As days progress, I get increasingly overwhelmed with the amount of catchup I need to do in terms of learning new things, it creates an imbalance between what we want to know and what we can do. What people do to bridge these gaps at work place is to create structured training programs to up skill people. Sugata Mitra explains in his ted talk how seemingly difficult things are grasped by people if we let the learning happen. This talk explains that people will find a way if there are enough knowledge resources available and curiosity generated at the right time.

The structured training programs barring a few are none other than comforters which provide a false sense of security. We build a training program and let people adapt to ‘get me trained & I will do what you ask’ mindset. Increasingly organisations are relying on self sufficient & self organising teams but the learning and development is still structured and top down push.

What is necessary for ‘learning to happen’?

  • Curiosity – People will learn at any cost if they want to know something.
  • Tools & Resources – Easy access means there is one less barrier.
  • Creative tension – Do not let people settle for the ‘status quo’.
  • Autonomy – Structured & classroom learnings are optimised for lesser load on the teacher, each individual is unique & should be allowes to pace their learnings.
  • Time & Environment to share – The more loaded we are, the more we tend to seek rest and if the environment is not conducive for sharing and collaboration then that impacts the speed at which knowledge can be acquired and shared in a group setting. It also creates peer pressure.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea

Rich gets richer and poor stays where they are, it is not about money. It is about knowledge acquisition. Information overload and ease of access to the information means, there is less emphasis on gaining knowledge than how it was used to be during the pre-internet era. While it is easy to do a lookup and find the required information, it may not be true that the comprehension of the new information is easy.

Is it necessary to have factual knowledge at the finger tips when the internet is your friend? In the book “Why students don’t like school”, the author mentions about the limited space in working memory and how knowledge is essential for reading comprehension. It seems the working memory can hold only seven objects and they have to be meaningful objects. A person might either think in terms of words or pictures, but it is not possible for them to relate to unknown terms or words. Even a shallow knowledge of something is very useful for quick comprehension eliminating the need for reference material.

If someone was talking about Large Hadron Collider to me before I knew what a hadron was, then I would have assumed it to be an anti missile device. Just a shallow knowledge of ‘A hadron is an elementary particle’ makes me interpret that to be a particle accelerator. I also need to have a shallow knowledge of what an elementary particle is and what it means to make these particles collide to understand the importance of building such a device. The key concept behind shallow understanding is the ability to chunk information. Chunking allows us to keep more information in our limited working memory space. Chunking is also the basis for lazy evaluation. I don’t need get into details until the point I need to work it, for example I know that antibiotics kill bacteria but how deep I get into what it means depends on whether I am taking that medication and need to be aware of side effects or I am involved in antibiotic research. To understand the sentence that ‘A development of a new class TB antibiotic failed’; my basic knowledge of antibiotics kill bacteria and TB is short form of tuberculosis, a disease caused by bacteria is enough.

Our brain is a very efficient storage device, knowledge is always about retrieval. Our retrieval of information from memory is always dependent on how well did we comprehend, visualize and relate information. Brain is so effective that it records too many parameters associates with memory. For example try smelling a perfume that you have used during school days which you have not used for a long time, may be years. The moment you catch the smell, it can bring vivid memories back which we had no clue that such a memory existed. More information is available about this at Olfaction and Memory. We need to create as many handles as possible to retrieve our assimilated knowledge and that comes only after constant exposure to information, at least at a shallow level to facilitate chunking and visualization resulting in better comprehension.

Our ability to chunk information grows only with knowledge and chunking in turn helps quicker comprehension which in turn increases knowledge. It forms a rewarding cycle, the more we learn, the faster our knowledge begins to grow and we will be able to recollect information better.

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Random thoughts comes to us when we free up our head from the day to day jugglery. The usual time of the day those thoughts peak up are shower, traffic signal lights, elevator, waiting at a restaurant but rarely at the work table. Our sub-conscious mind will continue to work on a problem to find a solution and pop it up at times when our conscious mind has taken a rest. It is at those times that I felt the need to capture the thought as it was too difficult to recollect just moments later. The sad part is that some of the ideas we get that time used to be great, seeing it die is painful.

How do we capture ideas as soon as when we get them? The only way is to have paper and pen to write on or note it down electronically. I tried using my mobile phone to capture notes but nothing was close to a physical notebook in terms of comfort and ease of use. The drawback of carrying a notebook was the size, even the hardbound pocket sized notebooks were difficult to carry around. Pocketmod came to my rescue, it allowed me to print a booklet in a style I would like and did it in just one A4 sheet of paper.

Carrying a pen and paper with me, helped to concentrate at the task at hand and not wander off while in meetings. The moment I capture my thoughts, my mind becomes free to get back to the task at hand in full swing.

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