‘Behavior Change’ happens in the brain first! Only then does it manifest!

…which means, the focus goes straight to what happens ‘inside’ when a learning experience is in progress. Does this experience strike the needed neural connections inside the brain for the brain to change ‘physically’?


Does the brain change physically?  

I was quite intrigued by this question and started looking around for insights. What I discovered was one of those most obvious things, but it nevertheless turned out to be a revelation for me.

Just observing the way children’s brains perform as they – the children – grow is good enough a proof for us to appreciate the fact that the little brains do change physically. They do so to accommodate new impressions that keep coming in through various channels. They are also like clean slates registering whatever comes their way without having to contend with any of the previously formed impressions. This is understandable because these impressions aren’t simply there.

Now, this is where we have a bottleneck with grown-ups. The adult brain’s acquired knowledge (stored in the hippocampus) creates a conditioned reality. Some of the impressions created by this reality are correct and some of them incorrect.

Correcting the incorrect impressions to bring about the needed behavioral change is so easier said than done. Seth Godin enunciates on this rather abstruse angle so well in this article.

That probably explains why (some of) the adult brains slow down when it comes to adapting to new environments and why sometimes they even resist changing their behavior as demanded by changing contexts. Which means, the new stuff presented to them needs to be so convincing (among various other things) that they find it easy to spontaneously correct/fine-tune/enhance their existing impressions.

So, when we take adults through a set of fresh skill sets we want them to acquire, the first thing we need to do is, find out what they already know. See how much of what they know is correct and how much of it is incorrect. And, turn our focus on the latter by setting up appropriate learning channels that will help them experience a smooth course correction.

The key is to let them also realize where they are going wrong.  Once we get them convinced on the need to correct themselves, we would be on our way to achieve the needed behavioral change.

Here’s an excellent repository of insights from Clark Quinn on how we can help people learn to learn.

Learning is PHILOSOPHICAL. It happens on REFLECTION.

Enter any work zone. We find different kinds of people there.

Those who look bored and disengaged, who come to work because they have to. And, those who look tensed, anxious, exhausted and overworked, who desperately wait for that much-needed break.

For both these classes, work is far from inspiring. There’s nothing to look forward to. There’s nothing new to learn. There’s nothing to take home as ‘experience’. It’s just humdrum they need to put up with.

But, amidst this crowd, we do find another breed… souls that are quite excited, that are constantly on the run. Not because they don’t fail. Not because they’ve mastered their game. But because, for them, work is learning. For them, learning happens when they experiment, when they push themselves out of their comfort zone… ’cause, that would demand ‘new mindsets and behaviors’ to handle the un-comfort zone comfortably.

And, this personal growth mindset comes full circle when it takes its experiences also seriously and reflects on them because there’s so much to be learned from them as well.

Arun Pradhan puts it so wonderfully in this inspiring post of his, “Without a reflective process, the experience that lies at the centre of this model would be relegated to being ‘stuff that happens’”.

He also adds, “The process of listening to one’s ‘internal voice’, which is representative of mindset, and positively engaging with and redirecting that voice, requires a deliberate and sustained reflective process (not to mention buckets of patience and self-compassion).”

I just love this phrase ‘buckets of patience and self-compassion’, because we are limited beings, we come with our own baggage that conditions us to think in a particular way. ‘Challenging one’s mental models’ and going beyond them takes time. But, “over time, such an open reflective process might call into question things we assumed to be true, as old and new mental models fight for their place in our minds. In such cases, the process of unlearning and letting go of redundant mental models, is just as important as developing new models moving forward.”

All that’s discussed so far is at the individual level… where people are committed to their own personal growth. But, how does this work from an organization perspective? What should the organization do to achieve the same reflection based learning amongst its employees?


Here are some of my reflections… things I (would) love to do when I’m with my colleagues.

Spotting excited souls is probably one of the easiest things we could ever accomplish. Because they stand out clearly from the rest of the crowd.

Pick them up. And, start small. Give them all the support required. Help them learn and grow. And, use them as the showcase material for others to emulate. Basically, lead people by examples.

While doing all of this, empower these talents with other real-life traits such as taking on challenges bravely and coming through them successfully, because creamy, smooth situations are never perennial. And, through all these ‘enaction’ scenes, let them know they are not alone. Let them know that they have our full support.

As I see it, when we start our proactive people measures this way, we can feel confident that we will move towards making our organization a learning organization.

For more thoughts, check out Arun’s yet another post on Workflow Learning.

Key to Earning a Perennial Learning Mindset: Master the Mindscape!!

The biggest challenge to getting a perennial learning mindset is OURSELVES. Our mindscape is so dimensional and vast that tracking all its subliminal processes becomes quite difficult, if not impossible.

Things happen on a pre-programmed mode and decisions get taken on an automated note. Complacency, for instance, is one of the common mind-traps most of us fall into. It charms its way in, almost unnoticed. The resulting ‘let-go’ feeling is so addictive that when we give in to this irresistible temptation, we slide into that amazingly therapeutic basking mode. Nothing really matters then! So what if the world is passing by in a delirious hurry? Let it. I’m all chilled out at the moment. That’s what matters.

Which is why, Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) is elusive. Harold Jarche enunciates in this article, “I think it is because it’s hard to sell a difficult journey in an age of instant gratification.”

To mend one’s own ways is easier said than done. The way out?

Start with a keen observation of the mind’s landscape. Watch all its movements carefully. Become aware, first. Awareness is THE key. Appreciate the beauty of being dynamic. Being dynamic just for the sake of being dynamic!


