Saturday, January 26, 2013

A presentation skills experiment

So, the course, I mentioned did happen. And I tried a different approach this time. The last time I had a 50 slide presentation for 4 hours. But when I saw the same slide deck now, I found myself cringing. So, this time, I tried to bring out the learning from the attendees. So, I used a series of videos to bring out the learning.

And now, that they had observed the right way to present, the solution to how they could present came from themselves. And I found the audience feeling very comfortable as it went on. 4 hours went away so fast, I could not imagine. There was a lot of peer to peer learning and discussion - I barely had to talk.

So, was the experiment successful - yes, I think so. But there is still some refinement that can happen as I figured out in this session.

But the big message that I wanted to give the audience was 'Be yourself'. And this is something we dont often do. The few train the trainers I have attended often want you to make so many changes to yourself that it is feels very difficult. But, if you are getting the basics right, a lot of other things, like accent, stance fall in place - and at that point, it is far better to be yourself and authentic than be somebody else in front of your audience!

Think of all the cricket commentators. Think of the best. They are all there - being themselves. Michael Holding uses his accent to his advantage. Harsha Bhogle, uses his knowledge of cricket and diction to great effect - he uses the fact that he is not a 'cricket great' by making the others talk - and the people love it. Henry Blofeld, Boycott, even Sidhu - the best are mostly being themselves (hmmm..theme for a future post).

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The age of the autodidact

Ever so often, I hear parents complain about how their kid is watching too much TV. Well, most often you will find that the answer is that others in the house are spending a lot of time watching TV. The similar reasoning will be seen around a kid who reads a lot.

Ditto for the internet.
The trouble with the internet is that, it is very easy to get into the consumption oriented part of the internet - watch videos, play games and suchlike. Because it resembles what you have seen as media - TV, newspaper - they are all one sided - pure consumption.

The internet is a medium that will work for you the way you want it to work. Take youtube for instance. You can watch movie songs or you can watch it for seeing 'things to do/make' or perhaps upload what you made in the form of a video. Which do you think the kids will enjoy?

The current generation that is growing up today, has perhaps the best resources off the web yet.


The trick, perhaps is to not keep yourself (and your children) hooked only to the consumption part of the internet, but try and translate that into real world applications and skills. For example, Foldify is an app on the iPad that can be translated into the real world with some pretty cool models. Sciencetoymaker.org (a site which we have mentioned before) is another of those cool sites.

I have seen the little one learn to make various things in Lego from youtube. His latest idea is to learn drawing cars from the internet. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the internet is, perhaps, the worlds ultimate resource for the autodidact.

Ekalavya would be proud, would he not?

And this is not just for children. I have seen people learn zumba from the internet and quite a few other things. So, the question once again, what are you using your internet for?

(Developing thought - will work on this to make it a larger piece.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Learning Process

One of the pasttimes the little one has is watching youtube videos. Especially on Lego. Especially where someone explains the inner workings of some random thing that they would have built. Those videos are amazingly instructive and very very systematic. And mostly, by Americans, I think. And Americans are great in systems (my view). So, imagine a kid, who has been watching such explanatory videos over some time - at some point, he wants to make his own video. (Pretty standard I would think - if your coach talks about swimming/driving - at some point, you want to jump into the pool/vehicle and get started). This is the demo step, if you will, where the learner sees possibility.

So, at some point, the little one wanted to create videos. And, we have been creating and deleting videos for some time now. So, the demo and creation and honing process happens somewhat simultaneously. The practice phase.

And at some point, one of the videos made - actually not just the video, even the model that was made - was quite well made. The model was that of a car - with opening doors and boot and hood. And the explanation that followed was systematic, grammatically reasonably correct and fairly well done. I dont think even now, I will get a video of that high a quality so soon.

The learning I saw here was a combination of demonstration, practice and ultimately creation of a high standard (and it continues as the skill is honed).

The internet is out there - filled with good and bad stuff. What you make out of it, is in your hands.

"We are all in the gutter, some of us are looking at the stars" Oscar Wilde

Friday, January 11, 2013

Disrupting the Training Industry

Recently, I read this piece on how Linkedin is eating up the recruitment market. In a nutshell, what that means is that candidates can be found by anyone on Linkedin – so why use third party services? And some time back, Linkedin had opened up to third party recruiters- and later on launched its own recruitment tool. So, eventually, nobody needs to use third party recruiters, because Linkedin has it all.

How Linkedin is eating the recruitment industry.(Read it all, worth your time)

Now let us think about training. There is an entire industry out there that service various companies, individuals and many other kinds needs in the training space. There are a slew of universities that offer tailored MBA programs, Executive education apart from various bodies offering certifications of various kinds. Now, the internet is busy disrupting this market. And it is only a stone’s throw away. The best courses from all over  the world are available on the internet. Coursera for example. EdX for another. And generalassemb.ly. And then there are MOOC’s offered by Standford university and others.And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Harvard Managementor is a premier online learning module for management skill (and you thought that the behavioural training industry was beyond reach?)

The big catch though is that, while you get to ‘virtually’ interact with students, attend fairly high quality lectures and submit projects and assignments – you don’t get a certificate from the university (atleast not yet). I suspect this is partly because of ‘geographical licencing issues’ or because it is free (which is a big win). But if you don’t care too much about a certificate from a university and are more interested in the pursuit of knowledge, then this is for you.

You may think that this is the tip of the iceberg and that this will not affect the work that we do – especially as standalone training organizations, corporate training groups and many many others in this space. But, believe me, it will. Disruptive innovations start at a low end of the market, where the 'higher-end' competitors cannot be bothered or attack from a totally different perspective - in this case, connectivity and technology.

