Meaningful Data on Customer Success

I've always wondered how instructional designers appear to work in silos while building training and cranking out several hours of courses. With the advent of xAPI and data science, we could consider a possibility of linking training 'outcomes' to customer success.

New Implementation Case Study

Let's take the case of a new product release or a new implementation for a large company like Oracle or Salesforce. The partners and consultants undergo training to either use the product in their day-to-day tasks, or to implement it for a customer. A 5-day training is organized and successfully completed. Now the consultants are ready to head back and actually implement the application.

After this point, I've never had visibility into 'data' about the outcomes of the training. I've never known whether they were actually able to use the specific knowledge to successfully use an application including their ability to troubleshoot issues and design one-off customizations. I recently read a few posts on LinkedIn that questioned if xAPI could take a step further and track more information about what users are doing in the application and map it to learning outcomes. This gave me a few ideas...
  1. Can we gather meaningful data on the entire lifecycle of a project starting from 'training'?
  2. Can we then track if it resulted in changed behavior and successful use of the products and effective troubleshooting?
  3. Did it reduce the number of support tickets that cost the company money?
  4. Did it progress the learner to the next level of maturity in their product knowledge?
If we could design a program to first collect all this data and then present it to a PMO, then could we incrementally focus and redesign training to achieve more specific outcomes, thereby reducing trial and error linked with too many unnecessary support tickets? I think this would be a wonderful alternative to a lot of incomplete metrics that only grill product teams excluding the 'training' and the expected outcomes. This could also make training an integral part of the lifecycle to address and enhance customer experience and satisfaction.

Considerations for Metrics on Customer Success

Training is not the only factor that impacts customer success. It is key for metrics to also include other parameters such as, why was an implementation delayed or unsuccessful? There could be other possible reasons which can be included into the metrics:
  • Unavailability of or issues with the application environment, or existing bugs.
  • Implementor not following the instructions or best practices suggested in training.
  • Confusing design of the application where users repeatedly make mistakes.
  • Prerequisite setups impacting the current tasks were incorrect.
Good metrics depends on complete and good data. They have to be assembled meaningfully to measure business value of the outcomes by clearly identifying the root causes of any issues, and providing opportunity for continual improvement.

Building Learnable Products - Managing Knowledge Effectively

After a long hiatus, I've realize it's time to resurrect my blog, with my renewed experience from all the years I was away. Its been a fascinating journey with so many challenges personally, professionally, and just overall that I was overwhelmed at first about what to write about. During this time I transitioned multiple roles from an eLearning instructional designer to a curriculum developer for instructor-led training, to delivering a train-the-trainer to instructors and consultants at Oracle University, to graduating as a technical writer. I was fascinated by the vision of the convergence of applications, user interfaces, and training into a amalgamation in the modern era of mobile technologies and machine learning. It's beautiful to watch this evolution in a short period of just 6-7 years. Notably the evolution began well before it but became significantly visible in the last few years. 

This gives me a segway to my topic, Learnable Products, which I have diligently promoted during the transition of applications to the modern era. From Get Started guidance to first time users, to intrinsic UI information that drives how users quickly learn and use applications, it all fascinates me. Coming from a learning and design background, I like to call this product 'Learnable'. Users install applications and figure out how to accomplish their basic tasks with a 'separate' channel to train or read documents. 'Learnable products' are a boon in the fast-moving business world where people have limited time to train themselves, but expect applications to tell them how to be used. As an added layer to that machine learning changes the game by saving further time by ensuring the information people see to be 'relevant' to the goal they're trying to accomplish. 
'Learnable Products' are applications that incorporate user experience and content seamlessly so that users can 'learn' and 'use' them at the same time, and save on formal training time, thus accomplishing their goals with no or minimal training or documentation.
This takes me back to a post I wrote in in 2010, Future of Organizational Learning: Some questions. A lot of this has happened and a lot more than it actually by 2019! Today, machine learning shows great potential with its 'prediction' capabilities to make our lives better and help us do our jobs with greater ease. I see applications in the knowledge management space in addition to the more obvious applications in the use of an application itself. Knowledge workers can gain an advantage by better prediction and relevant information being pushed to them, especially in very large companies where standards, guidelines, and policies overwhelm workers. Knowledge workers spend a lot of time just figuring out what's 'relevant' in the current context of their jobs.

