Learning Theory: Behaviorism | Part 1

UPBRINGING! That’s what instantly comes to my mind when I think of behaviorism.

As is obvious, children – though inherently quite uncorrupt in their manifestations – wouldn’t know how to discriminate positive from negative… and so, can get innocently drawn towards a negative act as much as they do towards a positive one. For them, it’s just an experience and an exciting one at that. Period.

So, how do we channelize them? We explain why and how it’s not okay for them to hit other kids, for instance. We cajole them not to repeat the mistake when we see them perform an action replay. And, we chide them when we catch them in the notorious act yet another time.

Put it simply, our moral agenda towards our children remains unflinchingly singular. We want their behavior to change from ‘bad’ to ‘good’. Period.

Now, cut to a plant atmosphere…


Can we afford people causing themselves (and/or others) grievous injuries because of their ‘incorrect behavior’? We can’t even imagine the affordance. So, we bring in compliance training and make it mandatory because we want them to ‘behave’ in a particular way.

Now, here’s an interesting twist to the story! We need a behavior based outcome, alright! But we may choose to design the training program on a constructivist approach – which I intend to reflect on in a subsequent post – to let our audience explore and find out for themselves the positive and dire consequences of their actions in a safe environment. But that in no way dilutes the ultimate goal of the program. It pretty much remains uni-dimensional in that it needs to train people to behave on a pre-determined pattern.

Now, that adequately explains why the underlying learning theory that drives any compliance training exercise is behaviorism.

Awright now… how do we consolidate our grip on this learning theory?

Let’s reflect on this question in the next post.


The earlier posts connected to this discussion are here:

  1. Learning Design Basics: Introduction
  2. Learning Design Basics: Definition, the take-off point!
  3. Learning Design Basics: Bifurcating Pedagogical Content Knowledge
  4. Learning Design Basics: The Coveted Side of Theory

Learning Design Basics: The Coveted Side of Theory

In general, ‘theory’ gets overshadowed by ‘practice’. For obvious reasons!

It’s something like my theorizing about how to paint a landscape vis-a-vis the very action of painting the landscape. Practice takes over theory, in that sense.

But, in effect, it’s theory from which action springs forth. Put it another way, theory is the foundation over which I construct my action. It better be that way, as otherwise, my action becomes loose without a solid base supporting it.


My respect for theory comes from this angle. I’ve come to realize the importance of my having to internalize the theory especially in extremely critical contexts as that of Learning Design! Because, for me, learning design is not a frivolous occupation anymore. Not that it ever was, but, yeah… am beginning to appreciate the value and depth of this noble profession all the more now.

Now, putting a magnifying glass over the pedagogical expertise route I was reflecting on in my last post, I see ‘learning theories’ zooming in much closer to get my attention.

Behaviorism, Cognitivism and Constructivism.

They do sound like something alright, but as a learning designer, I need to understand what these theories stand for… so, I can consciously apply them in due contexts. Applying my understanding this way, I know what I am doing instead of just ‘shooting in the dark’… which is what invariably happens when I stay on the ‘surface’.

I intend reflecting on each of these learning theories in my subsequent blog outings among so many other exciting discussions I’m queuing up after them.


The earlier posts connected to this topic are here:

  1. Learning Design Basics: Introduction
  2. Learning Design Basics: Definition, the take-off point!
  3. Learning Design Basics: Bifurcating Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Learning Design Basics: Bifurcating Pedagogical Content Knowledge

In my last post, I reflected on pedagogical content knowledge and appreciated the critical role it plays in contributing to sound learning design. I use the term pedagogy to mean instructional methods and not (just) those of teaching connected with education. By that reason, I mean it to encompass andragogy too.

Now, digging a bit deeper…

There are two sides to pedagogical content knowledge… ‘content expertise’ and ‘pedagogical expertise’. That is, what the course (or, the learning experience) is going to convey is as important as how it is going to convey it. The what – that is, content – belongs to the SME (subject matter expert). And, the how – that is, pedagogy – belongs to the learning designer.

Which means, I as a learning designer should make a conscious choice at this intersection.


