Conversation Context

If you are on WhatsApp, you are probably on a host of groups, which you have, in all probability muted. Ever seen a pattern in the conversations in these groups? If someone started a group, and you connect with old friends after say 20 years, the first few days are about exchanging notes, and reminiscing about old days. After that the lull comes in the conversation, and this is when most groups become about forwarded messages or jokes.

Friends from college have a group, which is the place for college-style conversations. After a while, the conversations turn towards politics, and discussions about the world, pretty much the way it used to be back in college (boys don’t grow up, remember?!). However, due to a number of reasons, we decided to start a separate group about political/intellectual debates. Yes, intellectual indeed, even if I myself say so. Over time, the original group, which all of us are still members of has become a group for forwarded messages.

The reason is simple … context. No conversation can happen between two people without some modicum of a shared context. Take the context away, and the conversation can’t last. As college friends, we have gone different ways in our lives. However, there is a strong shared context of our time together at college, but beyond that, the shared context is that of the world around us. And hence, these are the two topics on which conversations can sustain.

In other words, context is key.


Virtual Education

Over a period of time, I have written about how virtual education can be used to address some of the problems facing education today, namely, shortage of good faculty, and the high cost of getting high-quality education to a large number of students. Few days back (which is when I had made a note to write this, but didnt quite get round to it, maybe because of the New Year holidays, but then, that would be just an excuse) I read about virtual courses offered by IITs being attended by students from other colleges (please help with a link if you could find … have been searching, but not to much avail). In this, the college from which the participating students come from decides whether they want to give credit to students for the courses they attend virtually, but if they do, then this is a step in the direction I have written about. For the participating colleges, there is, of course, the additional aspect of building the infrastructure to support the learning around these courses, in the form of labs, Q&A sessions, tests, and so on, but there is a benefit too. This would arise in the form of the content being made available to students, around which the learning then takes place.

Taking this one step further, is the possibility of building Centres of Excellence, hosted by one or two colleges, and have courses around these topics being delivered virtually by Professors from these colleges. For instance, these centres could be like Material Science, Thermodynamics, Engines and Turbo-Machines, Operations Research, and so on. Based on mutual agreement, specific colleges could be identified as CoEs for each of these, and courses delivered on these areas by Professors from these colleges, with students participating from all participating colleges. This would give the benefit of standard, high-quality education being delivered to students across the country, without necessarily replicating faculty skills at multiple locations, and enhance access as well as address cost issues.

From here, the individual colleges could take over, in supporting the learning process around these courses. This would be in the form of Q&A, homework assignments, labs, case studies, projects, exams, and facilitating cross faculty-student collaboration. In this way, the participating colleges get access to world-class content, delivering colleges build a source of revenue, and there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. The participating colleges give credits for these courses, manage the learning process, and give degrees based on their own criteria.


Blended Education

blog post I had written recently was what I was reminded of when I read this one about the Blossoms program, reason being that this was quite the type of delivery mechanism that I was talking about.

The idea here is simple … video recordings of lectures by a panel of expert teachers which form the backbone of education delivery across schools. This enables standard education delivery, while at the time making sure the best teachers are available to deliver classes to students across cities and villages, including in places where these top teachers would typically not want to go. Follow up this lecture with interactions at the classroom level, where the teacher running the class builds up on the video, and takes the students into interactions to discuss the content delivered, and ensure understanding of this content to all the students.

This logic of interactions can be extended to lab exercises too, as well as project reports, where the theoretical concepts are delivered in an electronic way, while the application of these concepts, including lab experiments, and the discussions among students are conducted face-to-face.

Needless to say, this method can also be extended to the L&D domain. The idea here being that with this mechanism, the L&D team can bring experts from across the world to the desktop of the learner, but the learning interaction doesnt necessarily end there (which it would in the classical e-learning method, which is still a dominant method in most organizations), and is extended with the learning interaction being extended to face-to-face (now face-to-face here could either be an actual face-to-face session, or a virtual face-to-face session), where learner interactions can happen, and learners can be presented with illustrations, case studies, and more detailed inputs, including, very importantly, inputs which are company-specific. These, of course, could be applicable both in traditional one-to-many training interventions, or in one-to-one coaching methods.


