Another classification of learners!

Often, when speaking to sets of participants attending learning programs, I find myself share a ‘classification of learners’. I wish I could remember where I had read it, for me to cite reference here.

The classification in itself is a rather telling and usually elicits some shifting of feet, muted laughter, smirks, smiles and sometimes,  guffaws!  Broadly, this is what I say.

There are four classes of learners who come to attend a ‘training program’

a. Prisoners : Participants who have been ‘sentenced’ to a few days of training. Who would much rather be doing m(any) other things, but who are there in the room, because they have been forced to ‘attend’ the program. Left to themselves they’d much rather be doing other things.

b. Vacationers: Self explanatory, isn’t it?!? A training program seen as an opportunity to stay away from work, get paid for it and yet enjoy the best of venues / food and generally catching up with long lost friends and colleagues. A meta coffee machine of sorts, to catch up on all whats happening in the organisation.

c. Experts : Participants who consider themselves as ‘experts’. With ‘expert opinion’ at the expense of leaning something new. Sometimes that may be well founded. Many times not so! Perhaps its their background, the colleges that that they have gone to, the experiences that they have accumulated, the seniority in the organisation. Past learning inhibits future learning !

d. Explorers : Explorers are those that are possessed with a sense of curiosity and discovery. People who know a few things, but are always seeking for learning something new. Building on what they know, treating it as an adventure, taking risks, assimilating experiences of all in their line of sight and daring to go where they havent gone before. For those reasons, explorers are all great learners. Learners are also ‘explorers’ in their contexts !

This classification applies to all of life too. For learning is a life long event. Nay, journey! True learners are those that are filled with curiosity. Those that approach every moment with a sense of possibility and with a spirit of exploration. For that is the spirit of life. One look at our children teach us that. Filled with questions, playfulness and armed with a surfeit of curiosity.

Somewhere along the way, as we grow up, we become ‘experts’ or vacationers of life. And sometimes prisoners too. Perhaps its time to unleash to the child in us. To be real explorers to get to be good learners.

“Learning is a journey” is a much abused and clichéd phrase. One could go through that journey as any one of the above and yet up going to a completely new land or not traversing any distance at all.

The key to the ‘Journey’ must be realisation that journeys always involve change. A change of scene. A change in speed. Many times, new eyes too. And change is inherently uncomfortable. Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable is so key to learning. So key to life.

Metrics & L&D. Are you catching the drift ?

At a recent conference, I shifted uneasily in my chair as the discussion veered around benchmarks for for ‘good’ Learning & Development organisations.

The standard ‘metrics’ were discussed. Like Programs, budgets, ( % of L&D budgets to Turnover, profit etc etc ).

These so called ‘measures’ are spoken with so much of clarity and ease that these can be mistaken to be the answer.  They inevitably tend to form a veil of sorts over other important questions. Sure, budgets and other resources are important. How much the organisation is willing to spend on the Development of its people is a question that is important.  But it also one that also beseeches some more questions.

The chief question being : What / Where is the money being spent on?

Especially so in a connected world. Here are some  questions that have been on my mind.

Have L&D functions reorganised how we are structured? Cared to pause and look at our outlook  ? Have we changed the pecking order of our priorities ? Especially so, to  suit the needs of a workforce whose outlook towards development ( both the ‘message’ and the ‘means’) is so strikingly different than those of earlier times.

Personally, I think we have a distance to cover.

The workplace is a microcosm of the societies that we live in. Changes that fundamentally impact society impact the workplace as well. Enough ( & more) has been written about the role of Social Media in the Arab Spring uprising and such else. These have brought about downfalls in regimes with military might that lorded over for several decades.

The networked world has brought about a seismic shift in possibilities, ways of life and living.  It is only natural to factor these in designing organizational policies, practices and approaches. Yes, L&D interventions too.

In a networked world, L&D is not the prime ‘provider’ of resources for learning. Perhaps that was true of an earlier era, when knowledge was limited and separated by geography and a certain lack of scale in reaching out to one another.

The role of L&D is different, in the era of the ‘Smart’ worker 

Jane Hart lays out the key options that are available for facilitating learning and performance  in  a  survey.

Source is here

The results of the survey are here

Formal training goes right to the bottom with only 14% thinking of respondents thinking of it to be an effective way to learn. Now pause for a minute. This isn’t one more blogpost which attempts to riddle ‘formal training’ with bullets. The need of the hour is to see what suits the requirements of a fundamentally different workforce now.