Building more learnable products can greatly increase the productivity of employees by leveraging the 'knowledge' of a network of people over individuals reaching out to other individuals by chance to find to get information on their current tasks. This approach eliminates knowledge silos with individuals and empowers new and older employees perform at par with each other. Google has already broken these barriers with their powerful search engine, but now machine learning adds the prediction layer and increases information 'relevance' to a great extent. This could potentially on-board new hires very quickly and make them productive in a short span of time thus making organizations more profitable through transitions.

I see a lot of promise and avenues to make lives better and drive innovation in a vast majority of areas. I'm glad to have started blogging again and look forward to writing down my thoughts and growing.












Simplified Learning

I have always sought simplicity in every learning solution that I develop. As our products evolve to simplify more and more complicated day to day problems, the learning solutions must be simplified as well. My post about the Future of Organizational Learning was a thought in this direction but on a broader scale. Now I'm thinking of a granular level of learning that can be developed and packaged with the product. Large enterprise products solve complex domain specific problems. Learning about such products becomes equally complex. Hence our role as learning designers calls for us to be specialists. We must be able to design learning so it can be seamlessly interspersed within the product.

Imagine a newly installed enterprise solution with many of pages, regions, dashboards, etc. The user who is a domain specialist and probably familiar with related products in the domain must be able to log in and use the product without having to undergo a rigorous and exhaustive learning regime before using the product. Its pointless if we strive to solve a complex problem, but learning to use the tools itself becomes a challenge. Learning must be interactively available in the context.

To start with the product itself must be designed with superior user interface that anyone can easily use. So we don't have to create learning for that. That solves one part of the problem and leaves the domain learning issue to be addressed. Someone familiar with the domain should be able to find familiar names on the UI and instantly be able to understand what to do next. Here comes the scope for creating embedded learning units.

Each learning unit is self contained, simplified content that can be in any format:

  • Conceptual information on concepts related the the actions on the toolbar or page.
  • Information about the relationship of the UI object with other areas.
  • Impact of selections user interface choices on related features or objects
  • The underlying principles of certain choices made.
  • Decisions to consider when making choices.
  • How to do something?


This list can evolve, however the key here is that it takes more to 'learn' something that is naturally complex.

Considerations while designing simplified learning
The reality is that the learning designer must know the domain deeply and work very closely with subject matter experts to come up with the simplest way of explaining it to product users. A thorough grasp of the product and domain is an invaluable asset in designing such a granular and interactive learning solution. The learning units can be layered over the product layer based on licenses and be available on request or via a setup option.

Despite this we may still have a demand for advanced learning solutions. Advanced learning can be instructor led or highly interactive simulations. From a cost-benefit ratio perspective ILT is practical but this is something for me to start thinking about as well.

Don't Market Social Media

I have been through this battle of encouraging people to use social media for learning and knowledge sharing. I will admit my style is subtle and not aggressive. But that's also because it doesn't work by being aggressive. What does help is empathizing with the users and their various styles of social interaction. Just because someone is not on social media sites often doesn't mean they are not social or don't want to share information.

This calls for us to stop thinking run-of-the-mill. Yes, over selling social media is becoming run-of-the-mill! We need to get back to the basics and think again. I can give examples from my team of people who are collaborative by nature and achieve the same results by meeting people face-to-face or over web and video conferences. They are some of the most brilliant people in their jobs and communicate effectively. They are always happy to share their knowledge for the benefit of our team. Such people will always excel in communication whatever means they choose. But they are not necessarily the most communicative on social media sites. They just have their own style of doing it and I respect that.

The value of personal meetings as well as eye contact is immense in effective communication. Our goal must be to encourage information flow in whatever way is effective.

Yes, I agree I have learned a lot due to social media websites and they have greatly increased my reach. But that is me and others have done the same differently. It is for us to choose what works best for us as individuals or teams and stick with a strategy until we know a better way. Remember that tools can only enable us but our personal styles and attitudes dictate how we choose to communicate and how we ensure we do it effectively. I don't think a single social media tool can facilitate the various communication styles or can ever be accessible to a large section of the 7 billion people in the world!

Of Android, Mobile Games and Learning Experiences

I never thought I'll write about learning games and mobile learning until I bought my Android. People have asked me, why Android phone? My answer has been that I love Android as it is breaking new ground for mobile computing and open technologies. Android is versatile as it is not limited only to mobile phones, but it can be installed on various devices. Android gives developers the opportunity to leverage their development skills, while also building an exciting and active community, just as ground breaking as Java. Just thought of adding this: "When technologies don't restrain you, they enable you to innovate." I truly believe open technologies are the future!

