know what I would do without Whatsapp! Not only do I use this tool for personal reasons (connecting with family and friends, etc.), I have increasingly started using this tool as a way to connect with my teams, mentees and mentors. It is a handy tool for quick questions and answers or to plan group chats on common topics of interests. There is certainly some untapped potential to use Whatsapp for learning.    

Skype - This has been my tool of choice for conversations and collaborations with my clients and teams. But I am increasingly exploring other options like Zoom. 

Facebook - Although this is a tool I continue to use, I now find myself drawn away from Facebook. It certainly doesn't fit into my top 10 list. I still use it to remain connected with family and friends but it is getting challenging to find any meaningful content worth engaging with other than scheduling local events, festivals and activities into my calendar; for which I find it most useful. 

As I was reflecting about my tools, I realized that some of these tools may not appear to be strictly 'learning tools'. But for me, conversations and connections are opportunities for learning and that's what made me include these tools in this list.

I also realized that there are some tools that I use exclusively on my mobile including Podcasts, Instagram and Whatsapp and some that I exclusively use on my laptop/computer including Microsoft Word and Blogger (to publish my posts). Finally, there are some tools that I use equally on both my mobile and laptop including Youtube, Google Search, Twitter and LinkedIn. It will be interesting to see how I access and use these over the next few years.

Voting for the Top 200 Tools for Learning 2018 is now open. You can share your favourite tools here. The Top 200 Tools for Learning 2018 will be released on 1 October 2018.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Alignment and Authenticity in Learning

When it comes to designing learning experiences for the 21st century learner, two factors seem critical: Alignment and Authenticity. 

1) Alignment - Most people associate alignment with a connection between the course goals, learning objectives, instructional activities and assessment. While that is alignment, it is only one part of alignment. The other (and perhaps the more important) part of alignment is to ensure a connection between learning, real work demands and business needs. It is important that learning and training tie into the requirements and goals of the business. One way to think about business alignment is to identify the business needs, assess the tasks to be performed to meet those needs, review the existing knowledge and skills that are available to perform those tasks and then identify the gaps in the knowledge and skills that can be addressed by training.

Once training is linked with job tasks, it is easier to establish its connection with the overall business because the tasks that people do at work are done in the context of the business. This way, the goals of the business and the training practices that support it are aligned  organically. We often talk about the importance of connecting strategy to learning. In my view, it is this alignment with job tasks that makes this connection with business and aids in transfer of learning and improved performance on the job.

Besides, a constant focus on task and work performance is critical to meet real demands and business realities. In the absence of such a focus, we tend to design training that has little or no value - to the business and to the users - and ends up in what is often known as the 'content' pile'. In the absence of alignment with business, there is a wastage of effort, resources and dollars.

2) Authenticity – The second important factor is staying true to the context in which people work and design learning interventions that are appropriate for the intended use and the target users. 

One way to ensure that we stay authentic to the context of work is to do an audience analysis to find out information about people and their work setting. We must know very clearly what tasks need to be performed, who performs those tasks and under what work conditions those tasks are performed. Based on this information, we can use the right instructional approach(s) and methods and design and embed appropriate learning activities and exercises including personal learning, social and collaborative learning and project-based learning, etc.

Authentic learning is defined as learning that is seamlessly integrated or implanted into meaningful, “real-life” situations (Jonassen, Howland, Marra, & Crismond, 2008). So, in order to be authentic, we must ground the learning experiences in relevant occupational context using genuine workplace materials and resources that people have access to in real life. The ideal way to do this is to embed learning into work so that there is no separation between the two. But when there is training outside of work, we must design for transfer. Once we ensure that the learning context and training environment mimic the work context closely, we can be hopeful that people will stay engaged and will be able to transfer the new skills to the job. 

If the learning experience lacks alignment with the business and authentic "real-life" connection, we can't expect a leap from learning to transfer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Aligning L&D with Business

The traditional focus for L&D has been training-centric. It is slowly moving towards being learning-centric. But it is important to not stop there and continue to make it business-centric.

In trying to align itself with the business, at times, L&D tends to feel isolated. There can be many reasons for the same. Sometimes, it may be the mindset more than the structure that prevents us from making the shift. As L&D, if we consider our role as tactical rather than strategic, then we get caught up in the details of 'what training to build' and don't feel the need to see the bigger picture of 'what will help the business perform better'. When L&D thinks about performance as the main objective, the alignment with the business is not forced; it is natural. The view becomes more long term rather than short term.

I hear people and businesses talking about performance consulting as L&D merging into OD (Organizational Development) initiatives. If such is the transition, L&D needs a broader range of skills including wearing several hats including business, marketing, HR, and OD. It is also important that when L&D wears these hats, it also uses the right vocabulary. If L&D cannot talk business with folks who understand that language, partnership becomes tricky. Sometimes, vocabulary does really get in the way.

Before L&D makes an attempt to demonstrate their value to the business, we need to evaluate where our time, effort and resources have been invested. Perhaps, reviewing all the work that we are currently engaged in and identifying the degree of alignment with the business is a good place to start.

