Commandments Of Learning – Continued: Finding The Right Balance

Posted on : November 21st, 2016
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Welcome back to the last of this two piece series on the learning commandments.

In the first piece we discovered how the first five commandments enable us to make the learner responsible for their learning, create an engaging experience by introducing challenge in learning, embed the context by keeping the big picture in mind, ensure safety and continuity in learning by taking people from what they know to what they don’t know and involve the social being through peer learning since teams learn better than individuals. Let us explore the remaining five commandments now.

Commandments Of Learning

If you are asked – which person will you hire – The one who has read hundreds of books on driving and has excelled at all the exams on knowledge or one who has several years of driving experience and comes with a few recommendations from past employers? So, what will your response be? A no brainer! Learning happens best by doing. It is not just an essential component in the learning process but one that translates knowledge and comprehension to an ability to do something. Without action everything remains a concept. The closer the exercises are to what a person needs to do in real time, the better it is. Whether it is about preparing a dish, or assembling a car or using a software to design a model. Learning comes from creating as it leads to new neural networks formed in the brain. Actions driven by the learner put them in the driving seat of learning (pun intended)!

For learning, higher human intelligence needs to be engaged, which is quite distinct from the animal brain, required for survival. Of course, survival training is also about learning but then the objectives there are not about a cognitive change but more of learning to survive by responding to adverse situations in the best possible manner. Learning a new task, process, software or approach are very different as they are about thriving. What the learner hence requires is win-win, fun and an informal atmosphere during learning. An atmosphere that creates no feeling of threat but that of enabling enjoyment for the learner in what they are doing. Fun needs to be an integral part of the methodologies used in training so that the participants end up learning what is to be learnt while having fun along the way. A dull, drab or a threatening experience pulls the individual down to operate from their survival instinct disengaging human intellect in the process. It would do good to differentiate the element of challenge as mentioned earlier from that of threat. Challenge is about a non-threatening stretch in what is perceived as possible or a healthy competition against another by the way of a game, quiz or a puzzle to solve. It is no wonder then that incorporating elements of music, theatre, sports, cooking etc. bring lot of fun and hence make it a very engaging learning experience.

While the next commandment has been in existence and also known to us for quite some time, we do still find trainers/facilitators who go against the grain on this one. Involving the learner in the learning process making it a two-way communication. Training is seen as a one way activity and hence the trainer led process makes it a one-way experience where participant is hardly involved. The experience needs to be such (whether ILT or Digital), that it involves the person in the learning experience. The higher the participation the better is the understanding, and therefore better is the learning. Both designers and facilitators must create the experience in such a way that it ensures full involvement of the individual in the sessions/modules via activities, exercises, reflections, assignments and in a way that the entire thing flows from one element to the other.

An interesting insight through years of experience conducting programs has been that when participants are asked to share feelings, they find it very hard to do so. Both, vocabulary and the comfort level to share feelings are wanted. Why so? Because all through our upbringing, emotions and feelings are seen as an unnecessary impediment to growth. Don’t let emotions cloud your thinking is what we get to hear from elders and seniors. Well, it is true that emotions shouldn’t drive our thinking. But at the same time, emotions and feelings have their own role to play in human life. Without grief, or joy or sadness or anger, it would not just be a flat existence, but the very nature of human interactions will be changed completely. Imagine there being no joy at the start of something new! Or that of sadness and nostalgia for someone or something lost! Such moments bring forth different types of energies enabling us to make the best of the situation. Grief enables us to reflect on what has been lost and realize its value in our lives. Designers and trainers need to design experiences that invoke feelings. Learning is enhanced by engaging the whole brain – while conceptual models and theories engage one part, connecting with learners’ emotions engages the other. Jokes, inspirational words/quotes, stories/anecdotes, funny examples, cartoons, comic strips – all bring forth our emotions and attach an energy driven from our feelings to the learning experience.

Let’s keep turning the wheel. Having been a martial artist for over twenty three years, it still feels that one hasn’t perfected the techniques (and this can definitely not be contested when a Grandmaster with over 60 years of experience also feels the same way – that perfection cannot be attained in a life time. Rather it is a continuous process!!!). Learning itself is a process, not an event. While through school, college and while working, every class, session, module or a course is seen as an event, unless one continues to practice what has been learnt and revisit the content and engage with it continuously, the neural networks will not be strong. Transition from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence will remain suspended somewhere in between. Technology today presents us with a great opportunity through spaced learning where in both, the concept and the application can be introduced in byte sized packages periodically. In addition, performance support solutions (digital job aids and more) can also play a strong role for ensuring reinforcement, building further on base content and bringing in variations that resonate with the real life scenarios.

That brings us to the end of this learning journey. It is hoped that this journey was fun. For anyone who would like to make the journey a process by engaging further with the author, please feel free to reach out!

(Credits for the Commandments go to Vyaktitva – That runs the flagship program on Instructional Design by the name of Big Ticket where the author also deepened his knowledge and skills in ID)

Rahul Agarwal

Rahul heads the consulting practice for at G-Cube offering bespoke solutions in the areas of Learning Strategy, Training and Talent Management. He is a passionate Learning & Development professional and has spent a good fourteen years of his experience in the training and consulting field. Rahul has a master’s degree in HR&OD from Delhi School of Economics and certifications in Instructional Design, facilitation and administration of psychometric instruments (including MBTI, OPQ and Facet 5).

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