I couldn't have written this post without experiencing the real thing. I had set aside to buy my Android (Nexus S) after some expenses were out of the way. But my 5 year old Nokia gave in and I had no other choice but to buy my Nexus immediately. I am extremely happy.

Having the power of a smartphone , I am now always connected irrespective of my tight deadlines at work. Oracle Fusion is on its way to the first release and the Information Development team is busy, extremely busy. These are exciting times and the Nexus was just the icing on the cake!

I started off a couple of weeks back, very cautious initially about randomly installing apps fearing security issues and malware. When i inserted my sim card, the phone just configured everything like a breeze. Everything started working on a simple 2G connection. I didn't even have to call my service provider
To start off, Twitter and, Facebook were safest bet.

I was soon reading articles and blogs voraciously as it was so much faster that logging into my laptop, opening the browser, and using a mouse. This was smarter and everything I wanted was accessible using my fingertips. The feeling was amazing. I missed tweeting and following up with news so frequently before. A phone had changed the world for me. I was even replying to my manager's emails immediately during the harrowing time to renew my passport.

The world was at my fingertips and I felt empowered. I was managing my time better now despite my deadlines. Not that other phones don't have such features, but what makes the Nexus S special is the user experience and the speed at which I'm able to complete the same tasks. Being in Information Development I have a lot to take back to my job from these experiences.

I have also been skeptical about computer games and NEVER got hooked to one till now. I saw Jane Bozarth tweet on #lrnchat last week about Angry Birds teaching you Physics.
Today I can admit that I'm hooked to it for the following reasons:
- Incredible user experience.
- It's ability to teach you using experiential learning.
- Shows how there are multiple solutions to a problem.
- The game teaches you strategy.
- Ensures you remain motivated.
- Encourages and rewards you interestingly.
- Last but not the least, the birds are so very cute.
- Jane Bozarth also mentioned it instills love for nature. I think compassion too.

Moreover, this is my first blogpost from my Nexus S! And I've finished writing it in exactly 45 mins! Now that's a record for me. I'm now motivated to blog more! Get the message? :-)

The New Age Instructional Designer

Instructional design provides a gamut of principles and models that enable you to train people effectively in various areas of expertise. The role of an instructional designer is essentially driven by a need to find appropriate solutions by applying instructional design strategies and models to transfer information to users who use a particular product or service to perform their jobs.

Changed Learning Methods
As time progressed and technologies evolved, the role of the instructional designer as we understood it several years back, underwent a paradigm shift. In spite of client demands to create conventional elearning courses, the fact is that the way people are learning today has changed phenomenally due to the increased access to social media tools and advanced mobile devices. Twitter, blogs, wikis, and discussions have become the new age learning methods. Learner's look for relevance and access information only when it is needed. The concept of reading everything that comes your way and conventional ideas about increasing knowledge generically have phased out. Learner's now search for what they want, skim through to establish relevance, and move on if the information is irrelevant. The attention span of today's learner is short and they want quick and easy access to information. Working smart is the code word and learner's will only use resources that enable them to do so.

In such times, we can no longer talk about the standard learning deliverables, like elearning and instructor-led training materials in isolation. It has now become important to understand the factors influencing the learning process. The solution lies in viewing the job of an instructional designer more from the perspective of convergence of discrete learning entities that were created earlier and new ones that have evolved. It is also important to be aware that the concept of learning styles of a learner were never proven or found beneficial when designing learning content. The extensive variation in learning styles of individuals and lack of proven theories in the area, have automatically eliminated the need to talk about learning styles any more.

The New Role of IDs

When I listed the skills sets of instructional designers, I tried to be a generic as possible, but today I would not like to classify them only as skills sets any more. The way conventional instructional designers used to think about designing learning content needs to change.

