Article: From Theory to Practice: The 5 As of Learning

Learning Technology

From Theory to Practice: The 5 As of Learning

It is time to go beyond conventional learning methods, jargons and frameworks and look at learning that is technology enabled and ready to lead the future.
From Theory to Practice: The 5 As of Learning

We live in a world where jargons abound, new coinages duel to become the norm and we seem to be caught up in an endless struggle to keep up with our fast-changing perception of the future (which apparently is now!). In such a world, the face and phases of learning undergo changes faster than you can download the next learning app or tool (even with breakneck speed Ethernet). We hear of MOOCs, blended learning, instructor-enabled learning, flipped classroom learning and countless other learning jargons which often make learning seem a lot more complicated than it should be in our age of over-simplification.

Damodar Padhi, VP & Global Head of Talent Development, Tata Consultancy Services simplifies the learning environment and cuts through the clutter with the 5 As of learning. He talks of a time, thirty years back when it took parents quite a bit of time to plan and prepare a post-school evening snack for their child. Now, when a child complains of a grumbling tummy after school, all it takes is two minutes and an instant snack is ready to be served and to put a smile on their face. He says online learning today is like these two-minute snacks. Maybe we are getting more accustomed to snacking on instant learning.

Epic teachings

A thing to remember with these learning snacks is applicability. Padhi states, in keeping with Bloom’s Taxonomy, that “if you read, (it is) very unlikely that you would remember something if you remember something, it is unlikely that it will stay with you but if you apply, you remember.” Thus, any learning framework that does not compel us to apply the learning is essentially unsuccessful. Epics and mythology, being retrospective narratives based on human behaviour, always have a lot to teach. Padhi cites Dronacharya from the Mahabharat, one the greatest teachers ever written of, to speak of the need for eliminating all that is irrelevant to learning. Dronacharya is pleased when Arjun states he can see neither the tree, or the bird but rather only the eye of the bird where he must shoot his arrow. That is the focus that is needed in learning today.  

The 5 As of learning are basically frameworks of thought that enable greater applicability of what is learnt and therefore need to be understood to make learning more effective.

Here’s a glance at the 5 As of learning:

1)   Anytime

2)   Anywhere

3)   Anyone

4)   Any device

5)   Any content

Breaking the space-time barrier: anytime-anywhere learning

Padhi talks of how Tata Consultancy Services has managed to innovate the space of anytime-anywhere learning. “In our 50th year at TCS”, he says, “we are a population of 4,00,000 employees, working out of 40 countries and speaking a hundred languages.” Getting it right in an ecosystem as wide and diverse as that is complicated and presupposes the need for learning that works anytime-anywhere.

In yet another reference to the epic, Mahabharat, he speaks of Eklavya who was a self-trained warrior. Albeit without a guru, a formal place to study and practice of even a fixed schedule of learning, Eklavya still managed to teach himself the art of war. He must be one of the oldest examples of self-learning as well.

When we truly are able to be space-independent, time-independent without affecting the quality of the learning process adversely, only then can we say we engage in anytime-anywhere learning. With most companies today working with remote teams and contributors who are miles and time-zones apart, being able to plug into learning from anywhere, at anytime, is essential.

Learning for anyone and everyone

Organizations need to be able to enable the same quality of learning experience for every employee. This does not just entail getting everyone involved in learning despite being spread across geographies and acknowledging that any workforce can be location diverse but also appreciating the behavioural diversity that exists within the team itself.

Not everyone is equally inspired to learn and no two individuals will have the identical qualities and learning traits. Moreover, an enabler must remember that s/he will mostly be dealing with “average” individuals who may not be fast learners bestowed with impeccable memory and sky-high motivation. The idea is to be able to wring out the inherent capabilities of the workforce. The learning environment should thus be encouraging and conducive for every employee no matter how diverse a workforce the framework needs to cater to.

Learning modules should thus be created keeping a global (or at least a globally local or “glocal”) audience in mind so that it is relevant for all. Besides that, there should also be a practice environment within the organization that allows employees to apply, make mistakes and build on their learning experiences.

Speculations today that by 2020, 20% of the workforce will be un-trainable not only paint a rather bleak picture but should also make us question whether we are doing all it takes to integrate technology with learning keeping the future in mind. Rajesh Gopinathan, for example, CEO, TCS believes that “there are no legacy people, only legacy technology” and that essentially upholds the idea that every person is trainable – everyone can learn. Learning frameworks should thus be for anyone and everyone.

Any content on any device

The role of technology in learning processes today is that of an enabler. TCS’s iClass or intelligent classes allow participants real-time access without doing away with the essential human aspect of learning by allowing dialogue and encouraging participation.

The screen that we are most attached to today is the one on our mobile phones and if learning interventions cannot leverage on that, there is a lot to lose. The device of choice should not be a barrier to learning but rather an aspect that makes the whole process easier. Learning framework thus need to be truly mobile-enabled.

These changes, however, mean that there is a humongous body of knowledge and while we do devour an unbelievable quantity of content every day, to make learning more effective, content needs to be more efficient. We need to be able to access any specific, relevant content slice out the whole galaxy that is available to us at the touch of a button. We thus need access to better-curated courses that make the most sense for us and are personalized to our needs.

C for culture

While the 5 As of learning form the crux of better learning experiences, they all fall redundant without a learning culture that is enriching, encouraging and empathetic. There is a need to build learning cultures around the idea that learning at work is not merely about certifications but about developing core competencies that are relatable and relevant both for the employee and the organization. It thus the C that lends meaning and context to the 5 As. It needs to be enmeshed into a livable culture that learning should be accessible and useful for anyone in the organization from anywhere at anytime for any content on any device.

Note: This session is curated from the session hosted by Damodar Padhi, VP & Global Head of Talent Development, Tata Consultancy Services, at People Matters L&D Conference 2018 in Mumbai.

Watch the session here:

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Topics: Learning Technology, #PMLnD

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