Friday, March 24, 2006

Learning about learning in India

Yesterday I attended a meeting with representatives of the learning division of an Indian company. It was an interesting day of "compare and contrast". While many of their procedures and mirrored ours, they were very much more process driven and the approach to learning was vastly different.

I've read a lot about how India has become a hub of technology, if not The Hub of Technology in the modern world, churning out something like 47 engineers to every one from the United States (I can't vouch for the accuracy of this ratio, since I'm relying on my -possibly faulty- memory of a Tom Peters post I read some time back and can now no longer find). So, I was quite surprised at the nature of the samples of online learning we saw. There was a lot of whizziness in the introductions, like one of those highly animated PowerPoint presentations, complete with sound and flying text. The material itself was slick with high quality graphics, but the learner's role was passive. We asked about interactivity and were shown some assessment samples. The representatives were interested in our questions about hotspots, drill downs and tab screens, requiring the learner to interact with the material itself. Apparently, in India, the learner wants to sit back and be taught, adopting a passive role. Presumably this explains all the whizziness and sound - it's needed to hold the learner's attention. We were told that they are still very much married to the education model of the British Empire in the days of yore. From their descriptions, the push model is still very much in evidence.

Interesting in that it seems to work. Here we are with a system that has moved away from the "shut up and listen" model, thinking of it as progress. There they are still using it and producing (apparently) better results than we are. Urk.

One of the chaps has a daughter in Class 10. I have a son in Year 9. Last year, his daughter learnt SQL. My son dabbles in the shallow end of PowerPoint, Excel and Word. Hmm.

On the other hand, the concept of blogging and communities of practice outside of the confines of The Organisation was alien to them. They were fascinated to learn that I read some 20 blogs every day and exchange views with people all over the world. They seemed to regard this as almost licentious behaviour.

The work ethic also differs. Here, we are placing increasing emphasis on the work-life balance. There, people can be told at the the last minute on a Friday that they are going to have to work all weekend, and no-one would dream of refusing, regardless of family commitments. One of the chaps admitted that family life suffers as a consequence, but was quickly shushed by the others who seemed embarrassed by this revelation, as if it were an inappropriate line of conversation.

All in all, an interesting day in which a great deal was learned, not all of which was entirely relevant to the focus of the meeting, but will all be tucked away for future reference (by both parties I suspect!)

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