How do you Teach Values?

One of our customers, a well known and respected player in the telecommunications marketspace, recently came under new management. Both the old and new management have their own ideas of what ‘employee values’ means. Further, there are local norms and values to which we can assume most (but not necessarily all) local employees subscribe to. We’ve been tasked with providing an e-learning module which will essentially convey employee values as outlined by new management to everyone in the company, including all future hires. At the same time, we need to be careful that we don’t stray too far from old, established values, as that may lead to negative perceptions about values the company had espoused to all along. This may cause confusion in the ranks, or alienation when it comes to lifelong employees.

What are some of the things that need to be taken into account before starting your instructional design for such a course? What things are needed, and what things will help?

Manager buy-in: Actually, a better term is probably ‘stakeholder buy-in’. It is very difficult to implement something and expect results if there are no metrics involved. Even if metrics are involved, some sort of compensation/reward/benefit/drawback system needs to be in place. This acts as encouragement for compliance to, and acceptance of, the change. Without stakeholder buy-in, you are essentially asking someone to do or accept something without giving reasons.

Clarity: What is the program for? Why are you teaching values? One reason we have been asked to create a training module on values is so that everyone in the company is on the same page. Sales should know about reducing waste, something that may be associated with procurement. Procurement should know about customer satisfaction, something that may be associated with sales. The company will take less hits on more fronts if everyone has the same goals, vision and values to aspire to. The work of one team will not be misaligned against (and will therefore not hinder) the work of any other team.

Getting things right: In addition to getting everyone on board and being clear about what the purpose of the training is, you have to be very careful when it comes to implementation. If there is a time constraint, it is difficult to come up with the perfect solution right off the bat. Companies that have shown flexibility when it comes to implementation have very often been able to adapt to change more effectively than companies who cannot maneuver as easily. Dry runs, beta versions, concept testing and feedback sessions should be used so that you can make necessary changes before finalizing the program.

In summary, dealing with concepts such as values, morals, attitude and behavior is a very tricky business. E-learning modules are great in the sense that they can be easily tweaked, and running trials is easy. Feedback and data collection is also a lot easier. However, instilling ideas or values in a company is something that is not confined to one department or one team. Everyone needs to be on board, and so working together and carefully planning your implementation strategy are key.

On Education in Pakistan: What’s Next?

Nearly 450,000 university graduates and 10,000 Computer Engineers are produced in Pakistan every year. However, the country’s literacy rate hovers around the 60% mark. In fact, Pakistan ranks 113th out 120 countries in terms of overall literacy. In terms of the out-of-school population, Pakistan is second to last, ahead of only Nigeria.

What is of interest to those of us in the field of e-learning, however, is the potential we see in the country. The literacy rate varies from as high as 87% (in the national capital of Islamabad) to less than 20% in rural/tribal areas. However, with an estimated 118 million mobile phone users, Pakistan has the highest rate of mobile phone penetration in South Asia. This fact means Pakistan has high potential and promise when it comes to using technology in the field of education. Mobile-savvy Pakistanis abound, so electronic e-learning channels could potentially be something very easily adopted by the majority of the population.

One might wonder, though, why we have not seen major changes in the way we teach.

Traditional hurdles to education (such as a lack of awareness, facilities, funding, and even interest in the population) are still a rampant problem in Pakistan. It seems the hurdle is too big an obstacle to overcome by using traditional techniques. If we only change our approach, tweak our channels and tailor our content, wonders can be made.

Imagine the increases in efficacy of teachers who give their students vocabulary lists via sms so the students can study or revise on the fly; transporters who are given real-time goods, delivery and traffic info; developers learning a new technology overnight to meet a customer demand. The sky is the limit if we can overcome the hurdles of implementing sound, cost-effective online teaching, training and facilitation techniques. These techniques already exist, mind you, and are just waiting for their time.

The Plan

Any future learning environment ought to be designed around the learner. And it must be sustainable.

Imagine someone (your intended learner) staring at her mobile phone. You have something to teach her. You want her to pay attention, store information, recall it and apply it when she needs to.

It could be that learning is taking place while she is staring at her mobile phone. Or she is getting ready to learn on her computer screen (or for that matter on the television or the radio, etc). Whatever the channel might be, it has to be engaging enough that she looks forward to it.

The following are 4 items I would put on my scorecard for learning environments:

1. The environment should engage all learners, everyone from the aloof bookworm to the class jock.

2. The learner should see the content as relevant to problems the learner has to (or may have to or may want to) solve in real life.

3. The access to this learning environment ought to be scalable (think millions) and cost-effective (think almost-free).

4. The development of content, maintenance of the environment and the interaction with the learners all have to be sustainable and improvable.

The Problem

There are 180 million people in Pakistan and half of them cannot read or write. There are far more illiterate people in the rest of the world. Educating people in such large numbers is not possible through the traditional approaches to education. Technology has to be a critical piece of any scalable solution.

However, this is not something new. We have known this for 40 years. Over the past 40 years, the use of technology in education has increased substantially. There have even been some successes. However, the pervasiveness of education we had been hoping for is still elusive. Most folks shy away from educational opportunities, even if they are free and easily accessible.

Here are some possible reasons:

Content Issues:

Mind-numbingly BORweNG!

No relation with real-world problems

Unrealistic assumption that all learners can figure out how to apply the content themselves

Ugly design (dark, drab colors or dated clip-art images)

Learning Management Applications Issues:

Complex (read: Busy) interfaces

Unfriendly navigation

Expensive (price and maintenance)

Sustainability Issues:

Dependence on bandwidth that is not available in major parts of the world

Wrong KPI’s (e.g. measuring enrollment rather than effectiveness)

Zero motivation for learners to spend time and effort

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. However it does help put the challenge in perspective.

The Desire

We have worked with learners of various ages, from different geographical areas and across different cultures and backgrounds. So what did we find in common between high school children in Malaysia, college kids in the US and professionals at a Scandinavian telecom company?

Most of them find learning (and specifically, online learning) boring. They are either afraid of technology or perceive learning as something that will happen to them automatically. Many people also see learning as a milestone rather than a stepping stone. For this group a diploma or degree is a mere entry ticket into a job market. They feel they need not learn any more than they absolutely must.

We wish to change that. We would like to help create an environment which turns learning into an enjoyable activity. We dream of the time when a car mechanic will spend his evenings on an automotive engineering course because he is designing his own car; a time when a 14-year old will know about the political ramifications of new taxes before we do; a time when an accountant will pass his CFA exam because it was too much fun to miss.

Technology can help bring this about. And we want to be a part of it.