Here are some things we can do to change the way we have been planning the creation of learning content:
  • Look at an IDs role as a supplier of information to audiences who are consumers.
  • Understand that learners have matured and are capable of finding what is relevant to them, while deciding on the value of the information available.
  • Appreciate that learning will be influenced by several information resources due to the learner's access to social media tools
  • Leverage available information resources and help organize them effectively for the learner.
  • Plan learning in a manner that assumes the use of social media resources like wikis, social groups, blogs, and tweet as part of the learning process. 
  • Start looking at learning as an ongoing activity that does not just end with a training.
  • Identify the need for performance support on the job and create modular content that is accessible when ever a user requires.
  • Stop assuming users read course materials and user guides sequentially
  • Break content into smaller independent learning units targeted at an audience role, ensuring you accommodate those learners who may access learning content using mobile devices.
  • Employ strategies to make the content searchable and increase the relevance of information to the task the user is performing.
  • Design content solutions that are specific to an audience and the tasks the role is expected to perform.
  • Design models that address the needs of constantly changing information.
  • Plan learning deliverables in various forms to make them accessible from intranets or centralized content management systems.
  • Present information succinctly rather than beat around the bush in the name of overviews and long winding introductions.

Applying the above, does not de-emphasize the underlying principles of instructional design:
  • Know your audience.
  • Thoroughly understand the tasks they perform in their jobs.
  • Employ appropriate learning strategies to improve learning.

To me instructional design has always been a guideline of the mental process of creating any kind of content that a learner will consume. It is therefore imperative that we stop thinking of elearning or instructor-led training as the only learning deliverables. Being aware of the fact does not undermine the value of these traditional learning materials, but rather helps you identify the gaps and think about how to reorganize the existing models to make learning effective.

Quoting from Harold's blog on social learning for a business:
Tacit knowledge is best developed through conversations and social relationships.
Training courses are artifacts of a time when information was scarce and connections were few; that time has passed.
Social learning networks enable better and faster knowledge feedback loops.

    Benefit of Social Media in Corporates?

    It has been a while since I was first figuring out how social media works and how it could benefit my job and organization. It was easy to see what I was able to do with social media, but hard to imagine how an organization as a whole would reap the benefits.

    When I first started blogging and thinking about social media influencing learning and improving performance on the job, it was slowly sinking in and I think today I have a lot more clarity. I have changed teams within the same organization and dealt with people with a very old school of thought versus people who though are not big fans of social media but are quite open to it when I talk about the benefits. In my previous team, no one really thought much about it except a few managers who added the activity in my goals to make sure I find ways to benefit the entire team. People with not open to try a new way of communication and wanted to hold on to traditional email for everything. A basic thing as finding your remote team counter-part online itself was an issue. On being asked they responded saying they don't 'like' to be online so the best way to contact them was email. That was not an effective solution for a team distributed globally. It made things very complicated. I tried giving people suggestions to blog and share their knowledge about a product area on the wiki and use the forums instead of email. I sent invites over our internal networking site and also tried to encourage people to use tweet but participation was poor, and it was hard to show any substantial benefits.

    The thing missing then was the enthusiasm to look at a new way of communicating. I can empathize with that thought as I realize it was even hard for me to explain how everyone would benefit from participating. Once I moved into a different team I made it a point to share my interest in social media and my blog. My team was more open to the use of certain other tools like tweet and instant messaging. That was a good start. A team of over 100 people used tweet as a medium to receive updates on the status of a product environment, uptimes, downtime etc. It quick and hassle-free. Given that I had already earned the reputation of being an advocate of social media, I'd have people question me about the use of various tools. Things do get easier when people ask questions, because then you know that they want to learn. Even if some were mildly resistant to the idea, I managed to come up with a few examples of using certain social tools and benefit from them when compared to the current way people were doing them. I had to clarify the bigger goal these tools aim to achieve and the fact that they are not perfect but constantly evolving.

