Thursday, December 31, 2009

About Time

At last count, there were seven P’s of marketing. It started with four; the fifth that was added was Pace.

A Google search on rapid e-learning threw up almost six million results; a similar one for micro learning returned close to 32 million.

A recent topic of interest in the learning discipline again is agile learning, where one of the objectives, predictably enough, is faster design solutions.

The logically sound but difficult (nearly impossible) to measure Baker’s basic ergonomic equation goes: Likelihood of success = Motivation / (Physical Effort + Cognitive Effort + Linguistic Effort + Time Needed), the last being the only reasonably measurable dimension.

There was a media story yesterday on how the Medical Council of India is planning to introduce a medical degree for rural students – a degree that can be obtained in 3.5 years, as opposed to the minimum of 5 years that a normal medical degree would take.

Do we really have no time to stand and stare?

And then comes this consoling counterpoint from the world of fiction, from Henning Mankell, the author of the Kurt Wallander series. One of Wallander’s first lessons comes from Detective Inspector Hemberg.

“Take your time,” Hemberg said. “If only you are to make a good detective you have to learn to think methodically, and it is often the same thing as thinking slowly.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My Learning 2009

The inevitable year-end question from the Learning Circuits Blog comes up: What did you learn about learning in 2009?

Compared to the gloom of 2008, 2009 certainly seemed to be a better blogging year for me – at least I posted more often. Here’s a chronological list of the posts that were based on learning experiences or were significant learning experiences themselves.

In Learning Formats 2020, I tried crowd-sourcing for the first time. The process was fascinating, and the results, more than satisfactory.

Reflecting on running the training function was interesting as an exercise.

The discussions I had with some friends that led to the post on changing behavior was a tremendous learning experience and proved to me the power of conversations.

Trying to argue for social media was thought-provoking.

The TED interviews were hugely insightful, humbling, and goose-bumpy. Diverse people, diverse businesses, common themes: confidence and societal contribution.

I enjoyed writing my response to LCB’s November question on communicating the value of social media as a learning tool.

And the SoMe experiment that Inkscrawl has initiated looks quite promising.

So there you are, seven learning pieces. Compared to four last year, not bad, eh?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A SoMe Convergence Experiment

Mandar Talvekar, he of Inkscrawl fame, seems to be trying an interesting experiment, Tweet Trove. Every week, he publishes a selective digest of the links posted on Twitter in the last week.

Effectively what he does is re-look at his impulsive links of the week, and filter through them to find the most meaningful pieces and aggregate them. This approach also adds a bit of permanence to the links he considers key; else they tend to get lost in the never-ending stream. Another advantage of this process is that it ensures you go through the links you put up in the week – reinforcement, in a sense.

It is not unusual for bloggers to tweet their latest posts so it reaches out to their followers on Twitter. But this inversion of compiling selected tweets into a weekly digest strikes me as equally meaningful. That Mandar has categorized the links (a feature you don't get on Twitter) in his posts adds to the value of the compilation.

You can read Mandar’s first two Tweet Troves here and here. If you want to follow him on Twitter, head over to @inkscrawl.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Value of Social Media for Learning

The Learning Circuits Board asks the question: How do you communicate the value of social media as a learning tool in an organization? Some random musings on an idle Friday afternoon, more to stir the pot than to answer the question.

I don’t think we have reached the stage where we can communicate the value. We haven’t even seen the value yet, haven’t even generated the value yet. Heck, we don’t even know if it really has value.

Come to think of it, are we, the learning design fraternity, really the people to talk about it? Are we experts in the medium or in the message? Are we instructional experts selling instructional forms or technical experts selling technology applications? Is it a bit like CNN and NDTV selling television sets, set-top boxes and band-width, as opposed to focusing on programming content?

Quite often, web 2.0 (the super-set for SoMe) is referred to as “small pieces, loosely joined.” So should SoMe be sold surreptitiously, in small packets? Organically ingrained in the learning solution and gradually increasing its presence? Much like how color advertising found its way into the daily newspaper in India, first in the supplements, then on the front and back pages, and then throughout?

