ICT for Education in Gujarat: Draft Recommendations

This paper presents draft recommendations for ICT in education for the state of Gujarat. The recommendations reflect the vision of the role of technology in education crafted by leading educational organizations like the NCERT. The recommendations drafted herein are based on the reports and data available in the public domain, released by MHRD or other state level government bodies. Part of the recommendations are also based on interviews with teachers and students in a school (which represents largely the character of ICT implementation in Gujarat) and on the author’s work experience in ICT. The draft recommendations apply to elementary education (I to VIII) in government schools and aided schools working under PPP various models.

 1.0     The Vision of Education Technology and ICT in Education in India

The idea of using technology in education first appeared in the Kothari Commission (1964-66) albeit in a different form. Often referred as ‘innovative teaching methods’ or ‘audio-visual instruction’, the role of using technology to aid the transaction of the curriculum is not a recent idea. Sections 8.10 to 8.13 in the NPE 1986 specify the importance of media and technology in reaching out to ‘distant areas and deprived sections’ with a view of promoting equitability with the more affluent sections of the society. (NPE, 1986). Similarly, the NCTE Act of 1993 mandated the presence of experts from educational technology to be part of the National Council of Teachers.

The strong impetus to education technology however came from the National Curriculum Framework document of 2005. This document foresaw the role of ICT as an equalizer in society by bridging social divides by becoming a provider of information and education in remote areas, bringing scientist and children closer to each other to demystify science, promoting children’s creativity, converting education into a two-way discourse rather than the one-way dissemination that it is presently. (NCF 2005).

The accompanying position paper on Education Technology also envisioned the use of ICT in education for a) revitalizing and reorienting existing resources b) enabling systemic reforms by using technology in an equitable and democratic manner c) refreshing the skills of in-service teachers by creating a system of lifelong professional development d) pre-service teacher education where they learn flexible models of reaching curriculum goals and use of media and technology-enabled methods of learning and last but not the least e) ICT as a tool in school education to enable students to develop explanatory reasoning and other higher-order skills and to create knowledge rather than be passive users.

The National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education 2009 (NCFTE 2009) supports the aforementioned vision laid out by NCF 2005 by calling upon the imaginative use of ICT for the preparation and support of pre-service and in-service teachers.

2.0     The ICT @ School Scheme

As stated in the ICT@School document, ICT or the scheme of Educational Technology (ET) was initiated in 1972 during the IV Plan. Recognizing the critical role of ICT in achieving the country’s developmental and educational objectives, the National IT Task Force in 1998 recommended the introduction of ICT infrastructure in schools. The Government launched its flagship ICT scheme for schools, the ‘ICT@Schools’ in 2004 to promote ICT literacy and ICT enabled learning  in government and government aided secondary and senior secondary schools. This scheme was revised in 2010. It has four focus areas:

  1. ICT infrastructure for secondary and senior secondary schools
  2. Establishment of smart schools ( smart school in each district as a technology demonstrator for neighbouring schools)
  3. Teacher capacity building and engagement
  4. Development of e-content

This document serves as a road map for the implementation of ICT at the state level funded by the centrally sponsored scheme (CSS).

3.0     Education in Gujarat: Basic Data

Here is a quick overview of basic education related data in Gujarat based on UDISE[1] data.

  • Gujarat has 33 districts.
  • Number of government schools is 33843.
  • Number of private schools is 10205.
  • Total number of schools is 44051.
  • 7% of schools (assume government + private) have electricity.
  • 8% of schools (assume government + private) have computers.
  • Gross enrolment ratio for 2015-16 is 95.7%.

4.0     ICT in Gujarat

ICT related activities and policies are managed by Gujarat Council of Educational Research and Training or   GCERT. GCERT coordinates with the department of education, Commiserate of Schools (CoS), the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and NGOs among other statutory bodies in the state. A complete list of educational bodies under the ambit of GCERT is provided in Annexure 1.

