Learning and development are vital practices to sustain and enhance any organization. But are you taking the right approach that retains learning and optimizes results? Joining Ben Baker in this episode is Vidusha Nathavitharana, founder and Destiny Architect of High Five Consultancy & Luminary Learning Solutions. He has over 15 years of experience in HR initiatives and leadership training. Vidusha emphasizes that learning is not simply an event, like training, but it should be a practice. He breaks down the difference between training and learning and explains why organizations should focus on teaching people to build their own tools rather than just giving it to them. Tune in and get some expert perspectives and relevant insights that you can use to better your organization.
Welcome to the show. You are an amazing audience. Every single episode you guys come back and read. You tell me what you like, what you don't like, who's the guests that you want here and the things that you want to talk about. One of the things that you asked me is about learning and development. This episode is all the way from Sri Lanka. I have Vidusha from Luminary Learning Solutions. We are going to talk about the future of learning and development. Vidusha, welcome to the show.
Thank you very much for having me, Ben. It's wonderful to be there.
You and I have had some great conversations. I love the fact that you guys are based in Sri Lanka but you work with clients around the world. I'd love to let the audience have a little bit of understanding about where you came from and why Luminary Learning, then we'll get into the future learning and development.
The first company we formed was called High Five, which was primarily into consulting. That happened quite by chance. It was a strategic decision but Luminary was. When we started out, we were primarily doing consulting. The training happened simply because much of the change initiatives we were driving require some form of leadership intervention at the mid-management level. We stepped in to do programs that worked and took a life form of its own. We never ventured into doing any other form of soft skills training. We were always told that our core was leadership and that was any other inquiry that came on. We pass it on to anyone that we knew. After a while, though, it became a little awkward to keep telling clients who have been with us for nearly a decade or more, “This is all we do. We are very sorry. We’re not doing any training.”
Luminary Learning started out as a way of making sure that those plans were served. It wasn't planned on being something of a standalone business. It was meant very much to be a unit within High Five, but six months in, we realized that's not going to work. We loaded it as a separate entity altogether. The life form, team and structure of its own. That's how it started. The purpose was to offer end-to-end solutions on any learning and development initiative that the client might work. Starting from, let’s say, one-hour motivational talk. Write up a management development program that might run 12 to 18 months. That's a little bit about us. The pandemic came along.There’s nothing wrong with any tool. Some are just not meant for certain purposes. Click To Tweet
I must admit that we wouldn't wish that on anyone. In hindsight, it helped because there were a lot of things that we were trying our clients to take a good hard look at, which we weren't necessarily making any headway with. One of them was online learning. Thanks to COVID, that debate doesn't take place anymore. We would have situations where we have assessments for our programs. Sweden is a very small place, but even then, traveling can be horrendously difficult. Roads aren't particularly good in certain areas. From the North of the country, if you wanted to come down to the capitol, it would take a solid twelve hours to get here. We would have people traveling for 10 to 12 hours to make a 15- to 20-minute presentation and go all the way back as part of that assessment.
We had a more mainstream for us to have this conversation across countries without any difficulty. In a way, COVID helped break down some of those barriers, which we've always wanted to break down simply because we believe that learning can happen outside of four walls. In fact, most of the learning happens outside of four walls, no workshop anyway. That's something that we all do. In a way, it gave us a little bit of a push to make sure that that became mainstream.
That's a real challenge for people to get that headspace of understanding that remote learning can happen and be effective because that was a mind shift that came through COVID. I know that it was for my clients. My clients were used to me showing up for two days, beating them up, working with them for a couple of days, teaching them new things, walking away, coming back and doing it again. We quickly realized that COVID was not going to be a 30-day thing. It was not going to be, “30 days inconvenient, forget it. We won't train this month. We'll re-book the flight,” but month after month came by.
Its technology like Zoom and 100 other platforms that are out there have enabled us to be far more remote. That 10- to 12-hour travel time for a 15-minute presentation makes no sense whatsoever. What I want to start off with is, what were the fundamental shifts because there is a big difference between teaching online versus teaching in person. What were the things that you need to overcome yourself mentally as a company to be able to help make that shift from in-person learning to online learning and do it successfully? Let's face it, we all had trouble figuring it out at the beginning.