By its very nature, SoMe is characterized by waste and excess. (I just discovered about 75 sites that offer polling and survey applications after barely a 30-min search.) So the purists won’t be unfair in viewing it with a fair degree of skepticism. Evidence is the only thing that will convince them to even get started. Start a couple of small engagements, with people who believe; slowly, as the engagement assumes some shape, include the odd skeptic; and gradually expose the project to the larger majority of naysayers.

Don’t over-love SoMe. May be some or most of it is useless after all. Give it time, give it a fair run, but prepare to bury it if it does not gain currency. If it’s a good thing, it will survive. Look at the human race.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Ted (India) Talkers

Responding to a call from Kiruba Shankar, a bunch of us got together and embarked on a project of interviewing all the TED India fellows. Working by ourselves, we researched the fellows, prepared our questions for them, hunted out their coordinates, chased them with calls, hounded them with reminders, poked them on Facebook, and then used some more tricks from our armories. The way we went after them, they might well be referring to us as the TED Stalkers.

No, we did not manage to get all TED India fellows to respond, heck, we didn’t even get close. But the ones who responded really gave us something to savor. Here’s the list of interviews, in alphabetical order of last names. Take a few hours off to read what drives these people, and why they will be in Mysore November 4-7, 2009.

Prayas Abhinav describes himself rather humbly as ‘artist and writer’ but a closer examination reveals the potential his Cityspinning project could have on the nation.

Tahir Amin’s endeavor appears straight out of a John Grisham or a Robin Cook novel as he takes on the pharmaceutical industry through his organization I-MAK, to ensure medical breakthroughs benefit the patient as much as they do the drug firms.

Zubaida Bai runs a social venture called AYZH that helps women identify the tools they need to improve their standard of living, and then helps them acquire those tools and technologies.

Kavita Baliga was diagnosed with cancer when she was 22, and spent six months undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. And while at it, she learned to play the guitar, started composing music and learned sound engineering. Five years on, she is a faculty member at A R Rahman’s KM Conservatory in Chennai.

Sanjukta Basu is a lawyer and activist and part of the non-profit organization, Breakthrough. She has reached where she has because she has believed and been led by the old dictum about change being the only constant.

Svati Bhogle won the Green Oscar (the Ashden award) in 2008 and today runs TIDE, an organization that attempts to connect manufacturers of technology products with the actual end-users of that technology, especially in small towns and in rural areas.

Sean Blagsvedt is the founder-CEO of, a classic organization that links the haves and the have-nots – that informal sector worker needs a job and the comfortably-placed executive wants that service.

Satyabrata Dam has climbed the highest peaks in every continent in the world, including Mount Everest. And when he was taking a break from those, he managed to find time to reach the North Pole and the South Pole.

Deepti Doshi’s career for the large part has been in volunteering and non-profits. Now she represents Escuela Nueva, an organization that could well have the most significant impact in the primary education scene in India.

Pulkit Gaur is the founder-CEO of Gridbots, a company that builds robots for industrial and military purposes, an interest he has pursued from his college days. Meet the human being behind the bots in this interview.

Neha Gupta has spawned something that could well define how Social Media benefits society, with a Facebook application, eachoneteachone, to facilitate volunteer tutoring and learning.

Sarath Guttikunda is the founder of UrbanEmissions.Info, a one-stop resource on air pollution, particularly in developing countries. Once he compiles all this info, expect Sarath to become a full-time movie critic.

Lisa Heydlauff is likely to be every child’s favorite. She is the founder-director of going to school, a non-profit trust that attracts children to school with the promise, ‘school can be fun.’

Srinivas Kiran Jaggu, an innovation fellow with Stanford India Bio-design, is currently working on IntraOz, an innovative technology product for patients who need vascular access.

Anab Jain is the founder of Superflux, a interaction design company. She has also initiated the Power of 8 project, a project where eight people from different walks of life come together to create a vision for a more desirable future.

Siddharth Kara is a corporate executive turned author. Except that his is not the kind of writing that focuses on campus lives and corporate affairs. Instead, it provides an economic and business analysis of the sex trafficking industry.

Nandu Madhava is the founder-CEO of mDhil, a company that provides basic medical information services via mobiles in India, a service that is proving to be as invaluable as it is cost-effective.