Social Marketing & Games

If you think social media is only for technology companies, think again. Heres a look at how Danone use social media to change the image of the Activia brand.

As you can see, its all about engagement. Now, i am not a marketing person, so i wont even try to look at that aspect of things, but another interesting aspect of this is the fact that the campaign was played out as a game. Users would go through a series of Activia challenges designed to create more engagement of users with the brand. One of the aspects which probably would help to create a buzz around the campaign would be the component of the challenge which would give users a sense of achievement have having crossed different levels of the challenge.

Now, this campaign could also have been run as a series of activities, probably the same set of activities, seemingly unconnected to each other (think activity of the week). The series of challenges, like the levels in a game, leading to the final event creates the level of excitement among users at crossing levels, at reaching the next level. This creation of a continuum of levels into “higher” levels brings with it the engagement which the brand needs, and gives a good illustration of the effect of gamification on activities, whether they be marketing or learning.


Training’s Khan Academy

Theres lot said about the way the principles of Khan Academy can be applied in the world of education. However, i see education and training as two essentially linked areas, and so, if there are lessons for education from Khan Academy, there must also be lessons for corporate training teams.

This made me think about what could be the key take-aways for a training manager from the way content is structured in Khan Academy. And an immediate answer that comes to mind is brevity.

Today, organizations are under pressure to increase productivity so that organizations are able to deliver more with the same number of employees. This means that employees need to deliver more in the same period of time. In consulting organizations, this is a euphemism for utilization pressure. Many of us would have heard those, havent we? And while L&D managers are under pressure to deliver training to enhance employee capabilities, there is also the constraint of getting participants away from their work for a few days to attend classroom sessions. There is of course e-learning, but can e-learning be an en bloc alternative for classroom or virtual education? I dont think so.

And this is where the Khan Academy concept comes in. This is something i had championed to some extent over a period of the last few years. I am talking about training modules which are a twitterized form of training. In other words, module videos which are to youtube what twitter is to blogs.

In this scenario, the fundamental idea is that people are more interested in training to enable them to do their jobs more effectively. This means that they would be more interested in short, crisp programs (not more than 5 minutes) which help them learn how to do specific tasks as part of their job. Just the things which are required for them to become more effective in their work.

Think job aids meet youtube meets twitter.


Leaders …

The question of leadership, and who leaders are, or ought to be, has been around for a while. I remember the discusion going on about whether are born or whether they can be made for two decades, and i suppose we werent the first people in the world to discuss this. This is a question i keep getting asked When i am running a leadership development training program. Of course, this is a question to which everyone has an answer, and everyone would be confident theirnanswer is the right one.

Well, i too have an answer, though i am not sure if this is the right one. I feel leaders are born, but having said that, there are some principles of leadership which can be generalized (this in the face of believing that every leader has their own distinctive style, not all of which can be generalized, because its relevant to the context) and so, can be taught to some extent.

Having said that, men look up to leaders. Which means that if we can identify the people who people look up to, then we have identified natural leaders who have emerged. This is something this piece from managementexchange talks about.

What you will find really cool about the piece is that it describes that natural leaders emerge based on the level to which they are ready to share expertise or knowledge they have, and the level to whch they are able or willing to collaborate with each other. This, i feel, is the learning paradigm of knowledge-work in a flat world, as they say, that “knowledge shared is knowledge squared”, now it also seems that this paradigm of squaring knowledge may also be at the core of emergent leadership.


Social Networks, Communities of Practice

There is a discussion at the Gurteen Knowledge Community on linkedin by Tony Pedley about the dividing line between social networks and communities of practice. Juha-Matti Sario mentions that social networking is about online communities, and that communities of practice have an objective. Tim Wieringa mentions that social networks are generic and communities of practice are more specific.

At a basic level, i feel that that social networks are social, they are about connections between people. These connections are people-centric and not necessarily objective-centric, as Juha and Tim mention, and that communities of practice are around a practice or around a topic of interest. As such, social networks are people-centric, while communities of practice are objective centric. At the same time, one could also look at a social network as a tool for developing communities of practice. For example, facebook would be the social network, while groups that you are a member of would be communities of practice or communities of interest. In other words, people have a network, and they belong to a community.