Before I dive into that, I've always believed that anything is like a set of tools, isn't it? There's nothing wrong with any tool. It's just not meant for certain purposes. You can hammer a screw with a screwdriver as a hammer as well when a hammer is not available but it's not ideal. Ideally, you would use a hammer for it. You can substitute but then it's sub-optimal in its effectiveness and efficiency of getting the job done. That is what most people don't quite get. It's not to do with either online, in-person or a hybrid. Before you do anything else, first of all, you need to understand the fundamental principles behind learning itself, not training. Most people think they're synonymous. They're not. Training is an event. That's what most people refer to as learning and development. It isn't. It's one small aspect of it. If you want to go into a deep dive about learning, there are basic fundamentals, which we'll do for any medium that you choose.
First of all, you need to want to learn. The onus is on the participant, not from the teacher. If you don't want to learn, it's difficult. Not that you can't. You can always be tactical about it and make sure that even a person who doesn't want to turn up and learn is going back home with something useful. Having said that, it's so much more. Number two, you must understand why you're there to learn also. What is it that you want to take away? If you knew that before you turn up, you're seeking it, in tune and alert when learning happens. That often, I believe, brings out the best in a trainer or learning facilitator also because the questions are rich. If you're one of those people who read it somewhere and you want to speak about something, you get caught out at that point in time. People will ask me a point of contextual questions.
The third thing, once any form of learning has happened, there must be some methodology to practice what you have learned and also experiment with it. It needs concept and theory, but in nature, it’s limiting. In different contexts, it will show up differently and effectiveness will change. You need to try it out for yourself in your own context to see whether it will work for you. You need to then come back, verify and validate what you have learned so that you internalize it. There is a vast tapestry that takes place in this whole conversation of learning. We are looking at one small component of that, which is the training that happens in the workshop. If you take a look at it from that perspective, there is a part to play in all of those elements, online learning, self-learning, create a led facilitation, coaching, mentoring, on-the-job learning, facilitated conversations, focus groups and exposure visits, all of this amounts to learning.
Once again, the issue is we are just looking at one element of it and thinking that it's learning and we're trying to shift people's paradigms around it. We need to look at it holistically. If you look at it holistically, there's a definitive part that you can play on that. There are elements that you need to play in person as well. There is space and scope for both. Knowing which one to play when is the trick. For that, you need to take a look at it holistically, as a process and very much an ecosystem that is enabling everyone to learn, versus doing the training program.
The thought process that keeps going through my mind is, “Not everybody learns the same way.” You listed 8, 10 or 12 different ways that people can learn. I'm sure there's more. We need to understand that by teaching in one particular method and way using one particular medium works for a certain percentage of students. It doesn't work for the rest. I know when I'm in a classroom and you can tell the difference between the people that want to learn and people that are there because they've been told that they have to come to this class. There's a diametric difference between those people. It's a matter of making sure that you can find a way to empower the passions of the individual learner to enable them to be curious enough that they will learn for themselves. I don't think that anybody truly learns until they can internalize the why of what they're trying to benefit and why there is a benefit to them. I'd love to know your thoughts on that.
There are a couple of elements there that needs unpacking. First of all, what you mentioned about different methods of learning is essential. That's something that often gets completely lost in translation, especially inside organizations. At least when it comes to formal education, there is an acceptance that people will learn differently. However, having said that, even in formal education, what you find is mostly one type of learning experience. If you were the person who learned by doing, what can you do? You still have to write the assignment. If you're good with words, you have a step up already. That's important, especially when it comes to work and adult learning experiences, especially when it needs to be in line with skill development and result.You need to want to learn. The onus is on the participant, not on the teacher. Click To Tweet
Ultimately, why do learning and development? Let's go back to basics. I know I'm going to shoot myself into the fire and my entire profession with it but if you look at it hundreds of years ago, you never had any leadership seminar. People led fine. You didn't have any parenting seminars. The parents did fine. There was no seminar in any self-motivation, no how-to beat stress or any of that. Suicide rates were way lower than what it is now. There must be something wrong because the proliferation of learning and development seems to have a diametrically opposite effect of what it's supposed to have if you look at it that way.
We open ourselves up to our own insecurities through learning and our own inabilities.
That's the difference. Weirdly enough, people understood back then that you need to leave certain things be and they'll figure it out, case in point. Imagine our parents. I know that my father never turned up in school. He dropped me into a new school one day and that was it. He never came for Parent-Teacher's Day. He didn't bother. That's not to say that he wasn't interested in my education. He was but he didn't come and spoon feed me into that process. He would tell my teachers openly that, "If my son has misbehaved, deal with it. Whichever way you see it fit, I'm not getting involved in that conversation."
He trusted the system to do what it needed to do.
