Designing the “Natural Learning” Program

Rajeev Roy - Designing natural learning programI have shared that “Natural Learning” can be an interesting approach to designing learning programs which overcome the “Monday Syndrome”. Today, we will explore how we can design Natural Learning programs. In subsequent posts, we will look at possible media for these programs and finally reveal an offering that promises to fulfil the lucrative promise of Natural Learning. Yes, there is a pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow.

Let us begin by looking at what distinguishes Natural Learning from instruction based learning. There are three aspects which differentiate these – the goal, the learning environment, and the learning process.

The goal in instruction based learning is to develop an ability – ability to work in teams could be one possible example. What’s the goal in Natural Learning? It is a result to be achieved. For example, the result for a child could be to move from one place to the other – what we call locomotion. The abilities required to achieve the goal are determined and developed by the child, not as researched and instructed by someone else. So, how do we apply it at work? Look at what is the task at hand to be accomplished and not what ability will have the task be accomplished. For example, you have just been appointed as the CEO of your company and one of the goals is to reduce attrition. In Natural Learning, you will figure out what abilities need to be built to achieve this task – not some trainer.

Let us look at the learning environment to further distinguish this. In instruction based training, we have a learning setup. A simulation created specifically to mimic the real life situation we are training people to deal with. A simulation, which has been designed and tested for effectiveness based on research. The flaw – no two people are the same and all statistics are lies (in this context, at least). In Natural Learning, the environment is natural – as it exists. People are doing what they are doing and responding the way they respond. Going back to the example of the child, there is gravity, obstacles, supports, and people walking and running all around. The learning environment is also ruthless – if the child takes one wrong step, he will fall, get hurt, feel real consequences. In fact, it’s the reality of the environment that allows the child to evolve and develop reliable abilities. Every time the child tips forward beyond a point, he tips over. The rules are fixed.

The third aspect that distinguishes Natural Learning from instruction based learning is the learning process. In instruction based learning, instructors promise the learning outcomes, teach the theory, share real life experiences, and finally convince you that what they are teaching is the right way to accomplish your goal and they are accurate. You then try it on in the simulated environment and it works. You are now convinced that it will work in the real world too. That is till the Monday Syndrome hits you. The learning process is very different in Natural Learning – it’s all based on observation followed by trial and error. The child observes what other people are doing around to move from one place to the other. However, where he is now – lying on his tummy, he has no access to start walking like the others. So, he keeps trying to move his arms and legs till it can turn over, then crawl, then stand with support, then cruise, then walk, and finally run. The child is observing what is happening around but has to keep adapting and make the learning his own. Of course, the child never forgets what he has learnt because it’s been done the way that specific child learns not how others learn.

Now, before I get into how to possibly design Natural Learning programs, let us examine in what situations it will be effective. It will only be effective in cases where one is committed to causing breakthrough results. It could be breakthrough results in existing roles that people play at work or new roles they are taking on. It will not work for incremental results. What do I mean by breakthrough results? Breakthrough results are those which were not likely to happen under normal circumstances.

So, how can we design Natural Learning programs? Borrowing from the goal, learning environment, and learning process described earlier, the first step in designing a Natural Learning program will be to define the goal. The goal is a result that is as close to what we expect the participants to achieve in the organisation. A goal that is holistic and integral to the responsibilities of the person in the organisation. The next step would be to create a learning environment where the instructions given are minimal and the learning path is not fixed. Two participants can achieve the same goal through completely different routes by building completely different abilities. During execution, the learning process has to be all about trying, failing, and trying something new. The failure will be real – it will stop the participant from moving ahead in the program. It will not be limited to a failure followed by explaining how others did it. The participant will have to individually overcome the challenge.

So far so good. The next obvious question is – what medium can we use to design this kind of a program? A medium that allows for real goals with challenging and natural environments which demand lots of trail and error to succeed. A medium where failure is not an option.

That’s exactly what we will look at tomorrow. I can promise you, it’s really exciting.


Natural Learning – a new approach

Rajeev Roy - Nathural learning new approachI shared the new challenge organisations are facing to accelerate growth, followed by the Monday Syndrome related to behavioural training, and finally the flaws with the current approach used for such training. Now, let us look at a fresh approach to learning. An approach that is very simple, very intuitive, almost hiding in plain sight. It was a revelation for me when I saw it for the first time.

Let me step back a bit before I get into it – to revisit the challenge of behavioural training. When we put people through a program intended to cause a behavioural change, it is seldom that they do not realise the need and benefits of changing their behaviour. In fact, their behaviour may also alter for the moment and continue to be in an altered state for a few days. Then, it all goes back to how it was before. So, the challenge is not to have people see they need a behavioural change, the challenge is how to have that change be permanent, become a part of who they are.

So, where do we look to find a new approach to learning? An approach that leaves us with whatever we have learnt as part of us, as part of who we are? We never forgetting what we learnt or better still – we never even realising we learnt something new but it always remaining with us? When and where have we experienced this in our lives?

Go back to when we were born. What did we know at that time? What skills did we have? What behaviours did we have? None, except maybe to cry. Than we started learning, one by one. We learnt language, emotions, meanings, interpretations, and behaviours. We also learnt how to talk, walk, run etc. Were we ever aware that we are learning these things? Did we ever forget what we learnt? Isn’t this the kind of learning we are looking for? This is what I call “Natural Learning”.

