Defining “Training”

I often go back to basics when it comes to approaching any training session that I conduct.

I start by considering the audience and how I would enable them to participate and engage in the learning process. This typically comes in a form of establishing a common definition to the words that I will use frequently in delivering the content. I believe that if the words used has a common understanding, then we get to minimise the risk of misinterpretations.

What is Training?

I usually start my Train-The-Trainer session by asking the question, “What is training?”

And the responses I get are often quite interesting.

Rarely I ask this question for the sake of just getting an answer. I ask this question more as a pulse check to see how my fellow trainers define training.

“Training is a systematic process that enables learning and practice to take place with a clear objective to invoke change in the competency of another strategically through appropriate and acceptable methods.”

This is my current definition of training, and here is why;

Systematic process

Training does not happen by chance. It is also neither an accidental process nor a spontaneous incident. There is a large amount of planning involved in selecting the right input, with conscious decisions made on the strategy to produce the desired output.

Enable learning and practice

Training is implemented to enable learning to take place. However, learning alone is not enough. There must be conscious effort to allow the participants of the training session to apply and/or practice what they have learned. This is especially critical for skill-based topic where the application of the lesson is crucial to the effectiveness of the learning process.

Clear objective

If you are not sure of where you are heading, you will end up going around in circles. A clear training objective provides the trainer with a clear end-goal to aim for. This will help the trainer to make the right decisions on how to strategize the learning process. As for the learners, a clear objective will allow them to know what output is expected from the session.

Invoke change

A good trainer does not force the learning to happen. Instead, they invite and appeal to the participants’ own desire to want to gain new knowledge, improve their skills and consider new behaviour that would bring themselves benefits.

Competency

The whole point of training is to focus on the competency elements – what enables the person to be able to carry out the task better, namely the knowledge, the skills and/or the behaviour. We try not to get involve with the emotions, beliefs, character, and other psychological aspects of the learner.

Strategically

Each activity in the learning process must be appropriate, useful, and purposeful to achieve the targeted lesson. The trainer must make a conscious decision on the “what”, “why” and “how-to” of the training session.

Appropriate and acceptable methods

A trainer is the “bearer of knowledge” and this is a noble role. A noble man would not belittle, embarrass, or force the learner to do meaningless unorthodox actions with the excuse that it is his or her unique way of imparting knowledge or skills.

My hypothesis is, if all trainers could agree to this definition, then we have a strong chance of improving the training industry and uplift the standard to the next level. If not, we will always bicker on the wrong things and keep going around in circles.

Importance of Identifying the Right Competencies for the Industry

Everyone wants to be the recipient of excellent performance. Be it in a form of service or product, excellent performance will never be refused by anyone on the receiving end. However, on the giving end, things can be very subjective and blurry at times.

The question is, how does one know that the level of performance given meets the desired quality expected? How does one even stand to have a fair shot at performing if they themselves are not aware of the knowledge, skills, and other contributing factors that they need to have to begin with? It wound not be a fair playing flied if everything boils down to being lucky and gifted with natural talent.

It is with this perspective in mind, my team and I embarked in a quest to dissect ‘performance’.

It turns out that performance can be defined by measurable indicators. These may include strategic indicators that contributes to the success of the organisation; operational indicators that relates to profitability, productivity, and output; and behavioural indicators that generally reflects upholding positive values and well-mannered conduct.

Further narrowing the scope to the context of job-related performance, these indicators are often referred to as ‘set of competencies’ which consist of knowledge, skills and behaviours that ideally the employees must have to perform the task assigned.

This applies to any industry and it is no different to the training industry too. Even though one may make the assumption that trainers are better informed and familiar with performance indicators and measurements, one thing for sure is there is a need to have a taxonomy for the industry – a common description and classification of what constitutes and contributes to the delivery of the performance that will be considered as a reference.

By defining a set of competencies, even though it may be non-exhaustive at this point, it would serve as a benchmark for those involved in training and development related work to know what is to be expected of them and how they can grow in their profession.