It is important that we re-prioritize, re-align and re-focus on questions like:
  • What is the challenge that the business is facing or is likely to face in the near future?
  • What can L&D do to meet the challenge? 
  • Can training/improving performance address the challenge partially/completely? If yes, what skills are important to address the challenge?
  • How can L&D create opportunities for gaining those skills - both the underlying knowledge and the overarching experiences - to meet the challenge?
  • How can L&D communicate more effectively with all its stakeholders including employees, managers and leaders?
  • How can L&D articulate its impact on the business and communicate how a challenge was met successfully? 
  • How can L&D run like a business and build its value and credibility?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Challenging Our Assumptions

Our underlying assumptions constitute our points of view and unknown to us, they guide many decisions that we make on a daily basis including the ones that we make as learning designers. To add to the challenge, assumptions are not always stated explicitly. There are many implicit assumptions that effect how we see, think, feel and act. Challenging these assumptions means questioning the everyday things we take for granted. It is tough to do but worth the effort. Here's a story from my life where I challenged one of my underlying assumptions.

When I started out in this profession, there was one particular area about adult learning that I had not thought about deeply. That was the role of spirituality in the way we approach self-development and learning. And when I say spirituality, I speak of meaning-making and not religion per se.

As I was learning about learning, I started to explore my own view of spirituality and my assumptions around learning, growth and self-development. That’s when I realized that my view was being predominantly filtered by the eastern philosophy having been born and brought up in that community. It was only a decade ago when I started working closely with folks who were born and brought up in a western philosophy that this assumption truly became explicit and I started to challenge it more consciously.

After questioning my own assumptions and uncovering some of the underlying beliefs, I now spend a lot of time learning about different cultures and practices. I think it helps me refine my own beliefs about learning and offers one of the many guiding posts in my practice as an adult educator. As a facilitator, learning more about the underlying beliefs about different cultures and the related learning practices helps me appreciate where everyone is coming from. I am able to then engage with them at a level they feel most comfortable.

I read somewhere that "there is no fixed understanding of self because it is socially and historically constituted and that it varies across time and cultures".  I find this statement to be very true for my own experience of trying to understand my self; this journey is always evolving.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Participation and Silence

Participation is critical to learning particularly as a way to challenge our ideas and beliefs, share our thoughts and discover new ways of thinking. But what does ‘participation' typically look like? Does all participation need to be verbal or loud? 

Well, participation is not always about being the first to respond or about having lengthy group discussions and debates. Participation can be facilitated via a simple voting activity with a yes/no response or using social media tools and technologies – for example, tweet a reflection or write a blog post, etc. Being shy, anxious or not much of a talker does not absolve anyone from the responsibility of participating in a learning experience. Having said that, it is important to realize that participation may be different for different people. 

Silence, often misunderstood, also speaks. It gives us the pauses that we need to learn and to teach. Some times, silence is about being respectful and at other times, it is self-protective. But silence is also participative. One participant's silence enables another participant's voice to be heard. 

I loved this post on 'Sanctioning Silence in the Classroom' where the author says:

"In his "Lecture on Nothing" from his book Silence, John Cage states that "What we require is silence; but what silence requires is that I go on talking." Silence and speech exist together in a symbiotic relationship. Silence is not merely the antithesis of speech but rather the necessary precondition for authentic, lively, and engaged speech."

To me, participation is as much a collective responsibility of the group as it is an individual responsibility. Everyone needs to feel that their contribution is adding to the learning experience and is ultimately facilitating new conversations. The learning environment has a role to play as do the facilitators in encouraging the right kind of participation. But participation is not about the frequency or the quantity of conversations. Participation is about engaging fully and authentically and sometimes being silent is a way to do it. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Traditional Approach to Learning Doesn't Work Anymore

Whereas the traditional management pursued an ethos of efficiency and control, often treating both employees and customers as things to be manipulated, the new paradigm thrives on the ethos of imagination, exploration, experiment, discovery and collaboration. It deals with employees and customers as independent, thinking, feeling human beings. It embraces complexity as an opportunity, rather than a hurdle to be overcome. - Steve Denning, The Management Revolution That's Already Happening 

The biggest implication for traditional approach to learning and development is that it doesn’t work anymore. Fifty years ago, efficiency and control were the tools of choice because organizations were dealing with low or semi-skilled employees and the main focus was to increase production values and control costs. All training initiatives were aligned to these outcomes and top-down, push learning was the choice of the day. 

The realities of business have changed. Organizations have to be competitive, flexible and extremely responsive to these new realities. In this environment, the ‘one-size fits all’ approach to learning doesn’t work. With a shelf-life to skills, employees have to constantly keep learning. 

To address this new reality, organizations must realize that:  
  • Training is not learning. Work is learning. 
  • Learning is not about courses and training days; it is ongoing and happens everywhere.
  • Performance is not how many hours people work; it is how much value they add to their work. 
Organizations need to move away from encouraging efficiency and control towards enabling effectiveness and self-directed behaviours. L&D departments have to be where the learners are. They need to explore the themes of personalization and customization synchronized with the work context and tied to specific performance outcomes. 

In this new reality, curation, informal learning, social learning and learning enhanced with technology will play a significant role in helping organizations design more adaptive, agile and modern learning experiences.