    In a more recent instance of a similar conversation amongst my team, I was able to push out the benefits of using a white board in conferences for brain storming and aiding a group discussion. I was happy with the positive reactions. Later on today, I was contacted by someone from my previous team. He conveyed that they were planning to use social media to help technical writers do their job more easily. He asked me of what I thought about it to improve the quality of technical documents. He had reservations like so many from the old school of thought about things like, what if information on social networking sites is inaccurate? I surprised myself with my clear response to his queries. My response made the following points:
    • Our company has a bunch of social networking and business collaboration tools that one can use. Blogs are available both externally and internally.
    • Imagine a community of employees from various product teams collaborating with customers and partners, about the product on the company blog. A plethora of information is shared over time. Implementations experiences, customizations, problems faced, workarounds, solutions, best practices, tips and tricks....the list is never ending when there is a community.
    • So, if an individual has to blog 'inaccurate' information they will soon realize they have a greater responsibility to the community. When someone blogs they are in the glare of the public eye. Experts and novices will read the information and validate if they found it useful or not. If someone's information is not satisfactory, they automatically receive less traffic and someone in the community would let them know about their view of the content. So generally everyone would try to give their best rather than their worst. 
    • Your blog or profile becomes your public image and people know and respect you for the thoughts you share and the value you add to the community. 
    • Moreover, blogging what you know helps you organize knowledge you've gathered over time in a meaningful fashion and clarify several areas you may be in the process of figuring out. What is nice is that you're able to keep a record of what you thought and how your knowledge evolved over time.
    • For large corporations where knowledge is distributed in unknown pockets, social media can be the medium of discovering that wealth of knowledge and putting it to good use.
    Today, the fact that I feel so much more confident handling questions from colleagues and friends, whether positive or cynical, is simply because I am an example of the evolution I'm talking about. I can slowly coax people into participating and getting a glimpse of what is going on. I can empathize with those who do not see the benefits because it is almost impossible to see it without being a partner in crime. Social Media needs your participation for you to see any benefit and only when you participate will there be a community, and when there is a community is there scope for collaboration, conversations and innovation!!

    Social Chat Culture: Thoughts on joining #lrnchat

    The social chatting culture has been quite rampant and people seem to love an online discussion with 'tweeple' as they are known. Or is that term old already? Today, I chanced up on lrnchat on Twitter in a time that I could attend and quite enjoyed the conversations. The dexterous manner in which planned questions for a topic were put forth and people responding with quick thoughts itself was really enjoyable and overwhelming. I think some of the key things to note in an online conversation is the spontaneity of the answers and often every one has a valid point. The answer often comes without much thought or speculation and is very instantaneous and I believe it is this quality that makes it interesting.

    We have similar social chats on Fridays in our organization and they're quite fun too. Such sessions give employees an outlet to express how things can be improved, what they think is important, and overall build a conversation that has a capacity to bring out what people have in mind in an informal manner. The outcomes can be interesting as people are uninhibited as they might be in formal meetings; they joke chat and contribute whatever comes to their mind, and you automatically have some excellent points made in the end. Overall, every one enjoys a brainstorming session on a topic with some guiding questions to carry the discussion forward to a possible outcome. In addition, they have an ability to help you network with like-minded people or people who share your interest areas.

    Some tips for planning a social chat:
    • Choose a topic that appeals to a larger audience using voting or polls.
    • Choose an organizer who can plan how this topic can be discussed or guided.
    • Assign moderators to help the main organizer and act as guides during the session.
    • Schedule a time and date for the discussion to take place. An hour of discussion is the ideal amount of time. It can be less or more depending on the volume of participants expected, and capacity of conversation that the topic can initiate.
    • Have the organizer prepare a short excerpt of the goal of the discussion, why it is important, and what will the key points in question.
    • The organizer may share this information with the moderators and use some of their feedback.
    • Find ways to pass on this information to the larger audience by tweeting to groups, setting up an event, writing on your website or blog.
    It may be a good idea for the organizer and moderator to be an expert in the topic but also be open to new ideas and feedback.

    Tips to Organize the session:
    • Have the organizer write a welcome note and ask all participants to introduce themselves.
    • Initiate the conversation in any fashion deemed suitable. A question a picture or video to look etc.
    • Once the conversation is on, the organizer should keep an eye on the time and initiate the next question or point for discussion.
    • In the end, thank people for participation, ask them to share links, feedback, or suggest more topics.
    • Finally, publish a transcript of the discussion for the benefit of the others who wished to attend but could not.
    I would recommend anyone to attend social chats simple to experience the value that they can bring if done right.

    Future of Organizational Learning: Some questions

    Recently, someone from Bloomfire contacted me over LinkedIn and requested me to give answers to some questions. I have been late to respond but thought they were pertinent given the way things have changed in the training world. So let me answer them for myself anyway before I send them to Bloomfire.

    From your perspective, what are some of the challenges in writing curricula that resonate with the learner?
    The main challenge I see is Knowing your audience precisely. Knowing your audience helps you scope out the training accurately and achieve the right level of detail. It will be the key to any kind of task you want to do; build a product, create a game, or plan training content.

