The Five Commandments of Learning: Where It All Begins!

Posted on : November 15th, 2016
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There are certain fundamentals that are common in all the strategies to deliver learning, be it ILT or VILT, WBT or VIDEO, Game based or Gamification, or any other. An experienced Instructional Designer and Trainer/Facilitator recognizes these and makes appropriate use of them while designing or delivering the programs.

Commandments of learning’

To explore what are called the ‘commandments of learning’, there may be some views that learning cannot be restricted within certain commandments. But this is a perspective based on experience and insights on the lines of true north principles of living that are likelier to hold true when facing the test of time. We will also see how these commandments weave right through the initial phase of conceptualization till the delivery and beyond.

1. The learner at the helm of things: A thorough analysis requires inputs from the target audience. Hearing them talk about their roles, the work environment, the issues, symptoms, effect, and the probable solutions as per them. This, to a large extent, transfers the onus for making a change onto them. The fact that pertinent questions are being asked and these inputs are being sought for the analysis and design, add to the element of making the learner responsible for their learning. There goes the first commandment of learning. Of course, one has to cite the organizational context, how learning links to the performance, and how learners get evaluated post the learning process to build the ‘what’s in it for me’ for the learners.

The delivery strategy, whether ILT or Digital, should also make the learner responsible for the learning through group exercises, self-evaluations and reflections, case studies, and assignments to practice the concepts. The channel of delivery, whether it is the facilitator, a Video, or a digital module, cannot be the one responsible. Furthermore, evaluation must involve the learner by having them evaluate the level of implementation of learning that they have gone through.

2. Challenge up: Gamification rules! And this bug has bit everyone. From leaderboards to game points, medals and awards, every training manager is trying to make gamification central to drive learning through the organization, especially through digital learning. Some of them also try to have the program developed as a game, while some use games inside the modules or sessions to excite the learner and get their minds active. Introducing challenge in the learning process draws the learner out of their comfort zones, because comfort zones would never reward any Olympic athlete with a medal! It is similar to what Muhammad Ali Said in his famous quote, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion’.’’

The greatest learning comes when we challenge our patterns and move out of our comfort zones. Therefore, we need to make learners uncomfortable and change some of their habits through the training program. Learning is equal to change in behavior. Such challenges also stretch the human imagination and self-belief. In a similar way as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.’’

3. Find the purpose: What is the purpose? Most of man’s life is spent in trying to answer that question. This is probably because we want to know who we are and what the purpose of our life is. Likewise, a learner also wants to know the purpose of learning. They need to keep the big picture in mind. The learning is not happening in a vacuum. It has a context and it has a role to play in the larger schema of things. Be it the creation of a specific culture, with reference to innovation, delegation, ownership, customer orientation, among others, or specialization, such as deep domain expertise, learning has to have a bigger purpose behind it. It helps in bringing the much sought meaning that drives our lives in a purpose led manner and provides the motivation to strive in the face of adversity, as adversity has hit each learner at the beginner phase. The big picture also provides a framework for learning. It allows learners to distance themselves ever so often and look ahead. For example, in a dense jungle, the guide climbs a tree to find direction and also provides the rationale for meaningful actions. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that all are aligned to the big picture.

4. Clear Directions, please: Talking about dense jungles, what if we are Para-dropped into the middle of one? What are the two things that we would want to know first? Where do I need to be and how do I get there? Well, before that comes the question, where am I right now? Without knowing the present, one cannot figure out where one needs to be. Likewise, in learning, people need to be taken from what they know to what they need to know. People come to the training with some structures in their minds. They try to connect new inputs to the structures they recognize.

Each one of us store new information and concepts into our existing structures that have formed through years of training and past experiences. Which is why an engineer would think in a different manner than a lawyer or a doctor. Even at a micro level, each individual thinks in a different manner, even if they have had the same training in the past. Relating new concepts to the existing ones is important to establish continuity in the minds. A disruptive element can be introduced once people have made the connection between the new topic and what they already know. Perhaps there is an element of a feeling of safety in establishing that connection before jumping into the unknown. The designer and facilitator both should keep in mind as to how the individual’s existing environment and knowledge are being connected to the new content.

5. Peer learning works: Do you remember the hours spent studying together with friends in school and college? A concept or a question that could not be cracked became easier with the help of a friend. Discussing concepts and ideas based on the same would enrich the entire group. A problem can be broken into parts and allocated in a team and makes operation faster. This is under the modern concept of peer learning, a concept which is to stay. In the world of learning, it is said that teams learn better than individuals. Learning from peers is both faster and easier than from an expert — parent, trainer or facilitator. Competing in teams enhances performance as individuals feel inspired to learn from each other to achieve their collective goal. These aforementioned experts are also instructed not to speak to the participants from a high pedestal, but come down to their level and interact with them. The sole idea being that participants are ready to accept inputs from someone who they can identify with. The popularity of social learning, collaborative learning, discussion boards, expert groups, learning forums, and etc have been on the rise and technology has made it easier for like minded people to connect over a topic from across the globe.

While you chew on these five commandments, I take a break here to put together my thoughts on the other five. Will see you back soon! Happy learning and enabling learning for others!

(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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