What kind of conversations happen post formal events ? What kind of work related contexts are set for the learner before a learning event? What kind of seamless avenues / processes have been created ( by L&D / org ) for employees to search, seek and leverage each other’s expertise?

It is going to take a while for L&D teams to adjust our sails. If L&D is drifting, it is only fit that  realization dawns on us that winds that were blowing have now begun blowing in a very different direction!

If the compass is pointing in a different direction, it is best to re calibrate everything. Including measures and metrics !

Reeking of history !

Aurangabad is like any other bustling Indian city. Crowded roads replete with rushing motorists and fearless pedestrians. Cops bulging in the middle and signals that work on their whims. Occasionally.

Hoardings that occupy all available air space. Large and small format stores existing side by side like India and Pakistan. Uneasy yet accepting. Of course, this is Maharashtra and Shivaji on a horseback is present too.

Yet, the streets of Aurangabad are paved with many thousands of years of history. The caves and the forts stand mute testimony to that. Situated bang in the middle of the country, it was as our guide told us, the gateway to the south. Or North ! Depending on where you came from.

But have you seen a stone base structure on a road divider like this ? Well, i haven’t ! Quite a structure isn’t it ? Wonder what purpose it serves. But its made of solid stone. (A walk in the morning was undertaken to ‘feel up’ this structure ! )

Carved out stone as part of a road divider is something that begets attention easily.

Have you seen something like this ? Perhaps you have. I havent.

My own demented hypothesis is that…this is about making a point. About every corner and bend in the road reeking of history !?!



You had to wear something called ‘uniform’. You had to carry something called a ‘school bag’. You had to go buy books & notebooks every year. You had to wrap your notebooks with brown paper and a ‘label’ with space to write your name !

Of course the wrapper and the book were a Hollywood couple of sorts. Parting as soon as they came together !

You had to carry a lunch box. Sometimes, bringing back the lunch you were supposed to have had, if the food didn’t catch your fancy. For you had the raw mangoes for 50 paisa sold outside school.

You travelled in the school bus where your best friends reserved seats for you.

You had homework to do and exams to write. You could never understand Trigonometry or why that man shouted ‘Eureka’ although you kind of had a vague image of him running naked through the streets !

You revelled in English while your best friend was alive only in the Maths class. He thought Shakespeare was the devil in disguise and you thought ‘Differential Calculus’ was the devil without any !

Yet. He managed to beat you in English. And you beat him in math ! You thought it a big mystery and began to respect the devil a lot more.

You had holidays. Of a full two months. Where you had nothing else in your mind but cricket in the hot sun. You played and any ‘whining’ about the heat didn’t register !

You fought over who would bat first. Fights that would disappear between the stumps the minute it started. Fights. You moved on. You just knew how to.

You had favourite teachers. You had your favourite partners.Your friends were the world to you. You would do anything for them. Of course, your parents were God. Most of the time !

You didn’t understand money or loans as much as you understood good food and a great time.
Neither did you understand when some elders said, ‘enjoy your time now. You’ll treasure it for a lifetime’.

You ran with gusto. You played with frenzy. You read with passion. Your tears were rare and you rolled with laughter.

And then you grew up.

Looking back every now and then, wishing it was then, instead of now.

Old Talk !

This is a ‘mandapam’, as called in Tamil territory ! Found in the middle of what once used to be the Vaigai river. Its still called the Vaigai river. Its but a pale stream of a river. With only the river bed, odd plants, dhobis and sand thieves to show.

Most of the water is held up in dams upstream. A population lives of it. The river seems to grin and bear.

But right there, right in the middle of what was once a river, there is this structure. Pillars. Steps. Floor and roof.

“A flowing river, a gentle breeze and a cleaner air, all provide the ideal batter for simple wonderful conversations. Right there in the middle of the mandapam !” Those were a great grandmothers words. Many years ago.

Today, it seems empty. Not many go there. At least not for conversations ! Perhaps because, the river flows occasionally.

The mind wonders if this place doesn’t miss conversations ? Well, but who doesn’t ?

In times when conversations happen only through chat windows, scraps, comments and text messages, who has time for plain old conversation ?

Tweet me. Scrap me. Text me. DM me. Ping me. Mail me. Those resonate well with the modern day world. But ‘Speak to me’ ?!?! hmm !

Mandapams like this still stand holding evidence of conversations, the plain old way. Taking the mind to a different time. When one human being could connect to another. By sitting down and chatting up !

I am an old fashioned chap you see, and it could sure sound queer, but would you mind if i can talk to you without having to use my fingers ?