“Natural Learning” is the way nature designed learning, the way we learn as a child, a way which is natural for us. Observe the way a child learns to walk. Here’s a child surrounded by people who somehow magically move from one place to another very quickly while the child is practically immobile. It starts observing the environment to get any clues about how it can also move from one place to another. It tries numerous experiments and as it fails, it tries another move. Finally, it somehow starts crawling. It does not give up and one day is standing, then surfing, and then walking. No one told the child to walk, no one taught the child to walk (the instructions we gave were of no use, if you really get what I am saying), and no one had to keep reminding the child why walking is such a fantastic thing and it should keep practicing walking lest it forget it. None of this was required and the child will never forget it because the approach used was “Natural Learning.”

How about bringing “Natural Learning” to behavioural training? Imagine a program where we do not tell the participants what they are going to learn, do not give them any instructions about how to build the new abilities, do not test and debrief them that they have developed new abilities – they just develop a new ability naturally without them even realising it.

As discussed before, this is how we have learnt out whole lives. It’s time now to bring this type of learning to leadership programs. It’s time for “Natural Learning”.

Natural Learning” will require designing programs in a very different manner. We will dig deeper into it tomorrow.

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

Rajeev Roy- The missing piece of the puzzleI have shared my experience in the earlier posts about the “Monday Syndrome”, especially for Behavioural Training Programs. The syndrome refers to the limited impact that these programs have on the participants. However, behavioural programs are critical for organisations and especially for ones that are going through change. So, let us now look at what is missing in these programs that limits the impact.

Let us begin by looking at the process of training design and development. Training was originally used to teach new skills – starting with rearing cattle and cultivating land, graduating to using machines since the industrial revolutions, and finally to mastering the digital world, amongst numerous other areas. The approach is similar – observe or research how to be effective at doing a particular job (create knowledge), create a mechanism to transfer this knowledge to another individual (develop technique), and finally train the concerned people (training).

There is an assumption in this approach – every individual will be able to develop the desired skills by following the techniques. It is also very logical. If I exactly tell someone how to drive a nail in the wall using a hammer, there is no way someone will not learn it. The only variable can be the time it takes one to master the skill. This works perfectly for the skill development programs.

This approach is extended and applied to behavioural training. However, there is a not so obvious omission. When it comes to skills, people are at different levels of the skill and hence take different time to reach the same level of mastery. When it comes to behaviours, people are in different “worlds”. Haven’t you experienced someone dealing with an interpersonal issue at work with an ease that totally stumped you? You had never even imagined the perspective demonstrated by the other person. You were operating from another world altogether.

What’s missing in my opinion is a learning approach which is tailored to altering behaviours. An approach which naturally alters the behaviour of people without assessing their current state or training them about something. An approach by which the behaviour alters without the knowledge of the person.

We will explore such an approach tomorrow.

The Monday Syndrome

Rajeev Roy - The monday syndromeI have attended more than 50 training programs – called by different names. Training, Learning & Development, Corporate University, Intervention, Experiential Program, Team Building, Offsite, Assessment Center, Development Center – to name a few. I have also designed and conducted a few myself. Most of them have been educational, insightful, exciting, and fun.

If I were to categorise their objectives simply, there are two categories – skill development programs and behavioural change programs. Skill development includes technical as well as managerial skills – how to develop a business case, create impactful presentations, communicate effectively, lead teams, etc. Behavioural change involves building new abilities – working with people, especially ones I don’t exactly like, ability to express myself fully when I can’t, ability to manage conflicts, etc.

The skill development programs have worked well for me. I learnt new skills, practiced them during the program, and implemented them at work whenever I found an opportunity. It has given me results over time and I continue to attend and conduct these programs.

The behavioural change programs, on the other hand, suffer from what I call the “Monday Syndrome”. The first Monday after the training I go – “Wow, what an awesome program. I really learnt a lot of things. You should also attend”. The next Monday is – “What training program?”

I started sharing this observation and everyone unanimously agreed about the “Monday Syndrome”. It’s time now to start digging deeper into what could be missing in the behavioural change programs that leads to the “Monday Syndrome”. That’s what we will look at tomorrow.

Rajeev Roy – Entrepreneur, Business Accelerator, and Coach

Rajeev.RoyRajeev Roy is an experimenter at heart and am committed to support people and organisation explore and realise their maximum potential.

He leverage on my education of Engineering, MBA, and CFA coupled with 20 years of experience working with great companies like Accenture, Genpact, Eicher Motors, and Alvarez and Marsal to alternate between the roles of an Entrepreneur, a Business Accelerator, and a Coach.

He run a Consulting and Training company (Floatstone Consulting), an Advertising Agency (Aspire Cerebro), and a Digital Marketing company (Aspire Cerebro Digital)

In my previous role, I headed the Domestic Formulations business of Wanbury Limited, which is one of the fastest growing pharmaceuticals company in India.

Earlier, I was working with Alvarez & Marsal’s Mumbai office. I helped companies achieve their top-line and bottom-line objectives through hands-on performance improvement.

Before this, I was leading the Analytics (KPO) delivery for all third-party accounts at Genpact. I was leading the management level hiring function in my earlier role at Genpact.

Prior to this, I was a management consultant Accenture and gainer extensive experience across the consulting lifecycle – from business development through to execution. Worked across industries ranging from Utilities to Oil & Gas to Automobiles and Pharmaceuticals.

Rajeev Roy started with Eicher Motors creating, implementing, and running one of the machine shops.