Predictive Learning

In todays L&D landscape, the way businesses determine who should participate in what training isnt far away from some sort of conjuring act. More often than not, the result of this is a mixed bag, and many of the L&D professionals I speak to tell me that the L1 scores (based on the Kirkpatrick model) are more often than not tending towards the lower end of the spectrum.

There are typically two ways a business determines training participation. One is based on mandated training (usually related to promotion/growth), while the other is nomination by the business manager. Both of these are based on picking up from a ‘menu’ of available programs, and neither really takes into consideration the actual learning needs of the individual.

This is where the idea of predictive learning comes in. The idea here is simple … today, with the technology available to us, especially in the Big Data/Analytics domains, the data about what has worked in the past in what context is available to the organization in a large scale. This data is available based on training, HR, and operations/business data. This rich data can be leveraged to determine what is the best training solution which would likely work in a particular employee context. Like Big Data, this neednt look at the reason (or connection) between cause and effect, rather, look at the linkages as they have been seen in the past.

An important aspect of this picture is that this shifts the focus from training and learning, and from L&D to the individual learner, and makes the entire process people-centric.

One concern with this, though, could be that the outcome of the requirements could be way too granular, and too tailored to individual needs, so as to be unviable from the delivery perspective. More about this later …

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.

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.

Thoughts About Innovation …

Read a nice blog about innovation here. Thought would write some thoughts that came, reading this:

1. Innovation != Invention. Innovation is not the same as inventing something new. It could be about finding new ways of doing the same thing, or using the same way to do different things. How many of you have opened a beer bottle with a spoon? Would you think thats an innovation?

2. Innovation != R&D. Seems to be a corollary of the innovation != invention idea.

3. Innovation != Glamour. Not necessary that innovation create something new, something glamorous. Often times, its also about doing day-to-day things much more effectively, or efficiently. There was a picture a friend had shared on facebook of a guy connecting the drain of the AC with the input of the cooler … water out, water in. Not glamorous, but would you say this is innovation?

In a nutshell, innovation, i feel, is a simpler, more effective, more efficient way of solving a problem. And this way need not necessarily come from a particular team or part of the business. Thats why, crowdsource … innovation is about first identifying a problem (and problems or customer requirements arent always easy to identify), and then to find a solution which is feasible, and which works. I feel both of these make up the idea of innovation. What do you think?

Changing Face of College Education …

I had written earlier about how technology is changing the face of education. Besides, theres plenty written on the topic, so theres not much point is me writing more. Having said that, though, not much has been written about what could be the new face of education. I came across a blog which i thought was a bit different, in that it spelt out the changes which we could see. There are three things which the blog says:

1. Most initial level teaching at university level will be done through online presentations.

2. Learning and assessment will be more social.

3. Teaching will happen in very different ways.

I believe the teaching of classes is something which universities could look at changing quickly. Instead of professors teaching the same courses year after year to different students, the teaching could be more technology-enabled. This means that:

1. Theoretical aspects of courses could be video recorded, with the professors providing the content, and presenters presenting that content to students. This way, professors get much more time to do things other than teaching the same content again and again.

2. Professors could use this time to better engage their students through coursework. What this would mean is that instead of teaching classes, professors could develop assignments, design comprehensive project work, moderate discussions, answer student questions, run quizzes, referee peer assessment, all this without taking any extra time to their working day. All of these could be done in a social form.

In other words, students would collaborate to learn, and professors would:

1. Provide theoretical inputs through online classes.

2. Create learning environment.

3. Facilitate the learning process.

This means not just that the profile of the teacher could change, but this also means that the way students study, learn, and are evaluated, could change. And the learning structure would change, from being teacher-centric, to being student-centric.

Changing Education …

A few days ago, came across this article about the CS221 program offered by Stanford online. You can find more programs here. I found these quite fascinating. Somewhere, these present a changing face of education … or do they? I suppose this change started with MIT putting their courseware online. Then there was academicearth, which i thought was a sort of game-changer given that here, we didnt just have the courseware, but the entire lecture series video-recorded, and posted online. This meant anyone with an internet connection could be there, could learn from the some of the top universities, from anywhere in the world. Then there was Khan Academy … a game-changer in terms of the sheer scale Salman Khan has been created over the last 6 years (please dont look at these chronologically, am just trying to build the sort of continuum of changes which i feel have contributed to a possible new direction for education), and then there was classroom videos posted on youtube. Amazing, wouldnt you say?

