When teachers become the taught

picjumbo.com_HNCK7801Pink Floyd’s ‘Hey teachers leave us kids alone’ has a cult status when it comes to exhibiting the irreverent in each of us as students. But what happens when teachers don the mantle of being the taught? Times such as ours, have made technology the game changer in the simple transaction of teaching-learning between student and teacher across varied levels, be it school, college, or as in our case – the virtual classroom. So at a time when ‘connect’ is the buzz word, neither teachers nor students can leave the other partner alone.

Teachers today have a pressing need to stay abreast of technology to be able to translate the knowledge into bite-sized pieces for easy consumption. And as a platform which gets learners and trainers together, we take our training of instructors very seriously.

Our aim at LearnSocial is to enable anyone to learn from anywhere at any point of time. If we take a direct reciprocal of that, in terms of teaching, the aim is as much to enable anyone (of course this means anyone with a specific knowledge and skill base) to be able to teach from anywhere at any point of time. And while we are enabling learning, we are enabling teaching in equal measure by making teachers equal stakeholders as we train them to teach on our platform. In that quest, we train the trainer, thus enabling him/her to deliver his lesson with efficacy and precision.

For any instructor to be eligible for our platform, subject matter expertise, communication skills and real experience in the field form the basic criteria for selection. And from here starts the journey of teaching the teacher or training the trainer, whatever you’d like to call it. As we train the instructor on the basic nitty-gritty of using the synchronous online conferencing tool and the Learning Management System, most of the training effectively revolves around the basic principles that govern teaching in any ordinary classroom. A quiet room where there is no sound disturbance, switching the microphone on and off at appropriate times, prior information on any pauses during the session – all of these form the basic guideline to the instructors. We equip the trainer to be able to handle any basic audio/video trouble that the learners may face. They are also walked through all features of the LMS tool to utilize all features in the tool to make the session interactive and reiterative at points where needed.

The challenge with courses such as ours is that there will never be a homologous composition in any given batch. A batch which, on an average ranges between 10 and 15 students could have a fresher out of college, a professional with a couple of years of experience or someone who simply is there for the love of learning. So the first thing we tell our teachers is to know the students’ background in advance and then plan the content in a manner which is relevant, organized and clear. They ought to have a clear agenda and set the expectations right, right at the start of the batch.

In a bid to simulate the same environment as in a real classroom, the instructor can be seen by all learners and vice versa, thus enabling the former to gauge from the expressions if his point has been hitting home or not. Since live sessions can have some unanticipated disruptions, our instructors are advised to clarify when a learner can seek an answer to his query – at the end of the session or while the point has just been spoken of by the instructor.

Every course experience needs to be personalized. This simply means that learners are guided to come up with creative solutions, think independently and be able to do stuff on their own once the course comes to an end. At the end of each individual session, the instructor needs to dwell upon whether the learners can implement whatever has been taught and how would the learning improve their chances in their work sphere.

The principles of basic pedagogy will remain the same be it a real or a virtual classroom. However for a virtual classroom, the instructor has a greater opportunity to be one up on his counterpart in the real brick and mortar space. For one, even as a teacher, he/she is constantly skilling himself/herself with the training wherewithal that an e-learning platform offers. And two, he/she has a reach to a student community that transcends the geographical confines of space. With the smartening up of content delivery on account of technology and the training that e-learning set-ups provide, the instructor in a virtual classroom is ready to take off into a sky of infinite possibilities.

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12-minute speed hiring – Is it really Smart Hiring

personal-885550_1280For most jobs, do we simply need a smart, grammarly guy at work with his basic cognitive skills in place? It would be easy to answer this question with a prompt ‘yes’ had it not been for the presence of the word ‘simply’, which in the case of this question is not so simple a word. In fact it throws open a whole Pandora’s box of complex questions when it comes to the process of finding the right fit for any job in question. And that is why the 12-minute ‘hire or fire’ speed hiring concept has my brain cells doing a little bit of a jig within my skull.

Typically, ‘speed hiring’ involves candidates being tested for their cognitive abilities in just about 12 minutes and offer letters are given to the suitable candidates. Put the candidate into a cauldron of 50 questions of Grammar, Ratio &Percentages, inductive reasoning for 12 minutes and voila the HR wizard will be able to determine whether the ingredient going in was fit to be served as a dish or not to the position lying vacant. Are we really talking recruitment or SAT here? To give the devil its due, the test does seem to make sense in terms of determining basic language and cognitive skills, a must for any job. It tests the guy beyond what his resume sells by way of degrees and achievements. It also shows his ability to think quickly under pressure – 50 questions in 12 minutes. But coming back to the real question, is a good score good enough to determine whether or not this guy fits in?

A good score simply reflects that this guy is a smart test taker but what about the not so measurable qualities of grit, communication, motivation, empathy, leadership and so many more which might be important to the job in question. Does the 12-minute test give you an insight into that? Besides, like each human being, each job position is determined by unique principles, one may need a quick technical mind, the other good communication skills and another acuity in decision making. How can one generic test be the determinant of candidates being fit for different job roles?