Passion Parathas

You are in Mahabalehswar. Its the middle of the afternoon. Right there in the main market. There is a hustle-bustle in the air that the chill clime seems to struggle to ward off.

You squint your eye, catch more the air and store some smell of strawberries before you head back to the plains. You have told colleagues who would care to listen that you have gone there to ‘renew’ yourself.

There is a chatter in the air. Sound of cameras clicking. Of Bargain and memento hunters and odd tractor.

Shopkeepers invite you to buy trinkets and trumpets with an ease and swank of sophisticated socialites slipping from subject to subject in another sundry party that would get a Page 3 feature!

Amidst all the chatter, noise and sights, a song reaches your ear. Its not melodious. Its not classical. You don’t know, for you are not trained. But you don’t think it can be classical music. You are sure it perhaps will not pass the muster of the entrance gate of a music studio. Or perhaps it could.

All the same, the song grips you.

You look around. Without too much difficulty you spot the singer. An man kneading dough and making parathas. At the restaurant nearby !

You spot a small crowd outside the restaurant. They seem to be standing there to watch him make parathas. You wonder what attracts the crowd !

You wonder if its the man. A well built man singing loud enough for the market to hear is not common sight. But you realise quickly,its not about him.

You wonder if it is his antics that attract people. Antics. Of tossing up the dough. Catching it. Tossing it into the Tandoor. Picking it right back tossing it back to find the plate, so much so that it could put an established marksman to shame !

Singing all through.

You aren’t sure. Perhaps, perhaps…you think, its the song. You smile. You realise. You nod your head.

Its not the song. Yet. It is the song.

There is a song that the lips sing, when the heart is ‘in’ what you do. You don’t realise that you are singing. When they say, ‘you really are on a song’.

It doesn’t matter, what you do. Arranging clothes in a retail store, keeping books in a bank, making movies or composing music ! Or for that matter, making parathas for people that you don’t know. Or know.

When you are on a song, it shows.

You smile. You know whats missing in life. Realisation that what you were looking for is right here. You feel light.

You squint your eyes, tilt your head and ask yourself… when was the last time you were on a song !?!

Bag-in-Bag !

Malls, these days reflect life in its entirety ! There are many aspects of life that come alive here. Perhaps representative of ‘progress’ !

This is one.

A bag to house your hand bag. As you enter the mall, this big see-through bag is given, if you are carrying a handbag ! This bag, to house that bag. The handbag !

Assuming ofcourse, that you don’t want to hand over your handbag at the security counter. Perhaps because it contains some secret potion or diamonds. Or perhaps you have invested all the money to be seen carrying this handbag around !

Ofcourse, mall security has had enough of fancy people walk in with fancier bags and respectfully walk out with the reams of toilet roll and tissue paper. Perhaps with the odd bits of titanium or Gold or Platinum or whatever…tucked in somewhere !

They aren’t going to be enthused with the prospect of one more handbag undoing their annual bonus !!

Enter this bag.

It is transparent. It a lock, the keys of which are with the cashier ! It holds your handbag , for the world to see! Although, you cant ‘access’ contents of the handbag, but you can take comfort in the fact that you still are carrying it with you !

When through with all the shopping, the cashiers ‘unlock’ the transparent bag and delivers your handbag back to you !

Of course, that’s how you have access to your credit cards and wads of cash !! We are progressing, as mankind. Aren’t we ?

We first walked about with just leaves on us. Considering how much clothes are on in some of the Fashion shows, we are not too far from where we started. In some cases we have bettered that too.

Some years ago, the plain and transparent polythene bag was just about OK. I guess we are getting back there ! Step by step !

Perhaps bag by bag !


These chaps, they used to be regulars at the garbage dump near home. So much so that if they missed a day, it showed. On the garbage dump.

At first, nothing seemed abnormal to the mind. One day, perhaps when the eyes were really ‘seeing’, a question popped.

‘What do these chaps eat in a garbage dump’ ? A dump that was a collection of discards from middle class housing board colony ! Old magazines and discarded report cards. Perhaps old love letters and recent bills.

Or maybe it was the worn out dress with fresh designs, left by the milk that went sour. And such else.

And in a short while, the bigger question popped up. Since when did horses start feeding on garbage !

It took some intelligent souls to let my primitive brain know that these were not exactly ‘horses’ but some sort of ‘crosses between horses and donkeys’.

Ok. So ?

The answer trail didnt lead anywhere. Infact the trail stopped right there. ‘What’ they ate, ‘how’ they ate and ‘how come’ they ate garbage, didnt occur to (m)any !

