Archives for: August 2015

Learning – Looking into The Future

Learning - Looking into The Future

In an episode of the Simpson’s, Marge Simpson buys Homer a set of subliminal audio cassettes (remember them?) that he was to listen to when asleep, to help him lose weight. The company instead sends him a set of cassettes to improve his vocabulary! For the period he uses them, Homer piles on weight, but his vocabulary abounds with mellifluous and splendiferous pronouncements!

Sounds like something from science fiction, but research into sleep learning, or hypnopedia, has accelerated in recent years. Research has shown that if ‘awake’ learning is complemented by ‘sleep’ learning, the retention of information is considerably higher. How much? It is known that the brain is active during sleep, mainly sorting and storing events from during that day and if this was better understood hypnopedia could become a useful tool in a learning process – maybe a learning tool in itself – in time.

So apart from hypnopedia, what do we see about learning, looking into the future? We already know that eLearning is big in industry training and also increasingly so in education. We can already see some way into the future, where new technology will continue to make delivery of content easier and more effective. Screenless projection and then holography will free the mobile phone from its restrictive screen size and will make it the sole device that people will use. Huge open online courses will be common with participants from all parts of the globe participating and interacting. Gamification will become a big part of all learning. Virtual reality will remove any restrictions from learning as any scenario can be replicated for students.

So, exciting times ahead for learning indeed! Everything that is listed is already there and working right now. Nothing there is ‘under development’, it is all actually available here and now, but it is just lacking one vital ingredient to becoming mainstream – cheap and powerful computing power.

Right now, we have arrived at a point where there is a ‘bottleneck’ to technological progress, and to understand this, we need to look at Moore’s Law[1].

Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors per square inch on an integrated circuit would double every year, and that has essentially been the case ever since then – up until recently. Chip manufacturers have been steadily reducing the size of the components on their chip to increase the computing power, but now they are at such small sizes they are coming up against manufacturing difficulties – components on a chip are now down to .0000014 mm in size and it may be impossible to get much smaller.

As a result of this slow-down, furious research is going on around the world in universities, research laboratories and chip manufacturers for a successor for the silicon chip that has served us so well. IBM has recently unveiled a $3BN investment program, part of which is investigating other ways of increasing computer power[2]. A lot of research is being done in neuromorphic computing, which mimics the way the brain processes information, while Google is working on a quantum computer[3] which will process information in a new way that “could perform calculations that would take a conventional computer millions of years to complete”.

So back to talking about learning! We have all these burgeoning technologies waiting for a breakthrough in computer technology. When it happens, developers will be unleashed from the shackles of developing systems and products within a confining parameter of computer speed and memory. An avalanche of advancements could be unleashed in what could become ‘disruptive technological breakthroughs’- something that has the power to obsolete established industries overnight.

The problem is that it will happen at such a speed that it will be difficult to pick out which of the new emerging technologies will be a winner – although the best thing to do would be to keep an open mind about everything. Ken Olson, who was President, Chairman and founder of Digital, the world’s largest mainframe computer manufacturing company, scoffed when he was approached with the idea of personal computers in every home. In 1977 said: “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.[4]” We know what happened: Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) declined with the advent of the personal computer and finally went under in 1998.

and even if an 18-something year old clad in khakis and overalls walks into your office one day and claims that he has discovered something that will revolutionize the world – give him a hearing – it may be hypnopedia at work!


In an episode of the Simpson’s, Marge Simpson buys Homer a set of subliminal audio cassettes (remember them?) that he wa...

Read More »

Old Dogs and New Tricks

Old Dogs and New Tricks

For the first time in the history of workplace culture, we host 4 generations of workers – the Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y or the Millennials. Over 60% of today’s workforce consists of the youngest generation – Gen Y, and perhaps for this very reason, we tend to forget about the other 40% that consists of the older generations. While we focus our attention on training the younger lot – who we hope will carry our company forward, who is thinking about the older generations? Shouldn’t they be trained – or can they be trained? If they can be trained – would they need a different type of training than Gen Y employees? It is generally accepted that the older we get, the more difficult it is for us to learn and acquire new skills, but is this acceptance justified?

Here is an excerpt from a very good article by David Crawford of the John Hopkins School of Education:

“Using a longitudinal study over a period of several decades, Schaie (1994) noted that scores on primary mental abilities improved gradually until about age forty at which time the abilities tend to stabilize until approximately age sixty. The decreases are small until the mid seventies at which time scores are usually measurably lower than they were in the mid twenties. Therefore, when a composite measure of mental abilities is used, learning ability does not decrease until the sixth or even seventh decade for most individuals. The significance of this seminal study seems to be that noticeable overall mental decline in the primary abilities does not generally occur until later in life.”

So mental ability remains pretty constant during a person’s lifetime, but what other studies have shown is that the speed at which information can be absorbed does decline, and this decline can be directly linked to how much the brain is used – the maxim ‘use it or lose it’ especially applies here.

Evidence shows that older people can learn new things – it just takes them longer than younger people.