Even if for a moment we assume that the test gives us our average Joe who has minimal requisite skills in place, what are the odds in his favour with respect to performance? As per a research on 20,000 new hires, why 46% failed within the first 18 months was not so much on account of lack of skills but for attitudinal reasons. While basic mathematics, English grammar and inductive reasoning may give us a fleeting insight into a candidate’s skill, the recruiter would still be clueless on whether this guy would fit into the cultural landscape of the organization or not. You have tested the guy for his intelligence quotient for whatever it is worth but what about the emotional quotient, his attitude – something that would be a far greater propeller than skill when it comes to pushing the pedal to the metal in the long run.

Recruitment is a much more byzantine game than just a simple 12 minute test of 50 questions assessing grammar and cognitive skills. It can serve as a basic filtering process to have only a certain level of aptitude make it to the next stage of selection. But the test by itself as a sole determinant for hiring would be like picking up an angora wool pullover on the basis of size, when you are actually living in a tropical country with temperatures ranging between 26 and 36 degrees centigrade throughout the year.

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Team building – From a circumstantial team to a community team

What better time than close to 15th August, the Indian Independence Day, to talk about the concept of ‘unity is strength’ in the corporate space? Any workplace is a mixed bag of people who are a sum total of their experiences, innate temperaments and environmental conditioning. And the more diverse the mix, the greater the chances of lack of connect between the team members. So what does a smart manager do in order to build that dream team that has him laughing all the way to the stage where the team collects its bronze statue on the awards night?

Well for starters, he/she could indulge in some team building. Enough has been written and said about the importance of team building. While the generic principles surrounding team building workshops remain the same, there isn’t any one-size-fits-all solution. For instance, an internal team building workshop that we conducted threw up a lot of interesting insights.  Even before we started, we knew that internal camaraderie was very strong within individual teams but feeble when it came to cross-team connect.

The objective

IMG_20150807_153224So our agenda was simple. We needed a start point to make inter-team synergies a little more fluid than what they were presently. The motive was clear – to move from being a circumstantial team to a community team.

The environment

Since the motive was to make a cross cultural connect between the members of unrelated teams, we chose to steer clear of a slideshow and conference room environment. Instead we used just a white board and were informally seated around tables in the cafeteria.

The seating plan

The seating plan was important. People were made to sit in pre-decided groups of eight. These eight were drawn from different departments and were not quite familiar with each other.  And while they were reluctant to sit next to someone they had only seen and not talked to, as the session progressed, they were all exchanging high-five’s with easy familiarity.

The activity

Our primary aim was to get different team members to be familiar with each other, so we did a quick easy quiz with one question for eachIMG_20150807_153208 person. All questions were personal and participants had to respond to ‘What was your first school, first crush, favourite sitcom, number of girlfriends’ and so on and so forth. Each question was designed keeping in mind the person’s personality, how open he/she would be to share a certain detail with a group. Once all questions were done, different people were asked if they remembered which school Vishnu went to? Or how old was Sumant when he first started dating? Or what is Madhav’s favourite drink? This easy interaction invited a lot of spontaneous laughter and nothing like humour to catalyze the success of any workshop.

 

The takeaways

While a lot of conversation flew back and forth between people conducting and people participating, we knew that we had to offer some tangible takeaways in terms of recommendations. So we enumerated the following:

  • Know each person in the other teams by name
  • Make eye contact when you pass by each other
  • Have a positive greeting or a non-verbal signal, like a smile or a wave of hand when you see each other
  • A handshake always helps
  • Make an effort to reach out to at least 2 people in a fortnight’s time to connect, maybe during lunch or post lunch or breaks
  • Give feedback, and without being hostile ask questions to whoever you think is in an appropriate source to answer your query
  • Contribute your ideas towards getting more hygiene into the workplace
  • Share the social media activity of your organization

The connecting link for future activity

At the end of the workshop, each participant was asked to name two individuals with whom he/she had least interaction with. Each person was given a time of a fortnight to make his/her acquaintances with two such people and build familiarity as an ongoing process within the organization. It was decided that for the next workshop, each participant would share one interesting fact each about the persons he/she interacted with.

Wrap-up

Like any corporate process, team building also has to be a sustained, scalable activity. It has been proven that cohesive teams are more effective teams. But before any team building activity is undertaken,IMG_20150807_153212 it is important to identify the exact objectives that you aim to achieve and then design a set of activities to create an impact. In that light, our workshop is showing incipient but positive results, in the form of a cheerful hi and a beaming smile that we all greet each other with. The rest, as they say, shall follow.

 

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Freedom & Ownership – Our Cool Work Ethos

So it’s kinda cool to say, I work for a startup. The word start-up is oozing with promise, an aspiration for a dream and a refreshing novelty as against the boring clichés of established enterprises. Well it’s not all hunky dory either. There is as much a risk as there is a promise in being part of a startup. But yeah, what the heck, isn’t risk a part of our primitive spirit of adventurism, a wanderlust that makes us discover the land no one earlier knew even existed?