Bifurcation of pedagogical content knowledge!

My conscious choice would be to take the ‘pedagogical expertise’ route and not the ‘content expertise’ route.

Because, interestingly, this is where the mix-up happens. I start inadvertently channeling my energies on the content thereby losing sight of my profile (which is instructional thinking). Of course the content is important, because that’s what feeds my pedagogical expertise and therefore deserves my full attention.

But, it’s a thin line separating my looking at content as a means to the end and my viewing it as the end itself. I cross the line, then the entire equation changes pushing my expertise out of focus, bringing to the forefront elements such as language edits, parallelism and stuff like that. Not that these are negligible… they are quite critical to the course looking perfect, but yeah… they’ve their place in the scheme of things.

Back to the ‘pedagogical expertise’ route… how do I proceed to get that understanding right?

Eagerly looking forward to exploring more in the next post.


The earlier posts connected to this topic are here:

  1. Learning Design Basics: Introduction
  2. Learning Design Basics: Definition, the take-off point!


Learning Design Basics: Definition, the take-off point!

As I reiterated to myself in the previous post, the most critical aspect of my taking up any exercise is to wholeheartedly embrace and internalize its BASICS. Because, that’s where the core lies.

Get the core right. Do not, at any point in time, let it go off the radar because it seems too obvious. Do not let it get overshadowed by other ‘important’ things. Because, this is what invariably happens… extraneous details come in, grab the spotlight, and totally eclipse the core. What happens thereafter is some diluted stuff which is of no use whatsoever.

Alright. End of prelude. I’m back on track.


Definition: The take-off point!

The core of Learning Design lies in its very definition. This one really caught my attention.

“Learning Design is the art and science of creating an instructional environment and materials that will shift the learner from the state of not being able to accomplish certain tasks to the state of being able to accomplish these tasks.”

Seems rather obvious, the definition… but, that’s where the trap lies. The criteria – or the core – of the learner being able to accomplish the given tasks goes so easily out of the window amidst a whole lot of nonessential stuff in most learning experiences designed. Not without any reason!

One of the powerful reasons – read traps – is superficiality. It’s so fatally tempting to stay on the surface, not having to look beyond or go deeper. Because, not many are even aware of the actual need. Therefore, there’s no dire need to look further. So, be happily done with some superficial stuff… and, move on. Project after project scrapes through the surface. And, that is the end of game.

The real game starts only when I decide to scratch the surface of superficiality to look a bit deeper… and, face the stark reality.

Someone’s becoming able to accomplish a given task is definitely not a joke. If I, as a learning designer, have to achieve that feat, I should brace myself to dive deep into the psychological depths. I should acquire a taste for relishing the realms of cognition – ‘the mental action or process of acquiring  knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and sense’.

Which means, I need to look beyond ‘just treating the content’, and appreciate pedgogical nuances that would shape up my learning design.  Put it another way, I should get a hang of pedagogical content knowledge to understand the context in which content best converts to effective learning.

Easier said than done. Agreed. But, I just experienced a whiff of thrill breeze past me, courtesy of the realization that there’s so much more to learn… so much more to explore.

And, I’m game.

More in my next post!

Learning Design Basics: Introduction

I’ve been playing the role of a Learning Designer for quite some time now – 5 years, 9 months as on date.

Of late, a bit of reflection has been doing rounds in my mind, prompting me to document my grasp of the learning design basics.


Reflection on the basics!

I reckon to myself that it’s worth the effort because these basic tenets are the very foundation upon which we get to erect great learning experiences. And, it does pay to crystallize my understanding of them time and again.

Interestingly, every time I look at these basics, I find that they aren’t the same anymore. They look much deeper than what I thought they were.  I realize it’s because my perception of them keeps changing (for better) thanks to the mistakes I make and the corresponding experiences I gain.

What better way to reinforce my understanding of the craft than by writing down my impressions… and, keep fine-tuning them as I go along!! While doing this, I am also keeping you in mind because you might give me some valuable inputs / feedback that would further consolidate my comprehension of the art.