    How might these challenges differ from the challenges of yesterday?
    I believe the challenges of yesterday were more than the challenges of today. The intervention of Web 2.0 and the increasing tech-savvyness of the learner have made information immediately accessible to one and all. Today, most information is easily searchable, Internet connections are much faster, Web technologies have come a long way and social media has gained ground. We no longer have the challenges of providing learners access to information. What we need to focus on is planning our training curricula in a manner that incorporates hands-on training in a simulated environment, and promotes collaboration with peer and subject-matter experts. The key is in knowing how to leverage social media to make the learning curve easily achievable and in a shorter time.

    What are some technology and research trends today that will have an impact on tomorrow?
    The study of users in general has revealed that giving the user information based on their existing knowledge on a subject is critical for their success. The research has shown a need for greater user-focus. Tomorrows applications will be increasingly user-focused and minimalistic. Minimalistic because we will have a clear picture of the user's profile and be able to focus on what the user needs to know. So organizational learning will be designed to support performance, and training will be largely collaborative and exploratory in nature. Learners will be mature and be able to determine their own learning paths. Learners will be more independent and able to access information in a manner that will help them accomplish tasks. In other words, Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) will be a norm.

    What might organizational learning look like 10 years from now?
    Ten years is a long time and we are already stepping into the era of Web 3.0 where personalization and social intelligence will be key. Ten years from now social and collaborative learning will become commonplace and will be built into the system. Learning will be less controlled, more learner-driven and minimalistic. Formal training will be supported and followed with collaborative, experiential, and exploratory learning. Content will be open and designed to be accessible from all kinds of devices; it will be simple and very specific. For example, the use of a screen shot or graphic can replace the use of words. Information will need to be to accessed faster and during execution of the task. A learner's performance will be supported by pertinent, short, and instantly available information anytime and anywhere.

    Could you envision a 21st century training program for us? What might it look like?
    A new employee is hired into an organization and needs training. The machine is automatically setup by the network. Once the employee logs in to the system, he is automatically shown a screen which will predict the first questions on his mind like, what am I here to do? What do I need to learn to do my job? How do I learn what I need to learn to do my job?

    The employee is informed by the system that he needs to learn how to use the company's CRM product to capture and process customer requests. The system finds out based on the employee profile from HR and social intelligence date, that the employee is already familiar with similar CRM systems and does not need to under go the basic-level training. The system automatically directs the employee to the next level of the CRM product training.

    The employee learns by working directly on the CRM environment. There are short Whats new? and product overview modules to get him quickly up to speed with the tasks the product is designed to complete. The modules instruct him to interact with the environment in real-time. The modules are not sequenced linear courses but reference-hybrids in any form like demos, examples, scenarios, and real-time exercises on the product. Reference information is easily available on the product interface. The training encourages looking at the help and other references like real-time use cases, FAQ information, common problems faced and the resolution.

    The goal of such training is to get high-specialization individuals up to speed on the job in the shortest possible time. The training is planned based on learner profile information and studying the background knowledge levels of the learner.

    Also, the system will have collaboration built-in as a norm and will suggest appropriate contacts in the CRM domain within the organization. The employee will be able to collaborate with technology similar to tweets, chat and web conferencing to learn from subject-matter experts. Social media tools will allow him to search for existing information on the subject, or start a new live conversation about his queries on the product. Using the tools, the new employee is now able to network within the organization and get acquainted with appropriate persons related to his job.

    In short, I am hinting at the use of intelligent-training techniques by leveraging on social-intelligence data.

    We've seen online communities proliferate, from online communities just for friends (Facebook.com) to communities just for tackling complex R&D challenges from Fortune 500 companies such as P&G (InnoCentive.com). What do you think of organizations supporting their own learning communities?
    Supporting organization-wide learning communities is becoming essential so that employees within an organization are well networked. In medium to large-sized organizations, it often happens that knowledge is in unknown pockets with individuals or teams. A lot of the knowledge could be documented and made available, but it is almost impossible to capture tacit knowledge and the knowledge gained from real-time experience. The use of social media connects people based on areas of interest, and aids the discovery of resources with the required domain expertise within the same organization. This positively impacts efficiency on the job and improves employee productivity a great deal. In future, the normal way one does their job in an organization will be using collaboration and social networking techniques. Social media is causing the breakdown of hierarchy to build communities using wirearchy by enabling horizontal and peer-to-peer based communications.

    Looking at things from a bigger picture, I'd like to leave you with this note: Are you Ready for the 21st Century?

    Are You Ready for the 21st Century ? from Michel Cartier on Vimeo.