The next step… Seek the company of dynamic souls. Be in their midst. Watch them ‘move’. Keep watching. Somewhere it rubs off into the subconscious. Though PKM is all about personal learning, “our deepest learning often comes from our engagement with others. It can even hurt to learn. We learn socially, as humans have for millennia. While we need time for reflection, we need real experiences to reflect upon. This makes our learning personal: felt in our gut. Real learning is not abstract.”

Nothing comes easy. Mastery takes time and effort. It’s an arduous journey, yes. But, good company can make the journey truly enjoyable. Don’t you agree?

Sensitive Learning Design! Boosts Inherent Cognitive Load. Eases out Extraneous Cognitive Load.


Cognitive load is a necessary ingredient of an impactful course design. Acquisition of indepth knowledge happens only as an upshot of successfully overcoming friction, difficulties and challenges. But for these stimulants, the learning can possibly turn into a damp squib.

As much as boosting inherent cognitive load is key to designing a successful learning experience, easing out extraneous cognitive load is as important to weed out incidental processing that’s not relevant to the learning task.

Long-winding sentences, confusing user interfaces, visually cluttered layouts, and jarring background score are some of the most obvious extraneous loads that complicate the learning process.

Is there anything more to it? Are there any more nuanced forms of extraneous cognitive loads that learning designers can sensitively track and design some counter initiatives that will help learners? There are, as Connie Malamad explains so wonderfully in this article. Here are a couple.

Identifying complex parts of the course and providing learners scaffolds of helpful hints so they can handle them better is an empathetic way of diminishing extraneous cognitive load.

Any increase in complexity is inversely proportional to an individual going for it all alone. Identifying such contexts and opening up windows through which learners can reach out to experts and peers is another caring way to dilute the extra load they would take up otherwise.


Digital Learning is the NEW ATTITUDE!!

Learning has sloughed off its previous conventional, traditional style of acquiring new forms of knowledge. It has started breaching the ‘limited information’ channels, flowing in all possible directions seeking and absorbing intelligence of its choice.


All thanks to the evolution of technology that has made this possibility possible!

“In only one generation we have gone from traditional corporate universities to e-learning, blended learning, talent-driven learning, and then continuous learning. Tools like Google, YouTube, and soon Microsoft Teams and others have totally changed the learning landscape, so our job now is simply to deliver learning to where people are.”

What does this mean for the L&D experts? “If we don’t make an effort, people may not use the L&D department as much, and a lot of the investment we make will likely go underutilized or unliked.”

What’s the way out of this stark reality? Check out this wonderfully crafted article by Josh Bersin.

Recipe for divining great learning solutions: Break the Conditioned Reality!!

Break the ice, first.

Look at accountants. What do they do to hit it big in their profession? They think finance, they breathe finance, and they live finance. The more they do this, the more seasoned they become in their subject.

Now, look at Learning Designers from this perspective. They’re at the other end of the spectrum. Not one day is like another. Not one subject they handle is like another.

What are the terrains I strode into in the last couple of weeks? It was Japanese Candlesticks, first… then, it was Cisco IVR Systems… then, I veered off to mutual funds… Utterly contrasting topographies with no mutual connections whatsoever!

I understand that learning designers need to cultivate an agile mind that can quickly get acclimatized to such polaric variations. And, it’s not only about handling such varied subjects in a short span of time, it’s also about divining effective learning solutions for each of these subjects that WORK.

What kind of a mind should be at work here?shutterstock_146438018A mind that’s like an emptied tea cup that can receive – and keep receiving – different kinds of ‘inputs’ and a mind that can willingly break the conditioned reality it’s used to seeing through its ‘limited experience’ vision. A mind that’s thus evolved is all set to tackle the tough stuff.

I was in awe as I read an incisive Clark Quinn in this article, delineating on our limited conceptions and biased thinking that stymie the burgeoning of the Original.


Learning Theory: Behaviorism | Part 2

One of the classic differences between theory and practice (when the theory gets actioned) is, when we see an action, we pretty much see a defined form of theory executed well… while the theory by itself could continue to remain abstract.  

Okay!  Let me put it this way…

We wade through an ocean of theory, cull the required part that we believe is the most important for our current context, chunk it nicely and present it in an action form that our audience can comfortably relate to. What we offer may be just one of the perspectives on the subject but we are fine as long as we present an angle that is satisfactorily representative of the truth.

Now… we are going to do something similar with our theoretical reflection on Behaviorism… get a quick traction of one of its ‘threads’, assimilate it and proceed from there, clamping our way into understanding it as comprehensively as we can .

I’m aware that as much as this prelude might sound redundant for some, it may be as reassuring for someone who’s a bit theory agnostic.

So, here we go…


I want your behavior to change in as far as your knowledge of countries is concerned. After a few interactions, I check if you are getting Ethopia’s capital right. You say Addis Ababa, then your ‘behavior’ has changed for better. You say Mogadishu, you aren’t there still.

Either which way, the outcome of the exercise is measurable. Which is to say… the hallmark of behaviorism is ‘objective evidence of changed behavior’.


In the analogy we discussed in my previous post Learning Theory: Behaviorism | Part 1, the child’s observable behavior of not harming other kids becomes the (only) measurable parameter for us to go by… not those non-measurable elements such as emotions, thinking, contemplation and introspection that (need to) happen before the desired behavior is achieved.

So, behaviorism doesn’t care much about the internal process as much as it’s focused on the external outcomes. And, to achieve those external outcomes, it invests all its energies on extrinsic stimuli such as rewards and punishments that condition the subject to respond in a particular way.

So, what are these stimuli? And, how do they condition the desired responses?

Am eager to contemplate on these questions 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
  5. Learning Theory: Behaviorism | Part 1



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!