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 …


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.


Technology & Performance Management

I am these days reading a book about Big Data, and going through some of the applications of the technology, I was thinking about some of the ways Big Data can be applied in people matters. I tried to google about usage of Big Data for Performance Management, and didnt quite find much (or maybe thats because the search terms show results for application performance management). One aspect of using technology in HR, I feel, is in the realm of Performance Management.

Today, appraisals are done in an objective manner, with ratings which try to capture achivements and performance. However, as we know, these are a sort of force-fit. What does a rating of “Exceeds Expectation” mean? Does this mean, for instance, that performance is high, or does this mean that expectations are low? Somehow, this seems to be like fitting a square peg in a round hole, or a round peg in a square hole, if you prefer it that way.

An alternative to this could be the usage of technologies like Big Data to handle this. To begin with, managers could have the option of writing their observations, along with specific examples or scenarios as part of the appraisal process. This kind of input gives us rich information about people performance. Instead of trying to fit performance into a quantitative scale, this has the possibility of giving us qualitative inputs into performance.

Add to this the fact that plenty of business-related data is available from finance, sales, and operations, and we have immense data, both quantitative and qualitative, with which to work. Using this data as the starting point, Big Data technologies could be used to build correlation between manager comments and business performance, and deriving employee performance based on this correlation. This has the benefit of giving a descriptive picture of performance, one which describes achievements in a more meaningful way which can be used to drive talent processes.

Theres much more that Big Data can be used for, as this post by @josh_bersin describes.


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 Eminence

A discussion I was having the other day with colleagues about eminence and the role of social media in creating the persona of people who are experts at things brought out some rather interesting thoughts. One of the ideas that came out was that social reputation is based on one’s willingness to share knowledge. While I completely agree with that, this viewpoint confuses knowledge with the act of sharing. One can actually share things on social media without really knowing much about them. One of the things I see, for instance, on twitter, is that the rate at which people share links must mean they are reading like probably a thousand words per minute. Quite a few people I know just glance through an article or blog, and share it on social media. This is why I say hat sometime knowledge can be confused with the act of sharing.

Another important thing to understand is that it is very easy to manufacture things on social media. You might have seen a number of quotes from Albert Einstein on the web, and I don’t know how many of them are attributable to him. Taking an instance of a talk show I was watching, the analyst on the show was quoting a long-departed leader as having said something. This didn’t quite sound logical to me, so I started searching. After much searching, I found a blog which told how a lie was fabricated and why, and how it was circulated all over the world over social media. The “fact” may find it’s way twice around the world before folks start finding out. Also, there will be a number of folks on social media who will have spread the word, and very few who would take the effort to validate. What this means is that social eminence can be manufactured, and while there are self-correcting mechanisms which are there in the social ecosystem, these methods may not always be effective in a world with a very short memory. By the time you figure out something is wrong, nobody’s really interested, and setting the record straight is a moot point.

The point I am trying to make is that we need to be selective in the sources we subscribe to, and that we need to do our research before publishing something, a thing which is seldom done.


Cloud and Enterprise Apps

This is a topic which quite a few of us would have been thinking about … what are the implications of cloud for IT service providers? The reason this question gains importance is because with cloud paradigm, the levers of value for customers become different from what they have been. The days of mega implementations, for example, having 500 people teams working for 4 years to deliver a project are no longer to be seen. With cloud coming into the mainstream of technology, project profiles are changing further. Release cycles are much shorter, with larger number of releases coming out in quick succession. Project lifecycles are much shorter too, as is the scope of development or customization.

One is the fact that it is no longer possible for companies to differentiate themselves on the basis of IT as technology becomes commoditized. The paradox is that when IT was a specialized space, IT was almost an afterthought in organizational strategy, while today is becoming centre-stage in the strategy landscape.

As IT becomes more commoditized and more and more of the technology components in the organization, there is more reason for organizations to oursource more of their IT functions.

For enterprise apps, for instance, the cloud era seems to be one of short implementation lifecycles, far less customization, agile development, and accelerators. This means that for services organizations, this is a whole new paradigm, with the sales folks not keen on selling these engagements as the revenue potential from these is much less, and yet, organizations have more focus on cloud engagements. Services organizations would need to change the engagement model, probably with more shared-delivery in implementation projects, and reducing the distinction between implementation and support engagements from a delivery perspective.


Online Education

This post comes from this post that i read on linkedin today. The post is about a young girl doing courses through MOOC providers. These courses are offered by some of the leading faculty in the field, from some of the top universities in the world, but by the inherent structure of these courses, its not really expensive to do these courses. The cost of running the course can, in fact, be lower because, with the MOOC paradigm, the cost of the course can be shared by participants across the world, instead of only those in a particular physical classroom. However, as you will read from the comments on the post, the main thought people have is, does this collection of courses, and the credits these would represent in a traditional university system, represent a MBA?

Lets consider this closely.

What are the components of education?

1. The right content covering all the topics which a student is required to know to be able to say that he or she has attained a particular level of proficiency in a particular topic.

2. Teaching by a faculty who can teach the concepts covered in the course, answer questions from the students, give them homework, evaluate their homework, and make them do projects or case studies, and evaluate their performance in these.

3. Collaboration between students which helps them to learn together, from each other, and to contribute to the learning on the group as a whole.

4. An exam which can test the knowledge of the student and be able to say with a certain amount of confidence that the student has attained a certain level of proficiency in specific subjects or courses.

Apart from 4, all the other three are available in the structure of MOOC. Here are courses delivered by some of the best faculty in the world, with some of the best courseware, and students have a multitude of options for collaborating with each other. What is lacking is the assessment of the performance of students with some form of standard testing, to signal to prospective employers the suitability of the student for a particular job (this is the economic function of test scores, isnt it?). And what is lacking is the attaching of credentials to these courses.

I feel this is something that is going to change over a period of time. With more participation from leading universities in MOOC programs, what is required now is a structure which can bring courses together into a single framework, regardless of which university is teaching those courses, and aligning this framework with a standard testing model, and we have all the ingredients of a completely new paradigm of education.

The question that arises is why universities would want to do that. With the rising costs of education and delicning subsidies or grants, as universities are finding it harder to recruit students, this is a model which can help universities recruit students from across the world, without those students having to travel to the university location (which is a large cost), and each university getting funding based on the number of units taught, case studies developed or delivered and assessments run by them, this could be a viable financial model for universities.

Anyone aware of studies done which might be able to define the sensitivity of student enrollment towards cost? In other words, are we able to quantify how student enrollments would increase as costs reduce? With this information, it may be easier to find out the feasibility of this model. Anyone aware of any such studies? Please do leave a comment.