    What books, blogs, and/or magazines would you recommend for our readers if they'd like to stay current in your line of work?
    There are tonnes of great online resources and blogs. I recommend the best-of-breed approach so one can reach out to the maximum number of resources in one area. I suggest going into elearninglearning.com and performing a keyword search. The site filters your information to various levels as you may need. It is also a good idea to subscribe to the 'Best of' feed on this site to get a summary of the best blog posts for the month.

    Evolving the Education System

    A few recent events have compelled me to think harder on a previous post of mine about a change proposed in the education system in India from 2011. This post was my first reaction to the decision while also highlighting the realities associated with education on our country. While it is easy to pass a rule, but bringing in a change in the mindset is going to be the hardest. I have been guilty of becoming an infrequent blogger, but from time to time there has been a reason to come back. This time it has been after a friend told me that my post had been used as a topic of group discussion in one of the premium management institutes. It was totally by chance that I found out, thanks to KP. That sort of woke me out of my slumber and made me want to come back, to learn more and write more.

    Before each post I spend a lot of time reading and listening to other related resources. I have done so this time as well and will try to bring them all in here as well as I can. There are various problems that I was discussing in the post about No board exams, including my own disagreements with the way I was educated. Doesn't really mean that I don't acknowledge that what I am today is due to my education and the ICSE board is certainly one of the most respectable boards from my point of view. My comments are on much broader lines based on the kinds of problems I faced when I studied certain subjects, of what I would have rather done versus what I did, of the fact that I believe I realized my strengths much later in life after I had made choices, of how my confidence was higher only after I had figured out very many things. So I am not criticizing a single board but the entire system. How the system assumes that one kind of learning suits all and how you are drilled down with a bunch of subjects read out of a text book, learned by memory in which you understand some part of it and just remember the rest so you can score in the exam. After having completed my studies and in my present life, I find I hardly remember several things I learned in school. I find no application of many of the things. I only remember those topics which had seemed interesting but are just in my memory to tell people things like - I know laughing gas, its nitrous oxide!! Now who even cares about that?

    So what has effectively happened, is a lot of the learning is irrelevant to my job and my daily life. I tried cramming several things initially and then it just became too much. I always wanted to stay out of the race and never could. Finally I chose to be an instructional designer after having a taste of it and reading related information on the net. I am glad about this one decision though as I came in to this field by complete chance when I had no idea where I was going after having done a BSc and MSc. Sounds silly doesn't it? Well my parents wanted me to do science and I did. I chose computers as a subject and somehow got in here and I am glad of not having to be an engineer writing a small piece of code who's greater application I have no clue of (no offense to coders there but that's what happens in jobs) or even the customer.

    Bringing changes to the education system?

    Process-based learning
    So what are the kind of changes should we be comprehending to the education system? Maybe to get rid of the term 'system' in the whole thing and introduce 'process' instead.
    I like quoting Harold from his post:
    Some of the processes that readily come to mind are critical thinking; analyzing data; researching; communicating ideas; creating new things; etc.
    These are the skills that should be taught to students Reasons backing process-based learning are mentioned in Charles Jennings blog. Quoting from there:
    Dr Ebbinghaus’ experiment revealed we suffer an exponential ‘forgetting curve’ and that about 50% of context-free information is lost in the first hour after acquisition if there is no opportunity to reinforce it with practice.
    The rate at which the Internet has caught up has made information available free and faster at all times. So we can reduce the load on our brain from 'remembering' facts which can be Googled at any point and time, and spend it in learning techniques for solving problems, interpreting information, improving communication, reusing data rather than trying to reinvent the wheel where possible, and making innovation and creativity the main goals of our existence. You may note that the previous line has dropped the word learning at the end and quoted on existence. I would like to take a step back and explain why I said this. Enhancing learning is our goal as instructional media professionals, but the bigger impact of 'learning' in our lives is what we do with what we learn. We can learn just for the passion of it but until it is put into good use it remains passive and is almost the same as having learned by rote. If we can use the learning to improve the existing 'system', it would make a huge difference.