As we identify the key knowledge, skills, and behaviours necessary, it would be easier to reach a targeted performance for the roles involved in the training industry, and then developing and optimising those competencies to best align with the bigger picture of improving the quality and livelihood of the nation’s workforce.

When we have listed these core competencies, we should be able to easily distinguish excellence in performance from non-performance and in the future, by combining several of these core competencies, may open the possibilities of developing a proper competency framework for training industry professionals.

From Andragogy to Heutagogy

In the past few weeks I’ve come to realise a very interesting discovery in the way people, including myself, learn when we have extra time on our hands.

The pandemic has forced many to stay indoors and consequently, brought upon us a huge opportunity to learn new knowledge, skills and change of behaviour.

Prior to this, I often talk about “Andragogy” – the adult learning theory which focuses on the shift from dependent learning to self-directed learning (Malcolm Knowles, 1975). Commonly associated with training due to the nature of the learners’ age (in comparison to “Pedagogy” or child learning theory often associated with learning in school), “Andragogy” had always been the go to reference when dealing with learners’ who are more matured in nature.

Key traits of adult learners’ include the ability to choose what they want to learn (self-directed), they learn because of the need to solve problems that they face (problem-centric) and the influence of background experience in the speed of their learning. This has so far been a great impact to designing and delivering training programmes for a majority of working adults’ competency building.

However, training as a form of ensuring learning occurs, still remains to be partly initiated by the employers rather than the individual employees themselves. The employees may have an interest to learn a new skill or knowledge in certain areas, but final say still lies within the decision of the top management. Hence, most training programmes are organised based on the needs of the business.

So, when does learning becomes truly 100% the decision of the individual?

This is where the lockdown duration has expedite “Heutagogy” – a learning theory which is based on “self-determined learning” (Hase and Kenyon, 2000).

We now live in the age where learning resources are abundance. Technology advancement has made the average worker to have at least a basic smartphone and an acceptable internet speed connection in their home. Pair that with time on their hands during lockdown or self-quarantine, and we have an ideal condition for “Heutagogy” to happen.

“Heutagogy” kicks things up a notch from “Andragogy” as self-determined learning means the responsibility of application is now driven by the individual themselves. In “Heutagogy”, the learners’ determination is driven from the desire to do something to achieve a desired goal. It doesn’t necessarily require a linear approach nor does it require a single source of instruction. Because the focus is on building a capability (ability to achieve desired outcome) the learner is the true driver of the learning process (autonomous).

Here’s a simple example of “Heutagogy” taking place. You want to start a personal website with a blog. Due to the restrictions, there are no training programmes that you can attend to learn this. Your next best option is to search for video tutorials on YouTube. You start with the most obvious question, “How to start a personal website with a blog?” This leads you on a scavenger hunt to find the right videos that addresses the issues that you face as you start building your website. At times, you may also divert into something that seems to be off topic like “How to remove backgrounds in my photos?” – but this happens because you needed nice picture for you blog profile. And at the end of it all, you now have a functional blog on the web. You are happy and now slightly capable of sharing that website building experience with others.

So, if you have learned something new by your own choice and free will during the duration of lockdown or self-quarantine, and now, after several weeks, have made it into something that you are capable of doing, then congratulations my friend, you too are a prime example of “Heutagogy” in action – an evidence that the “self-determined learning theory” is true.

Now the next question is, how does this change the training landscape for the time to come?

Feel free to leave your thoughts on the comment section below.

IKIGAI : The Real Question That Needs an Answer

If you search the word “IKIGAI” on Google, chances are this diagram (or variations of it) will pop up.

While it is not wrong, it doesn’t reflect the true meaning of the Japanese word.

If we look at the word IKIGAI (生き甲斐), it literally means “the results of being alive”. If you do some cosmetic touch up on the translation, the best representation that fits the context would be “sense of purpose”.

For a typical Japanese on the street, IKIGAI means “a reason to wake up every morning”. So, it is more of a motivation concept than anything else.

Your IKIGAI can be anything – scale is not a factor. It can be as big as your mission in life or as small as being excited to try out your new pair of shoes. What matters is, this IKIGAI of yours should give you something to look forward to on a daily basis – a reason to feel alive.