In a typical worldly way, It was satisfactory to all that lived there, that some work on the garbage happened. So, this unanswered question still stays unanswered.

And i wondered, what other beings live off garbage.

Quick realisation dawned, about that being a very tricky question. If you include metaphorical references of ‘species living on garbage’…well, the entire world will have to get mentioned.
Isnt it ?

All the mega serial and news channel followers. Of all the political analysts who will comment on TV about your cat, if you call it Cabama ! Of all those that hurtle after those wierd material stuff. As wierd as as a Rs.11.00 lacs ( Approx $23,000) pen in the name of Mahatma Gandhi !

The list is endless. And ofcourse, includes the writers that dish trash, and trashers that dish out blogs.

So, leaving out such metaphorical references, what else have you seen live off garbage !?!

But then, who defines what is ‘garbage’ !?! For example, these half asses must think of me to be a complete ass, to label their principal source of sustenance & living, ‘garbage’ !

And, so must the others.



How many times has it happened with you that you get to what seems to be a ‘vacant’ seat, only to sight a handkerchief, or an old newspaper, or a book or some object of similar value there. Standing in for the ‘owner’ !

In some time the ‘owner’ shows up, indicating that he had ‘reserved’ the seat. And lays claim to the seat with such ferocity that would put the Chinese’s claim of Arunachal, to pathetic shame !

I guess this is a uniquely Indian moment. I guess. I am not sure. Please correct me if i am wrong here. My guess is given shape by the fact that we have a chronicled mythological precedent. Of Lord Ram’s footwear standing in for the gent when he went into the jungle! So.

So, in a busy movie hall (or wherever else, esp if there are no allotted seat numbers) you can stroll around, ogle about, wander with a pop corn or a cone of ice cream. All this while the old dirty handkerchief stands in for you !!

In smaller cities and towns, this scene is so often repeated in inter city buses. Where the clamour to get a seat is only matched by the ability to reach a handkerchief, newspaper, belt, tiffin box to ‘reserve’ a seat !

If a ‘representative object’ (dirty handkerchief, shredded newspaper or whatever) of the dude in yellow trousers got to the seat before you, well, the seat belonged to the dude in yellow trousers ! So we have seen. And heard.

It was ‘refreshingly different’ to see this gent, and his mode of reservation. Aboard the river cruise on Goa’s Mandovi river.

He clearly had outgrown the handkerchief and belongings of low value. For friends of his, for whom he ‘reserved’ seats, he gave it his one whole leg and one whole hand !

And warded off every body else who came close to the seat with a dismissive disdain that perhaps would befit a Taliban war lord looking at his goats, whom he was going to have for dinner !

This is a new standard that must quickly be made known to the rest of the country. We need more people like this gent.

Wont you be happy with friends like these ? Especially considering that they would give an arm and a leg. Just to get you seated.

Whose name is it anyway ?

Sporting a tattoo that an actor wears. Or growing a goatee like a cricketer. And setting hair like a footballer. They are all easy to do.

Of course, its going to be difficult to sculpt a body like Silvester Stallone or John Abraham. Not forgetting ‘size invisible’ ( or was it ‘Zero’ ?) like those thin lasses. Those are tough asks.

Easiest done is to imitate a ‘star’s outfit. Still easier is to wear a t-shirt bearing the man’s name ! Walk into a store and pick up a T-shirt which says a famous mans name !

Its kind of ironic though. Pay YOUR money, which the credit card company will send to YOUR address in YOUR name. To wear ANOTHER man’s name. On YOU ?!? How interesting !

Of course, this is so common ! The eye brows wont arch one bit if a man with ‘Ronaldo’ written on his T-Shirt is spotted hitching a ride on the streets of Daman.

Or for that matter, if ‘Torres’ is spotted at the Madurai railway station !

The stars themselves, are known to wear those low caps and big sun glasses to hide their identity in public. Perhaps trying hard to melt into the crowd. Becoming more common than common.

And the common man, wears the celebrity name on his sleeve. Actually on his back ! Mankind indeed finds numerous ways to stay busy. But such are the ways of the world.

The eye brows only half arch. That too, in irony. Looking at this ‘Ronaldo’ netting the small fish on a Goan shore !

While the stores rake in the big money, counterfeits rule the pavements. Hollering hawkers, are known to sell such counterfeits to highest bidders.

Just the shirts. With the names, of course ! The stars dont come as part of these deals.

For they have been auctioned long before. To clubs, who were highest bidders too. But that’s a different story. Of a different auction !