I went to an all-boys school and there were fisticuffs ever so often that took place in the school. We dealt with it. I wouldn’t come home and talk about it with my parents, neither would anybody else. Is that ideal? Probably not. It's good to talk. It's also good for us to figure things out for ourselves and let kids figure it out rather than parents getting involved in that. I don't have answers to this. All I'm saying is when I look back at it and at statistics that are showing up, we are somehow doing something wrong because we have an entire industry around learning and development. We are not achieving the results that need to be shown. That is because we don't accept the fact that if you are doing some form of intervention, there must be a tangible result. Not a feel-good factor. Let's start there.
If you want a result, you have to make sure that your learning preference is at the forefront of what curriculums are in and how it is being taught. Not the trainer's ability in how to speak or to make a song and a dance, do all the theatrics and wow the crowd. Wowing the crowd is insignificant. Being able to enable that individual to be able to do that for themselves is what is involved. That involves a process. Nobody builds a process into it. You only have an event.
Take a look at all the retreats you have. It's an event. What happens afterward? Where's the measurement process, application process and peer review process around it? None of that takes place and it's fundamentally flawed. That's one. The second is when you speak about individuals and organizations moving into LNB and understanding why people need to go. This is not to say that people don't need to be trained. They need to be trained and prepared. In doing so, you must also understand that no matter whatever you learn, sometimes you stumble upon and therefore cannot meet the health concept. It's the bits and bobs of everything. Sometimes when we go for formal education for a Master's program, what happens is all of those that's it and all it, you have these little a-ha moments, “That's why it's happening.” You knew it instinctively.
The issue is when you box it out, then that's all you think about. You have to neatly put everything into the applicable box. Otherwise, the theory is wrong and we're doing the tool wrong. That is one of those things that we must make sure that we did. We shouldn't feed them tools. What we must be reaching is for people to understand how to build their own tools based on their needs. Nobody teaches that. Everybody teaches you a tool and how to use it. My question is, what happens if that tool doesn't work for me?
If you're right-handed and somebody else's left, they're teaching you how to swing your hammer left-handed. You need to learn how to teach to swing a hammer right-handed. You don't know how to extrapolate. I look at my own university education. I could not tell you anything that I learned about political theory, government or any of the structured classes that I went through for four years of university. However, I can tell you that I learned time management, how to think for myself, engage with people and articulate. I learned how to do all the things that I stumbled upon while I was at university. Those are the things that you figure out for yourself. The formal education system enabled me to be able to have the structure to be able to figure those things out for myself.
That's the major challenge with education nowadays, is that people, A) Want to be spoon-fed and B) The education system is spoon-feeding people. You go to this retreat. You get people all excited. You throw all this information at them and 72 hours later, they've probably forgotten 90% of it because they're not using it in everyday applications. They're not playing, breaking and rebuilding it. It's that breaking and rebuilding that makes people learn. How people truly learn is by making mistakes, by having things blow up in their faces, figuring out why they blow up their face and fixing it? That's where the real challenge is with education. We, as companies, education facilities and whatever, do not give people the opportunity to break and fix.
Importantly, that process, being able to nudge them where to look, that's the thing. Once again, I know I'm going to get controversial for saying this and I deeply appreciate the fact that you don't necessarily have to know something to be a coach in it. I get that. However, when it comes to workplace involvement, context is everything. If you are able to contextualize something, you can nudge somebody very slightly for them to figure things out for themselves. You can't do that for an individual unless you’re not a nuance of it. I always say this example of my mom.What we must be teaching is for people to understand how to build their own tools based on their need. Click To Tweet
If not for the fact that I look like my dad, my mom would honestly, "I'm not sleeping, but I’m looking at you,” and she probably stopped looking for me at some point, looking for her actual son. Not two people can be polar opposite than me and my mom. Mom couldn't figure this out because she'd never had the context to refer to. Growing up, she was one of those people who were always well-behaved and well-disciplined. She wouldn't cross the line. Her siblings were the same. They were brought up in, I wouldn't call it rigid. At that time, my grandparents were liberal but they never crossed the line. Instead, they were good kids. My grandparents would have been blessed to have kids who are always toward the line, then I come along and I was a complete rebel. My mom wouldn't have a reference point to ask somebody, "What am I supposed to do with this kid?"
There was no context in her mind of what to do with this child.
She would ask her close family. Her siblings would look sideways and say, "I don't know. We don't know where to refer to." I stole my mother's sparkle through it and at some point, I was old enough to understand that it caused the pain. It wasn't her fault that she couldn't quite get me. My dad, on the other hand, would watch all of these happen with curious intent. If I stepped out of line, he would quietly come and have a chat with me. That's more than enough because I was petrified of my dad.