Gaurav Mishra, CEO of 2020 Social and co-founder of Vote Report India, represents the confidence of the corporate executive in Social Media as he moved from the relatively stable confines of the Tata Group to becoming the CEO of an upcoming SoMe strategy firm.

Dr. Ashwin Naik runs Vaatsalya, an organization that aims to bring low-cost, high-quality healthcare to semi-urban and rural India. Sounds logical, except that no one seems to have tried it so far in a structured manner and at a national level.

Enda Nasution being referred to as the father of the Indonesian blogging industry is a reflection as much on the 34-year old as it is on the industry.

Andy Okoroafor is currently working on a movie, Relentless. For the rest of his time, he runs Clam Studio and Clam magazine, both centered on the entertainment industry.

Kamal Quadir is the CEO of Bangladesh-based mobile e-commerce company, a company that could well be called a micro-mobile-service company.

Amit Varma needs little introduction – India Uncut, the Bastiat Prize for Journalism, My Friend Sancho

Gaurav Vaz moved away from the security (such as it is) of the IT industry to pursue his passion of music. Today, he is a Vice President at Muckwork, bass guitarist and co-founder of Radio VeRVe.

Nikhil Velpanur is the CEO of, a web service that lets you book your restaurant table, pay in advance, and then just go and enjoy the meal. His Twitter profile describes him as “a doctor of journalism, sailor of art and sommelier of music, masquerading as a captain of commerce.

Pooja Warier, along with two other partners, set up UnLtd in India – an organization that supports social entrepreneurs. She strongly believes that investing in people is the key to bringing about long-term change.

Aparna Wilder is an “accidental filmmaker” and co-founder of Global Rickshaw, where she and her life partner Shivraj Shantakumar (who won MTV India’s Best Music Video Award in 2009) make short movies to promote the messages of non-profit organizations.

Monday, October 26, 2009

TED India Interview: Deepti Doshi

It was Gaurav Mishra first, then Prayas Abhinav. Now it’s the turn of TED India fellow Deepti Doshi of Escuela Nueva to answer a few questions as part of the TED India Fellows project. One statement she made in a media interview earlier this month sums up Deepti: I get inspired by the optimism of the poor. Share her optimism - read on.

Tell us a bit about the Escuela Nueva model. What makes it unique?

Think “Montessori” for the poor. Escuela Nueva is a child-centered methodology for primary school that has been developed in Colombia over the last 40 years. It is the longest lasting bottom-up education intervention in the world that at one time was in every one of 20,000 rural government schools in Colombia and now has affected over 5 million children all over the world. While the curriculum (what you teach) is adapted to meet the national norms, it is how we teach that makes the model unique. We use workbooks instead of textbooks so the child is active; children sit in groups (on tables or even on the floor) so they can work together; up to three grades can be in a classroom so that children can move at their own pace and learn from each other. Teachers are trained with the same activity based methodologies that we use to teach children and are equipped to be facilitators to support each child’s learning. Lessons are adjusted to the local environments, parents are highly engaged, often attending student government elections and each family is represented in the school in a community map. When Escuela Nueva was in every rural government school in Colombia, it was the first time, rural scores surpassed urban scores and the children in the urban schools with Escuela Nueva also scored higher than the regular urban schools. And beyond academic performance, what is really exciting to see is increased democratic behaviors in these children – taking turns, community participation, etc.!

You mention that the curriculum is adapted to meet national norms. On the other hand, one of the four components of your model is an innovative curriculum. So is Escuela Nueva a parallel movement or does it work with the existing school system?

Our goal is to increase the quality of education that poor children around the world receive. Usually, these children have access to education but unfortunately, the quality of these schools is low and learning is not happening. Imagine in India, less than 30% of children graduating fifth grade can do simple calculation and read basic stories. Our goal is to work with those schools – whether they be government schools or affordable private schools – to ensure learning is happening.

What’s your charter for Escuela Nueva in India?