    Problem-solving
    I consciously chose to mention problem-solving skills as I read how problem-solving skills are important to each one of us. When people are trained to be engineers they solve loads and loads of problems to crack entrance tests. I've noticed that engineers are hired as programmers, because their degrees certify better problem solving skills than people who have studied the very same subjects and curricula in pure-science streams. So we're talking about people who are trained to solve problems based on certain facts given. These are called structured problems and they usually have a correct answer. But the irony about problems is that there are several kinds of problems. The CSPS site talks about unstructured problems where facts are vague and you don't necessarily have a single correct answer, but multiple options based on which you need to take decisions. This is how our real life day-to-day problems are designed. It would be ideal if schools could assist students in the process of thinking through such problems and letting student discover the outcomes. It is also important to reinforce and be realistic here as several problems do not have immediate answers and how one can choose one path over the other knowing the pros and cons of each option.

    Help Students Identify their Talents
    After relating some of my own story, I find this point to be so very critical to education as a whole. Teachers should be trained to identify the strengths of students and curriculum designed to help students identify them. Without this you would always have only some all-rounders topping the class and the rest biting the dust. They would eventually get branded as 'average' students for no real fault of theirs. The problem more often is that they do not know where their strengths lie. If one can identify their strengths and focus their energies in those areas supported by a more flexible curriculum at school, it would make the life of several students much easier and they would shine much better in areas of their strengths. That way we would have many more happy students who would love going to school rather than the opposite.

    Focus on doing more than rote-learning
    Provide students ground to explore possibilities about the subject they are learning about. Give them space to explore and discover, to feel and analyze, to give what they read about a thought, to discuss and collaborate, to work as a team and try experimenting. This kind of learning will not only increase their interest level but help them complete the learning cycle for a topic. Thus curriculum should not prescribe text books from which to ask questions in an exam. Text books limit information to no end and I used to quite hate them. I used to like that the ICSE board occasionally gave questions that students would love to rate as out-of-syllabus, but there was no big deal with them because all you needed to know were basic common sense techniques and simple concepts you had already learned. So help students 'use' their learning and not expect to see a dumb-xerox of what they read in a text book, in the exams. Don't spoil them, but encourage them to be independent and proactive learners. Don't try to control what they learn but teach them how to learn and how to use what they learn.

    After revisiting Harold's blog right now I see some recommendations made to the University of New Brunswick. Now these are interesting.

    Education for under-privileged children: Helping them catch up
    I also came upon this recording from Hole in the Wall Education which is an initiative by NIIT. Their take on educating poor children in India brings in a whole new perspective into the effectiveness of informal training, self-learning and short elearning modules to educate children of poor parents for free. Since the children face several challenges to complete their education, there is a high dropout rate and these children are unable to cope with the bulk of the syllabus in schools. So informal learning and the Internet can save the day for such children and help them learn and grasp basics easily. Here is where process-based learning and problem solving can be of great use. You can teach kids the processes and then help them apply it to various situations. Teach them the techniques and they will be able extrapolate them to other applicable areas. If these kids run after the existing curriculum, they will never be able to learn for the next generations.

    ID Research Versus Application

    I really owe a huge apology to those who have so ardently followed my blog for being away since September. Not for the shortage of ideas or things to blog, but due to a lot of changes that I had to go through at work, and personally grapple with managing time. Yes, there are still many things happening and I have slowly got back to the blogging circle, started reading stuff people in the community are sharing, trying to observe changes that have come about during this gap, etc. I do like to spend significant time researching matter that I want to write about, by reading other blogs where people have written about related topics. To me blogging is like a research, a constant quest for solutions for tomorrow and a means to express ideas that run through my head every now and then.

    Fortunately, the 'changes' I'm talking about have helped me see things in a new light, to understand my domain from a broader perspective and understand how it fits into the bigger picture of things.

    Things on my mind for a while now...
    I have always wondered about the two aspects of instructional design: the theoretical side and the application side. I see how each time application tends to fall behind on going research. By the time you build a system to add in the most current trend, there is already something new. I believe this is the way it works in other domains as well, but the question that keeps running in my mind, is how does one reduce this gap? The smaller the gap, the more connected research will be with application. For example, if someone researches and writes about the ADDIE theory and I have to implement it in my organization, it is most common that I will not able to implement it as it is defined in books. What will likely happen, is that the way I work through it in my work place, gets driven by actual events that occur, functioning of other departments associated with the completion of my task and so on. I personally feel that research should not just run parallel to application. There has to be a means to constantly go back and forth between the two, take into account dependencies when writing a theory, and finally define more realistic theories and processes. It is important not to look at each domain in isolation and imagine it implemented in a running organization with real-time challenges.

    This has been on my mind for really long now and I will continue to think on it. Please add your valuable thoughts as I would be glad to hear from you all.

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