These have a way of changing the way education is delivered going forward. If you look at the scenario today, teachers at a university deliver the same lectures year after year to a different audience. Instead of having to do this, teachers could video-record their lectures, and post them online, to be available to students. On their part, teachers need to be able to be available to guide research, mentor Ph. D. folks, and (probably the new aspect here), manage the learning process. When talking about managing the learning process, am talking about creating, managing, kindling conversations among students, guiding and mentoring students to enable them to learn more beyond the classroom lectures, and facilitate learning outside the classroom, in an ongoing way.

The next part, of course, is how this changing paradigm of education can be leveraged in the business scenario to redefine the training landscape. Any thoughts?

Tweets & Updates

Reading a blog today, and I was reminded of a discussion I had a few days back. I opened the blog, gazed through it, and thought that maybe I wouldn’t be able to read it. It looked quite long, and I wasn’t sure I was quite up to it. This is not to say that the blog wasn’t quite nice … Its just me getting into old age.

So what was the discussion I talked about? This was about management books, and why I usually don’t get around to reading them. This is because before I think about reading a book, I usually read the summary of the book on the back cover or the inside flap. From what I have seen, most books give you an adequate idea of what the book is about, anmd the book itself is a lot about specifics, illustrations, etc., which means I can gather quite a bit from the back cover.

Which brings me to what I am writing about … And this I will try to keep short, for reasons obvious.

If you can’t express yourself adequately in half a page, you probably can’t … I feel if you have understood a subject, you can describe it in very little, and shouldn’t have to write on and on about it.

This, I feel, is something to training much more … Explain a concept in a simple form, and with illustrations, build more around the concept in chewable layers.

Saprasang Vyakhya

Continuing on the topic of context … anyone who has studied Hindi (i know this of CBSE board in India, though i would think this would be there of other boards too) would not have been able to escape the concept of the Saprasang Vyakhya. So what is Saprasang Vyakhya? Lets translate, and try to see the significance.

Saprasang … prasang translates into context, so saprasang means within the context.

Vyakhya … vyakhya translates into definition.

So, even as students, when we interpreted poetry, or dohe (couplets), we did not just define the meaning of the poem as it occurred to us. Rather, the entire definition was within the context. And this is something important to understand. One thing that comes from here is that the definition doesnt stand outside of a context. In other words, without the context, the definition itself may not be totally clear, or, one could say that without context the same poem could be interpreted in totally different ways by different people. Or, the meaning of the poem becomes a bit obscured withou the context in which the poet has written.

This is true of most stories. the same story, seen from different contexts, or different viewpoints, may lend itself to completely different tellings, and to completely different interpretations. Take it out of its context, and its meaning either changes so completely that you would have difficulty trying to identify the story, or it completely loses its meaning.

And this is the role of context in any form of knowledge. Without it, there usually isnt knowledge. The way i see it:

Information + Context = Knowledge

In other words, context is what converts information into meaningful knowledge, something which we can understand, internalize. And yet, a lot of KM doesnt look too closely at context, or not as closely as we ought to, i suppose. What do you feel?


Ever walked into a meeting room which has been used by folks before you, who have left their scribblings on the whiteboard? Even if you can read what they have written or drwan, its usually quite difficult to understand what they must have been talking about.

This is about context. In this scenario, you have the content, but not the context, and it is a combination of the two that helps to understand, thereby creating knowledge. The context, in this scenario, would come from the discussion that would have accompanied the content that went on the whiteboard. There is some meaning attached to what’s there on the board without which the information is incomplete.

I feel a similar thing with presentations. If someone, in replying to a request sends you a presentation, you would find, more often than not, that you aren’t able to understand much. Notes with the slides help to some point, but the context of the information can’t quite be put in the slides.

Why Knowledge Sharing

The other day, I couldn’t find my laptop charger. As someone who believes that a laptop breaking down isn’t altogether as lousy as folks make it out to be, was a little worried about some stuff I had to complete. Well, the question was, how does one find a charger.

Step 1 … Start thinking about where you last saw it. As it happened, the last time I remembered seeing it was two days before, at a meeting. Hmm … So maybe I left it there? Called them up, no charger. Suddenly, there was a brainwave. Me and a colleague were wrapping up around the same time, and we were carrying similar looking bags. Maybe I put my charger in her bag? Improbable, but just to make sure, called and woke up a colleague who actually happened to be on leave that day. Ouch. Tried to find at a few other places I had been to, but no charger.

Step 2 … Try to find out how to get another charger. Having found that out, also found that the charger would take five days.

Step 3 … Tell colleagues that I have misplaced the laptop charger. By now its been two hours.

And that’s when a colleague tells me the charger is with security.

As it turns out, had left my charger at the office, and didn’t remember it. But the point is, by asking, I would have not have those two hours looking for the charger. And this is where knowledge sharing is so important. Need something? Reach out to people, not necessarily only the ones you think can help you, but to a larger audience. Never know where you might find the solution.