It should be that simple.

But how, or why did IKIGAI get blown out of proportion?

The way I see it, based on my years of living in Japan and interacting with Japanese on a regular basis, IKIGAI is a simple mindset that the Japanese community lives by, somewhat the result of an unwritten rule that “puts the society at the center of the individual’s function”.

You see, the Japanese were molded by a very unique set of influences both historically and geographically. This has shaped the society to be appreciative of what little resources they have and in exchange for peace and harmony, they understand the responsibility that one has in carrying their own weight. A child is taught to be independent from a young age and once they enter a “community” (school, work, etc.) they must play their role to their best ability.

This is quite different from the Western culture that puts more emphasis on the “self”. Their individualistic mind couldn’t quite comprehend the Japanese meaning of “happiness” for having an IKIGAI (being useful and contributing to others) and in turn, tried to formulate this simple mindset into a framework which consist of key elements to ensure that all human-related aspects were taken care of with this “sense of purpose in life”.

As I had mentioned before, although the four (4) key elements of doing something that:

  • you LOVE
  • you are GOOD AT
  • you can EARN
  • the WORLD NEEDS

is not wrong to be taken as your personal IKIGAI, rather than restricting yourself to find a single goal as a “purpose in life”, you may want to look at if from wider lens.

Consider your IKIGAI (days that makes up your total lifespan) to be something that is supported by these pillars from the four (4) key elements with “balance” in the long run as your ultimate goal.

So if you can wake up every morning with a smile, excited to start working on your project or anything that gives you a surge of energy, that is already an IKIGAI in my books.

Now if that something benefits you emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually (by feeling a sense of contributing to the world), it should be considered as a bonus.

So the question is, do you have an IKIGAI?

What is “Kaizen Mindset”

Ask any Japanese on the streets of Tokyo, “What is Kaizen?” And most likely the answer you’ll get is “to improvise”.

Like many other Japanese concepts, it is the western world that tries to formulate a typical Japanese habit into something philosophical that sounds bombastic enough to sell to the rest of the world.

Hence, “Kaizen” is often translated as “Continuous Improvement” with some framework to make sense of this common Japanese behaviour of improvising a handy solution to a simple problem.

The real question is, why do Japanese minds think of such things?

It seems like their eyes can see things that we non-Japanese are oblivious to. Is it their culture? Is it because of their upbringing? Is the secret in their education system?

Having some experience living in Japan and going to school with 98% of my classmates being Japanese, somewhat made me realise that the answer to the above questions is quite simple – Japanese embrace scarcity. What it means is, they understand that resources are limited and willing to put the community’s interest ahead of any individual’s interest. It is a society’s survival instinct that they cultivated based on the impact of geographical and historical influence to their livelihood. So, their culture was developed around this understanding and their upbringing and education system was developed to support this culture.

But that does not mean that we non-Japanese are incapable of learning this mindset. In fact, to adapt it is relatively simple, especially at an individual level on a daily basis.

The core belief is, “eliminate waste, increase productivity” – a two-tiered approach that must happen simultaneously. It is not enough to “just eliminate waste”, the act of “eliminating the waste” must at the same time, “increase productivity”.

For example, it is not enough to just arrive early. Because arriving early will result in idle time (time is wasted on waiting) if the person does nothing. So, a better option is to arrive “just in time” (JIT) so there is no waiting or lag. To achieve this balance is where they constantly look for simple and easy ways to make things more productive.

In fact, one of the most credited figure of Kaizen, Taiichi Ohno, once famously said, “Progress cannot be generated when we are satisfied with existing situations.” This probably prompted another Toyota engineer, Shigeo Shingo to introduce the improvement priority: (1) Easier, (2) Better, (3) Faster, (4) Cheaper – specifically in that order.

So, in short, the “Kaizen” mindset is all about fulfilling the responsibility one has in society to look for improvements continuously for the benefit of everyone. No matter big or small, all those contributing effort will eventually accumulate to bring a larger impact to everyone in the long run. Because at the end of the day, when humanity wins, everyone wins.