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.