There are other factors at work too:

  • It may be a long time since school, and a person may have lost the learning habit
  • A fear of failure may inhibit the learning process, coupled with a fear of losing face in their peer group
  • Older people tend to rely on past experience, and when presented with new, contradictory information or concepts, find it hard to accept and learn

So in an industry setting, this tells us a couple of things:

  • Regular retraining and upskilling helps to keep long-term employees in the learning habit
  • Training for older people needs to be handled differently and at a different pace

Older employees have a lot of ‘life experience’, and also a lot of work experience. They have learned how to deal with people in the workplace, and they know a lot about the company – not just about the work they personally do.

Most often, older employees have been with a company for some time. They have been loyal and good workers (or they would not still be there). They deserve training that works for them specifically, otherwise they start to fall behind, lose productivity, lose out on promotions, become disillusioned and not perform.

In a lot of cases people like these leave and go somewhere else, while at the same time the company is bringing in new recruits with no proven track record, training them, only to find them leaving for greener pastures pretty soon.

Just because an employee has passed into the imaginary ‘older’ category does not mean their usefulness to a company declines. As well as having demonstrated loyalty, they also have more stable and realistic ambitions, and know their own abilities better than their younger counterparts. Wisdom only comes with age, and every company needs older heads that can balance up the impetuousness of youth.

Companies must:

  • Understand the hesitancies and fears that hinder an older employee’s learning
  • Provide employees with training that they can relate to
  • Help older employees with the use of technology before providing technology-enabled training
  • Conduct research on how successful training is and if changes need to be made
  • Not expect drastic results instantly

We boast of 4 generations of employees under one roof. Companies spend a lot of time and effort training new people and could reap more dividends concentrating on their existing personnel – especially the older ones. We know now that it’s not impossible to train our older employees – it’s just a matter of finding out what drives them to learn.


For the first time in the history of workplace culture, we host 4 generations of workers – the Traditionalists, Baby Boo...

Read More »

Fix India’s Big Retail Challenges with Online Training

Big Retail Challenges

Over the last decade, India has witnessed a continuous migration of people from rural areas to Tier I and Tier II cities. Because of this continuing population move, city retailers are enjoying an ever increasing demographic at their doorstep, creating what could be perceived as the ‘Retailer’s Utopia’. It would therefore appear that Indian retail is in for a prosperous time in the decades ahead.

But before India can dream of having its own retail utopia, the Retail Industry has to overcome two major challenges that relentlessly hound it – more so now, than ever before. These two big Indian retail challenges are those of standards and competition.

The Big Indian Retail Challenges

Standards: It is a problem that is staring us in the face – right now. While main retail chains do a reasonably good job in their showcase stores that are usually located in upmarket parts of the city or in large malls, those same standards are not passed on to their smaller branches in the suburbs. The smaller stores tend to be cluttered; not as clean and tidy; the staff not as good; and in essence, the good retail experience of the showcase flagship store is lost. Most of this criticism is aimed at the Grocery & Food sector, but other retail outlets are at fault too. Rama Bijapurkar, a consumer guru sums it up succinctly “Merchandising is lacklustre in terms not only of aesthetics but also of thinking” [1]. Bring this problem up with a shopkeeper and he will turn back and say, “People are happy with the shops, they come to shop with us and we don’t hear complaints. So what is the problem?”

Competition: The problem is that a shiny new retail competitor will arrive on the scene and woo customers away with cleanliness, order, range and eye-watering low prices. This is a problem that the Indian Retail Industry should really worry about.

Indian retailers must seize the moment and get their act together. If they don’t seize the moment now, they will be forced into a secondary role, or may just disappear without a trace in the not-so-distant future.

For a long time now, India has been operating, what amounts to, a protectionist policy regarding foreign retail. It was only in 2012 and 2013 that this was relaxed by the Federal Government, but with conditions that made it unlikely that any large chain would come to India. At that time, states controlled by Congress were in favor of foreign chains, but those controlled by BJP were against foreign firms and this culminated in the locking up by CMDA officials in Chennai of a seven acre warehouse purportedly to be used by Walmart [2]. Protectionism has never worked in any country anywhere in the world as it only leads to stagnation of industry in the country where it is practiced. This cannot last forever and one day the big guns will come marching in.

The Solution
There is a window of opportunity now for the Retail sector that must be made use of in the best possible way. For as long as the Indian Retail Industry has the field to itself, it must improve, innovate, and become as good as anything the outside world has to offer. The industry must not be complacent with the status quo, but must be prepared for a war, because when Walmart, Tesco and the like arrive on these shores, it will be a war to the death, and these multinationals take no prisoners.

By way of illustration, it is like the army of any given country: No country would accept its army fighting mock battles, and sitting back complacently and congratulating itself on how good they are/were. Instead they would expect their army to go and see what other armies do, train with them, fight with them and then come back and train, train, train incessantly to become as good as any other soldiers that may land on their shores – never stopping and continuously updating and training for that moment when it will be wanted, because then there will be no time for anything but a fight.

Indian retailers need to invest in infrastructure that is as good as anything anywhere else. They need to become more user friendly, become customer focused, but above all, just like the army – they need to train staff, train, and then train again – and never stop!