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And so here we are, a bunch of adventurers, though we don’t quite wear bandanas and eye patches. But we do wear tattoos and jeans. It is like a naturally pervasive phenomenon to sport the cool, casual look. We may dress the ‘carefully, careless’ part but we are fanatical about our jobs when it comes to impeccable delivery. What makes us so obsessive about what we do is the unrestrained environment that we work in. For instance, it is perfectly fine to pull my feet up on the chair while I am deep into writing a piece and not be abashed if my CEO walks in that time. It is not because I couldn’t care less but because I know what matters in terms of productivity is ultimately the write-up at the end. Whether it is written sitting on a couch or ramrod straight in a chair is of no consequence to anybody around.

As a start-up we are not punctilious on these little details of mannerisms and behavior. We can call out a loud ‘hi’ without generating ripples of shock in the corridor. We can sit in the conference room and talk about Pink Floyd and Sting with as much passion as we can on customer acquisition and generating more revenue. We can have a guy fresh out of college debate with the marketing head on the efficacy of a particular marketing strategy the latter has in mind. And this fresh-off-the-boat dude is heard, with an open mindedness and respect for his point of view. This is what is the shot of motivation for the newbie – his opinion counts. Here respect makes an entry. While we pride ourselves in our coolness quotient, we also honour each individual’s talent and acumen. Well after all, it was his talent and acumen that made him get here in the first place. Right? So the flat structure is really this creation of space – both figurative and literal for each participant under the banner of LearnSocial.

 

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What’s really liberating is that once goals have been defined and tasks have been assigned, we don’t have a watchdog breathing down our neck every few hours by way of mails and phone calls. There is no micro management of people and their activities. Be it a tea break, a personal phone call or social interaction among people in different cabins, all are treated with as much natural acceptance as a pee break.

So does that mean that we are working in a no rules, no questions asked structure? Well that’s where you may have gone wrong. No restriction does not imply no answerability. It simply means making each individual the owner of his own job. Because the natural human instinct is to rebel against authority, once you remove fetters of super imposed control from the equation, each person becomes an owner of his/her own job. The onus shifts from the task creator to the task doer to ensure timely and immaculate finishing of task and report its completion to the origin of the task chain. There are times when people work through the night not because of someone else’s instruction but because their ownership for the job compels them to meet deadlines and deliver as the need of the hour may be. And guess what’s happening as a byproduct of taking this ownership for the job at hand. Not only am I actively taking responsibility for the completion of the task, but yeah, I also own the innate risks and the results that follow.

All of us in the office are alive with the knowledge that we are in the process of creating something tangible out of what is a dream. We are all walking the journey to create physical, real tangibles that could one day become the business of the century. We are working on the notion of calculated foresight for demand for a particular product or bunch of products in the near future. We have come onboard with our own career objectives of finding money, fame, purpose or growth. While our reasons may differ but our faith in the possibility of the enterprise becoming a success story is the common thread that gets us together as a team.

As we build products and add to our portfolio and chase targets and aggrandize reputation, we really want to do much more than breaking even and make the coffers swell with profits. Of course that is the primary objective but the higher objective here is to have a work environment, an interpersonal space that really epitomizes the reason why each one of us wants to come to work every day. So here’s to the start up spirit that we have generated where each one of us defines the collective spirit of what LearnSocial culture is really about – freedom and ownership.

 

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Because English is a money language

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It is an irony of sorts that while English is really not the official language of our country, it occupies a status much more exalted than any of the other languages spoken within its geographical span. English has become all-pervasive in India and you can see it everywhere, right from food packets and billboards to conversations and English-speaking classes.

There is a distinct demand for English training courses both in the online and offline space. Why is fluency in the language such an ambition for many in our country? The first answer that comes to mind is that command over the English language carries with itself the promise of upward mobility both in the social as well as the economic context. This is not merely a perceived notion. There is empirical evidence to prove the fact. According to a study
 Indians who speak English fluently earn around 34% more in wages; and
 those who speak a little English earn around 13% more in wages than Indians who don’t speak the language at all.

In a whole lot of cases, interviewers have reported losing interest in the aspirant from the moment a grammatically wrong sentence is uttered by the latter. Since most of our official business in white collared jobs is conducted in the English language, it is self-evident that these interviewers are obviously judging the aspirant with respect to his fluency of the English language.

Knowing the language better just ups your chances of being received well in any interpersonal space – be it a private conversation or an official engagement. And this becomes even more pertinent because in order to promote a work culture that is free from the trappings of racial or regional colour, a neutral language like English acts as a great go-between for people who speak many different tongues.

The spoken communication aside, English is an international language, proficiency in which gives us greater reach, visibility and access to a host of things. What makes us such eager subscribers to the language is the plethora of options it opens up for us. There is no denying the fact that the audience who would be able to read this piece would be very limited if I chose to write it in my native language, which incidentally happens to be a dialect.

English language is a skill set that straddles across the entire range of careers that one might be pursuing today. Irrespective of what your profession may be, a certain level of expertise in English will form the barrier to your entry and growth thereafter. It has become imperative to be conversant in a language which dominates the career space, be it IT, education, administration, medicine or any other. If one wants to integrate better into the global organized sector, then English will definitely be the passport to one’s entry there.

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