We had the same father. When I turned thirteen, he says, "If you're dumb enough to get caught and the cops come and get you, you will spend a night in jail." That was always the thought process in my mind because I know that my father would have let me spend the night in jail.
We certainly shared the same father because mine did let me spend the night in jail. I had a bicycle that I used to go everywhere in it. We have a license in Sri Lanka for bicycles as well. There's a little license that you need to get. Nobody gets it. It was one of those rules that nobody bothered with. A small dynamo and light you had to fix if you're going at night. Once again, nobody bothered with it. Everybody carried a torch and that was it. There are no cops to stop you. I went to one of my friend's houses, lost track of time. I came back and there was a policeman by the roadside.
He stopped me and asked me where's my light. I shrugged my shoulders right there. He said, "No, you have to have a light. Do you have a license on top of it?" “Who carries a license for a bicycle?” He said, "No. Where's your father?" I said, "My father is at home. I'm going home." He said, "I'll come with you." He came with me and I said no. I talk big and said, "My dad is mechanical." He said, "That's all fine," but he said I'm capable of it. My dad turned around and said, "I scolded him many times," and that was it. There was a gentleman's agreement that this was a skeptic. I was put into one of their cells and kept there for a couple of hours. Eventually, the OIC called my dad and told him, "Come and pick him up." He came and there was no conversation around it. I did go and ask him about the hero if is he, my dad, at that point.
You learned. What you did, it's one of those things. You have to break something, figure it out and move forward. If your father had fixed it for you, you would have learned nothing if he had talked to the cop and fix it. You would have said, "It's okay to drive without a license and not to have a light." Everybody else says, "I can do it too."
You learn the wrong thing. That's the problem. There is such a thing of learning all the wrong lessons also. When situations take place, you have 1 of 2 choices. Either you can learn the right lesson or the wrong lesson. I often say this and it's a bit like having a bad relationship. You fell out with the love of your life and so forth. You can get very jaded about it. That's the lesson that a lot of people learn, saying, "Never trust a woman. You can never trust them." All these generalizations take place and that's not true. That was one individual. The second individual that comes into your life can be completely different but we judge based on our previous experience.
Sometimes we make something that could be fantastically good into being something completely wrong. Why? We learned the wrong lessons. Sometimes when we get away with it, it's not so much as it was a beginner's offense to get punished for. That's not the point. The point is actions should have consequences. Whether that consequence happens to everybody else or not, it's irrelevant to the conversation. You did something wrong. You must be willing to pay the price for it. You can learn the wrong things if you're not careful.
We learn things like that all the time in business situations, where you have a manager, leader, CEO or whoever says, "Thou shalt do this," and they do the opposite completely. When you see the person that is a leader to you in one way, shape or form, doing something that's contrary to what they're saying, you're going to believe their actions, not their words. You can go and say, "They're saying this, but they're doing it anyway.When it comes to workplace environment, context is everything. Click To Tweet
Therefore, it can't be that big a deal.” A major challenge within the learning development is that when a lot of people come in, we're talking about third-party companies. They don't sit down ahead of time and say, "What are the cultural norms of this company? What is the purpose? What are you guys trying to instill? What are the things that are important to you as an organization?” Too many organizations come in and say, "We've got a box of ideas. We're going to teach our way to our philosophy."
Therefore, a lot of the lessons are missed on these people because you can say whatever you want. If you're going contrary to the cultural norms of the company and three days later they come back and they see everybody doing something completely opposite from what they learned, they're going to forget what they learned and go back to those cultural norms.
In a way, that tails back to the question you asked. Ultimately, if you're looking at creating a learning culture in an organization, paradigms need to shift from doing a training program to facilitating learning. You need to look at it from a process perspective. In that process, understanding what you're trying to achieve and how you need to arrive at it. Mapping it as a process is very important. Before a program starts, how do you make sure that the people that you have chosen to partake in this are sensitized to the need for them to be there? That’s one major component.
Secondly, what type of tools and techniques, what kind of concepts and theories would work best in this context within the organization? Cross refer that with the participant list if you can go deep down into finding out their preferences of learning, even better. Thirdly, in designing the program, what mechanisms would you have in order to those different types? We generally always look at the minimum of three different multiples of how people learn and incorporate that a day before because that way, something works for everybody.