To date, for the majority, Escuela Nueva has been able to achieve its scale through partnerships with the government; however, increasingly, we are looking to partner with private foundations who are working with government or low cost schools. India is one the first countries where we have entered deliberately because of the amazing gap in quality education and have not waited for the government to commission our work. It is also the first country where we are excited about working with the low cost private schools that are serving a large portion of poor school going children. We will likely start a pilot with these schools and at the same time are working with the government to bring in the model at scale.

What are the key challenges for the model in India? What were some of the modifications you needed to make for the Indian market?

Education is highly regulated in India and that makes working with the government schools tough; only recently has the government begun to outsource the management of its schools and so we are excited to be entering at the beginning of that movement. We also have a bureaucratic climate that can often slow things down but we are exerting tons of patience to take the all the right steps. At the same time, the entrepreneurial climate of India has provided incredible opportunity. Entrepreneurs from poor communities have created private schools that now serve under 30% of our children and in some urban slums, they can be supporting up to 60% of enrollment. These schools are easier to work with because the school owners are able to make their own decisions and are looking forward to bring high quality education to the kids for both financial and social reasons. And serving these schools is also allowing us to create a sustainable model where we can build revenue streams and become less dependent on aid ourselves. We can work more quickly in these schools and are looking forward to our in these schools providing a demonstration effect to the government as well.

You worked with Acumen Fund before. What catalyzed this move?

Working at Acumen has been formative to my work today. In creating the Fellows Program at Acumen I became sensitive to the human capital challenges facing the social sector. Our program was one piece to close the gap and it is exciting to see many other programs now deliberately building leadership for the social sector. At the same time, I recognized that if we wanted to solve the leadership issues in the long term, we needed to start at the core and find alternative ways to educate children – that’s what led me on a journey ultimately ending with Escuela Nueva.

And what has been your career path before that?

I went to business school as an undergrad to capture the energy of the markets in the early 2000s and figure out how to make a lot of money. My junior year, I volunteered at an orphanage that was set up in reaction to the earthquakes that devastated Bhuj, Gujarat in 2001 and recognized how much these non-profit needed managerial skill sets to run functionally and grow and that’s when my focus began shifting. I started a small nonprofit that sent undergrad business school students to non-profits in South Asia and deferred my management consulting offer to spend a year in Gujarat building a vocational training center for the same orphanage. I came back to Katzenbach Partners, where we generally focused on organizational change, teams and leadership in our work and helped the firm spin off a leadership development arm. I also helped start our non-profit practice which is how I met Acumen and you know the rest!

Let’s go back in time a bit – to your childhood days. What were some of the influences that shaped your thinking?

As a daughter of immigrants in the US, the entire family placed a lot of value on education and made sacrifices for it. My siblings and I were lucky to attend Montessori schools – and I attended until 4th grade. I believe that education has provided me the foundation for my growth and believe that’s why I am excited about out work at Escuela Nueva – I saw it as an opportunity to bring similar environment to others. We also grew up visiting India each year and often, during those trips, our parents had arranged for us to do some social work, ranging from teaching English to volunteering at eye camps; I think that exposed all of us to issues of poverty and thinking about what we can do.

How does a typical day unfold for you?

If there was such a thing as a typical day, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I do!

Who would you deem your inspirations?

Ah so many! People that come to mind are Maria Montessori and John Dewey; Gandhi and Mandela; my mom; current mentors and guides, Jacqueline Novogratz and Vicky Colbert.

If you were to start your life all over again and not follow the same path that you are following now, what would you have chosen to do? Why?

Hmm… not much would be different. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had and am pretty content! Maybe a little more sleep!

What’s one good idea you’ve heard recently that is worth spreading?

Student governments starting at 1st grade in schools serving the poor! There is no better way of seeding ideas of democracy and participation in community building. Check out how Escuela Nueva does it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Does long-term thinking need a scientific temper?

It’s a blog musing of an academic, it is but supported with anecdotal evidence, but it certainly is an intriguing thought. Computer Science Professor David A. Patterson from the University of California, Berkeley wonders whether organizations will get better long-term focus if they get scientists and engineers on board. No prizes for guessing the blogger’s educational background, and while this does tend to dilute the power of the argument quite significantly, the premise does sounds like a good topic for some serious research and analysis. Any scientist or engineer will demand that, won’t they?