The next (or rather, the first) post would focus on what I ‘get’ out of defining learning design and how I set myself to unravel its core requirement.



Learning to learn – Key to being ‘alive’!

Arun Pradhan is currently developing an app entitled Learn2Learn which will support people to learn faster, smarter & deeper in the real world. It delivers the latest thinking on neuroscience and evidence-based learning. It also helps in exploring how to maximise experiential and social learning.

As part of his research involves exploring ‘real world’ learning stories, I got an invite to answer four important questions. And, I did with great pleasure, being happy about playing a tiny part in the research. Here they are, my responses.

Q1. In your working life, how have you learned effectively from experience, please provide an example if possible? (e.g. how have you used intentional practice, learned from failure, learned from ambitious projects and/or used reflection)

My response: I think – on hindsight – that I should consider myself lucky for having been ‘arrogant’ in CHOOSING my experiences myself. Because the learnings I got this way were easy to handle, though the process of ‘choosing’ (with its repercussions) was quite thorny. To explain a bit, I gave up a promising career because I found I wasn’t enjoying it. But, my being clear about what I did NOT want to do wasn’t enough. I had to ‘discover’ what I WANTED to do. So, I started my intentional practice of questing after what I would enjoy doing. This first ever ‘searching’ experience of mine brought in loads of reflections which, to this day, have stayed with me.

Then happened a series of discoveries… journalistic photography, dance photography, production design, advertising, and now e-learning (with Learnnovators). As I mentioned, the very experience of discovering things that I love doing has been truly enriching. It’s almost spiritual.

Q2. In your working life, how have you learned effectively from people, please provide an example if possible? (e.g. how have you learned from project teams, mentors, coaches and/or broader social networks)

My response: When one chooses UNKNOWN TERRAINS to explore possibilities of DISCOVERING things, one also truly feels the need for GUIDANCE. My case was no different.

J Krishnamurti, the philosopher, became my mentor. By throwing light on the deepest realms of the subconscious mind, he helped me reflect on my thoughts because they were majorly tumultuous and volatile. Obviously. But, thanks to JK, I subsequently started enjoying the mind’s turbulence, because it was indicative of the ‘great inner struggle’ to go forward.

Then came Rauf, my philosopher friend and godfather, who ‘saw’ a photographer in me. He pushed me into the profession in a way I enjoyed the ‘fall’. He told me, “If you want to be a photographer, listen to a lot of music and read lots of books”. These words left an indelible ‘scar’ in my psyche.

Now, I have Ravi Pratap Singh, who’s a great source of inspiration for me. We invest a lot of our time discussing matters pertaining to mind, people, intentions, attitude, perceptions, perspectives, perseverance, and a whole lot of things that help us keep ourselves on the right track in as far as our understanding and approach to our work and life go. This is one hell of a life-time learning for me.

Q3. In your working life, how have you learned effectively from courses, research or investigation, please provide an example if possible? (e.g. how have you learned from reading on the web, reading books or attending conferences/courses)

My response: We’re in a digital world today. There’s so much information not just lying around but flooding around us. We pick and choose what’s immediately relevant for us and try to assimilate the essence of whatever little we imbibe. For me, the current phase of my life is awesomely rewarding because I’m coming to know how much I DON’T KNOW. That’s enlightenment because this knowledge is what goads me to go forward.

Q4. What’s your top advice for someone who wishes to develop faster and learn complex skills in modern workplaces?

My response: Be OPEN. ‘Cause, it’s only that way fresh knowledge comes in… faster. Be ADAPTIVE. ‘Cause, things are transitioning around us constantly. If we are not willing to adapt, we will soon go obsolete. For, extinct goes the species that refuses to adapt. Resist being JUDGEMENTAL. ‘Cause, it makes you opinionated and prejudiced. And, it blocks fresh inputs from coming in. Cultivate the habit to be AVARICIOUS for knowledge. ‘Cause, there’s a constant danger of its staying away from us, because we just don’t have time for it amidst the chaotic schedule we have every day. Remember, constant replenishment of knowledge is key to staying ‘alive’.