One thing that we've always learned is that more than anything else, you're learning work. If you create the right environment, all of the things that you want people to understand can be taught within themselves. That always works because whatever they teach is contextual. They understand the context best more than anybody else. If you create that environment inside the room, they do it for themselves. They do the teaching part for themselves but that needs to be factored in the design element itself. How do you get them to practice that? How would you reinforce it? How would you link it to a result? Eventually, when the result does happen, how do you make sure they have enough space to unlearn that particular space that they have learned for themselves? The next set of problems they have might not be exactly the same.
How do you unlearn some of that and re-learn how to re-adjust yourself? All of those need to come into play. If you didn't put that last bit, what happens is whatever you learned becomes counterproductive in the long term. Let me give you an example of this. This example of this is me. I talk about all of this, but I'm also gullible. I'm just a human being. I made all the mistakes that I tell other people make I make them do. Let me take me as an example. Let's take a look at the simplest thing. You and I probably came from the same vintage. When I was supposed to introduce a computer, it came with a manual.
Some of us read that manual but most of us threw it over the shoulder. I threw it over the shoulder.
I did read it because it was such an expensive kit. That was the one time I read the manual properly. I took the time to read. You were taught in a certain way and you know this is right, the manual is for the computer. I'm sure that I used the mouse, go to file and then go to save. That's how it's done but then there are shortcuts to this. Command, cut and paste and all of that. It took me nearly five years to unlearn that because I am telling myself, "This is wrong. I'm going to miss the computer by using the shortcut." Maybe I accidentally leave the whole outbreak. That can happen.
Looking back at it, you find yourself laughing at yourself but back then it was a real fear. This is how the manual said to do it and I should do it that way because it was an expensive piece of kit. I didn't want to mess it up. If I lost it, I wouldn't be able to buy one again in a heartbeat. I did everything by the book. I was completely risk-averse. Computers are not that expensive compared to earnings. It's much cheaper than it used to be. Even if you broke it, you could afford to buy another one without too much of a hassle and there are easy payments for all of it.
The truth of the matter is fixing them even if you break them is not that big a deal for the most part.
You wouldn't believe this. We would have incense being lit as if though you were doing Puja onto a computer before you start the computer. That's how important it was. People who haven't seen it would laugh. We grew up in that environment. When I'm on a computer, it's venerated to the point of somebody offering incense to it. You don't want to mess with it. The point I want to make is me having used computers from the time I was eighteen years old. If it took me nearly 2 or 3 years to get out of that fear psychosis, imagine how difficult it is to unlearn some of those ingrained behaviors that have held you in good stead throughout your career. How do you unlearn that? It also must be part of the learning process.When situations take place, you have one of two choices: either you learn the right lesson or you learn the wrong lesson. Click To Tweet
The conversation for another day is, “How do you unlearn and re-learn?” We could have an entire conversation of unlearning, re-learning, breaking of habits and how to instill new habits. Vidusha, thank you for being on the show. What's the best way for people to get in touch with you? Is Luminary Learning Solutions the best way to get people to get in touch with you? I have one question I ask when I let people out the door. When you leave a meeting, get your car and drive away, what's the one thing you want people to think about you when you're not in the room?
I would like to think that they would be able to do that for themselves without me. Bear with me until I quickly expand that a little bit. That is one of those guiding ethos for us when it comes to the organization stuff. We've always told every single person who joins us that our job is not to make ourselves be the center or the person that people depend on. Our job is to equip people with everything that we possibly know for them to do it for themselves. If we haven't done that, we failed in our duty. If somebody picks up the phone and calls up and says, "That program was fantastic. Can you please tell me how to do this?"
That means I've not done my job right. For us, for me, as well as probably everyone, whenever we meet, probably not a meeting but probably a program, we would want everyone there to be able to not have to call us again. For a courtesy, yes. To turn around and say, "We got promoted.” We would love to hear that but not for a problem. We should have equipped them with every conceivable tool they possibly can make for themselves to be able to solve the problems they have.
Vidusha, thank you very much for being on the show. You've been a wonderful guest. Thank you for enabling people to be better versions of themselves because, in the end, that's what's important.
Thank you very much, Ben.
Vidusha Nathavitharana, Founder and Destiney Architect of High Five Consultancy & Luminary Learning Solutions. Vidusha is a seasoned trainer and consultant with over 15 years of hands on experience. having led HR and HRD initiatives that have won accolades globally. Vidusha has the ability to simplify the complex without diluting it…and has run assignments in over 15 countries.
Luminary Learning Solutions, which have been operating over the past 15 years covering over 20 countries, in the HR consultancy & leadership training space. Their end-to-end training solutions offer the convenience of one touchpoint to a range of training interventions, through a team of 25 exclusive local subject matter experts and 16 international trainers and coaches.
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