The company funded university programs will need to look beyond tie-ups from universities and look at offering ‘time’ to employees to take up internet enabled courses. (And build better due diligence to ensure that there is no fraud there.)

Once virtual classes get better, there is no reason, why high end certifications cannot be got from the very best in the world instead of settling for something that is ‘nearly there’.

And this is just scratching the surface – there is more happening out there that is changing the way people learn. The only one that is kind of not affected is – experiential learning, outbounds and suchlike.

And may remain unaffected for a while now, but till when? And till then, well, watch your backs!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A MOOC Question

There is a rich debate on as to whether a MOOC will revolutionize the learning industry. One side is the argument that is open, free, allows learning at your own time and if well built, it can enable peer to peer learning, reviews and suchlike. All in all, a great tool. No doubt about it.

And thus I enrolled in the the Stanford V-Lab course. It seemed to start off well, but then one weekend (when I was supposed to finish my assignment) I was too tied up. And I did manage to write the assignment, but did not click the 'submit' button. So it stayed, in that un submitted state. That was one strike against me. And I did not want to be a student who did not submit an assignment. So, I stopped. Thus, I can relate to many a well-intentioned person who might have joined the course, but dropped off.

Now, drop outs are quite common. From my own experience, many of these 'correspondence' classes like the Brilliant IIT tutorials and distance learning classes are littered with drop outs - not that they care - because like gyms, they have made their money and sent you the books. If you dont finish the course, well, make difference. And this, even after they pay. So, drop offs for free courses are bound to be more.

The right answer might be a blended MOOC approach. A MOOC course made available to remote universities and teachers to provide guided course access to their students.Perhaps.

As for me, I have not given up yet. I signed up for a new course in coursera. And let me see how that goes...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

End of an era

One of the earliest memories I have of reading is the fresh smell of the newspaper - delivered each day at the crack of dawn. When I was a little boy, I used to spread the newspaper on the ground and read it. I could never get comprehend how appa and the big people could read it holding the newspaper up - it was just too big for my little arms. From the floor, I graduated to reading it on a table and then finally I could read the newspaper like my father could. In between, I realized why tabloids were so easy on the arms and shoulders - and that was an interim step.


The newspaper made my day - each day - for the past many many years. During my travels - I found it so difficult to not have access to a newspaper. And for a long time, I would come home and read all the newspapers of the time I was away. Especially after our summer vacations in Kerala - I have read through newspapers for a month. 

When I woke up early to study, the newspaper's arrival was a good time to take a break. When I had to attend a function I was not particularly looking forward to, the newspaper gave me company. During long train rides, the newspaper was always at hand. I remember early morning fights and strategies to be the first one to lay our hands on the newspaper - sometimes going so far as tracking the newspaper vendor to the earlier delivery point and getting it from there.

There was no better way to enjoy coffee but with a newspaper. There was no way to enjoy long travels but with a newspaper.

My parents impressed upon my younger brother to read the newspaper like the elder brother (me). Reading newspapers was a sign of intelligence, said others. Read the editorials to improve your English, seemed to be a golden rule.

But, over the last few years, I have largely got my news, views, analysis on the internet. Also, the big deal of news getting published in a newspaper is no longer true. As Clay Shirky says, publishing is just a button away.

The internet is also a great place to get the news that you want to read about. If I dont want to read about some latest movie and its latest item number, well, I dont. Just because those who run the newspaper want to pander to all the demographics that supposedly read their newspapers, doesnt mean, I need to subject myself to it. And what the editor thinks we should be reading, may not be what I want to read. The internet allows me the freedom - and besides the internet has some of the best editors ( my twitter feed and my google reader subscription for instance). And in these days of zite and flipboard, which are essentially, curated newspapers of my interest, the newspaper is, well, passe. And English, well, again, there are a million better ways of getting there for my kids.

So, that is it...the end of an era of newspapers being delivered at my home atleast.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

News websites

Often, when a new technology becomes available, people try to use it as much like the technology it replaced. In general. Preferring to skim over the technology and use it with the limited functionality of the outgoing technology until at some point, someone shows them how to use the breakthrough functionality.

The first time I experienced this was while I tried to make a debtors report at my first job. And the report was maintained in xls – but no better than a ‘physical register’. It took us a few weeks to clean it up to use it like an xl sheet with group, sort, sub-totals and such like.

Digital cameras are another thing. I read somewhere that nowadays a photograph is very unlikely not to be digitally retouched – and the possibilities are endless. Earlier, that was reserved only for magazine covers and portfolio shoots – but now anyone can do it. And while on that, do see this commercial on Adobe Photoshop.


And that brings to my latest idea – that newspaper websites are still stuck to make their websites appear like a physical newspaper – give or take a few. They are tagged also in a similar manner. And why now? Rather even now? Including google news! I can understand, when the internet started, access (and bandwidth and design) was limited…but not anymore.

So, here is a thought on news websites. With map technology being so prevalent – why can’t  a website open up with the country map you are accessing it from (or choose to see it as – I mean, Indian from the UK, for example). And then once you zero in your location, it shows news around you and then you can zoom up or down to see news by city, state, country and then onto global headlines and stuff like that? Today, local news is hard to find – indeed it perhaps best to find it on twitter, if at all. So, why cannot I get translated version of news around me based on my location? (I know this sounds very sketchy, but I think it is possible and just one of the many ways in which news will be viewed in the future.)

And this applies to facebook as well…why view your friends as a list? Why not view them on a world map or some such other grouping?

Anyway posting this idea here to record that ‘I said it’!!