In 2007, an all conquering Tesco launched their brand in the US. In 2013, they ignominiously withdrew with a bloody nose. The reason – their main opposition there – Walmart, knew they would come some day. Walmart made sure that its products were as good as could be so that established customers would not be tempted to switch loyalties. A huge plank in Walmart’s success was (and continues to be), their training – train, train, train again, for as long as the employee is with you. Indian retailers need to take a leaf out of Walmart’s book. They need to get their retail operations up to world standard, and need to start working on that right now.

The entire Indian Retail sector was worth $490 billion dollars in 2013 (down from $518 billion in 2012), and an astonishing 65 percent of that figure was accounted for by groceries and food. Grocery & Food sector is the battleground where the war that will decide long-term ownership of India’s retail sector will be fought, eventually. That is where it was fought in the UK, continental Europe and the US – the reason being that whoever controls the food and grocery market controls the rest of retail as well. The simple fact is that when people come to do their grocery shopping, they will also buy other regular purchases in the same place if they are available – be it children’s clothes, toys, adult clothes, electrical appliances, televisions, books, cigarettes, liquor, pharmacy or hardware.

The biggest problem for retail (after investment capital), is good staff. That staff doesn’t just come on stream overnight. They need to be trained to top standard, and then be continually retrained to keep them at that standard. An endless stream of new recruits needs to be broken in to feed the engine of retail growth into the future, and the outstanding, consistently good way to do this is through eLearning.

Why eLearning? – Because eLearning (online learning) takes into consideration all the training challenges faced by this industry. eLearning will:

  • Lower the average training cost per employee by running simultaneous training across locations and time zones
  • Ensure better course completion rates through customized courses that speak the language of retail business
  • Improved employee engagement through knowledge enhancement
  • Lead to better performance tracking via assessments
  • Analyze the effectiveness of training via feedbacks, polls and surveys, ensuring 2-way communication between the learner and L&D department
  • Provide informal learning through forums, discussion groups and content sharing to create a vibrant learning culture
  • Reduce training time – quick responsive time – faster turnaround from trainee to employee [3]

Once up and rolling, etraining becomes an automatic process.
In his article ‘The Top 5 Online Training Benefits In The Retail Sector,’ Christopher Pappas stresses on the measurable results that are obtainable via eLearning that include the ability of employees to stay-up-to-date with the latest products, improved employee retention, increased sales and customer satisfaction and more knowledge retention [4]. All this directly leads to company loyalty, a sense of belonging that translates into taking pride in showcasing one’s store and products in the best possible manner, a desire to maintain the highest standards, and a drive to compete with the best. This is the attitude that is much needed in the Indian Retail Industry today.

The big players are coming and we need to get proactive and raise our game now. The right attitude will help us overcome the big Indian Retail challenges – and the proper training will get us this attitude. The big Indian retail players are aware of this scenario and have started to ready their employees with intensive training. It’s a collective effort and through unity the Indian Retail Industry will emerge as the winner.


© SHRM India. First appeared on Published with permission from SHRM India. All rights reserved.

Over the last decade, India has witnessed a continuous migration of people from rural areas to Tier I and Tier II cities...

Read More »

Is Your LMS Going Out Of Style?

LMS Trends

The LMS is an integral part of the L&D industry across corporates, training institutions and a steadily increasing number of educational institutions. With the passage of time, it has created fashion statements of its own.

Fashion comes and fashion goes, and whereas it is ‘cuts’ and ‘styles’ that define the fashion industry, it is technology that defines what’s trending in the LMS.

Over the years the LMS has been subjected to different styles – here’s a look at what’s trending in the latest LMSs and what’s gone out of fashion.

What’s Out What’s In
Mainframe systems Cloud computing
LMSs that track results but do not manage eLearning Integration of HRMS and LMS
Separate HRMS and LMS Integration of HRMS and LMS
Systems that are limited to getting learning material online Informal learning, skills and specialization, talent management
Merely a learning management system Promotion of collaborative/social learning, content management
Applications that are limited to payroll, training administration, general personnel administration, and record keeping Integrated talent management solutions with the capability of new applications being added on a regular basis
SCORM and AICC compliant LMSs Experience API compliant LMSs
LMSs that provide only online learning LMSs that provide online as well as offline learning
Provision for only online learning Provision for a blend of both ILT (instructor-led training), as well as online learning
LMSs that are designed for mainframe or PC LMSs that are designed for mobile, tablet and location-aware devices
LMSs that use a shared database LMSs that use an integrated database and allow HR and ERP systems to share learners data
Inclusion of learner profile management
Highly scalable and interactive LMS
Inclusion of competency mapping/skill gap analysis
Inclusion of registration, prerequisite screening, and cancellation notification
Dynamic grouping

Like fashion, the LMS often undergoes change, with revisions made to its features that are always designed keeping the user’s needs in mind. And whether the fashion industry has made a fashionista out of you, or whether you are quite content throwing on something that was the rage 3 years ago – it is advisable to stay in touch with the latest that’s happening with the LMS because true learning needs are met with what’s in.

And like Oscar Wilde said: “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”

The LMS is an integral part of the L&D industry across corporates, training institutions and a steadily increasing numbe...

Read More »