Obtaining data that would directly help the drafting of the recommendations in this paper was difficult. The key websites – the SSA, the CoS, the department of education, where one might expect to find Gujarat related data, did not load. In addition to this, there exists a large number of educational bodies that have reported different aspects of ICT for different years without mentioning a break-up of whether the schools mentioned were government, aided or private. To avoid mis-information, data collection for ICT in Gujarat was therefore was restricted to the following documents:

  1. The Revised ICT @ Schools Scheme (2012). This document published by MHRD details the scheme and its components, vis-à-vis the hardware, software, number of Smart Schools, teacher training, the bodies involved in teacher training and the annual work plan budgets at the state level. It is a comprehensive document that serves as a supplementary policy text to support ICT implementation at the state level along with the National ICT Policy document also published by MHRD, GoI.
  1. The GCERT Annual Report 2014-15. GCERT is a primary body involved with elementary education. This report documents the various activities related with the use of ICT in schools in the years 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15.
  1. The NISG Report. A report by the National Institute of Smart Government (NISG) that provides a detailed review of the state of ICT implementation in various domains and in different states, Gujarat being one of them.
  1. The minutes of meeting of the 42nd Project Advisory Board meeting. This 2014-15 document reports the status of ICT in schools and raises issues that need addressing.

There is a certain disparity in the use of terminology and more importantly the data reported. For example, the GCERT Annual Report uses the term IT with reference to school that could mean several things. It states that “IT infrastructure has been set up in all schools in 6000 secondary and higher secondary schools (as on 2012). Rollout across 22000 upper primary schools is set to be initiated”.

The above statement contrasts what the 42nd PAB minutes state where the term used is ICT with reference to schools. What the reports says is that 6380 schools were targeted to be covered under the ICT @ Schools scheme in two phases. As of 2014-15, ICT activities were in progress in 3650 schools approved in 2008-09. Against approval of 2730 in 2009-10, activities only for 2320 schools had been taken up and 410 schools have not yet been covered. So only 5970 schools have been covered under the ICT scheme.

The next section presents the draft recommendations that have been based on the study of the aforementioned ICT in Education related reports.

5.0     Draft Recommendations for ICT in Education in Gujarat

ICT in education is a composite, complex concept that when broken down, yields different elements of accessibility, hardware, software, educational content, the delivery of that content and the student’s experience of receiving that content. ICT in education, through these inbuilt elements holds a great many promises, the most important of them all, I think, is the unequivocal, unfettered access to high quality education, specifically to those who live in marginalized, ‘dark’ regions of this country. ICT in education offers hope the urgent need to universalize elementary education.

Some of the most desirable goals of ICT in education have been access to education, increasing its quality and bringing about ICT literacy among students and teachers. It is time that the goal post shifted from ‘bring ICT to schools’ or ‘build ICT literacy among students and teachers’ to ‘how can ICT raise the levels of educational discourse through enhanced learning outcomes. ICT in education must have dual goals. The first is to continue its mission to support the universalization of elementary education in support of RTE 2009, with a special focus on educationally backward blocks (EBB). Second, ICT in education must correspondingly pursue the vision set up by NCF 2005, i.e. the pursuit of higher order thinking skills among students; and the creation of a ‘humane and professional teacher’  as articulated in NCFTE 2009.

The draft recommendations described here are based on the gaps and opportunities seen in Gujarat education. However, a number of recommendations are externally derived, with a view to enhance the level of discourse – from improving accessibility to achieving excellence in the quality of education.

As mentioned earlier, this document addresses the elementary sections (I to VIII) of government schools only.

5.1       Closer Alignment with Requirements of National ICT Policy

Section 9.4 in the National ICT Policy specifies the role that states will play where policy implementation is concerned. A few requirements of this section pertinent to the recommendations are a) the defining of norms, standards, guidelines and frameworks to implement the policy, b) creation of a roadmap and a feasible timeline c) guidelines for national standards and norms for infrastructure, implementation processes at various levels, capacity building programmes, monitoring and evaluation criteria, targets and d) Framework for development, selection, evaluation, deployment in repositories, and use of digital content.

The recommendation is to amend the existing state level policy to include the aforementioned details. The existing policy at present only focuses on hardware requirements.

 5.2       Single Point Data Availability and Tracking

The most urgent need is to consolidate the progress report cards on ICT in education and build a single portal which reports regularly the progress, updates and ongoing projects in ICT in education. The Karnataka state ICT in education is an example to emulate. Details should include projects in action, projects completed, school level details of ICT, ICT usage, number of ICT teachers per school and student to computer ratio per school. This level of data tracking will lead to improved usage of ICT in schools.

5.3       Infrastructure

5.3.1     Connectivity

The state has a Mission Mode Project (MMP) to provide through common service centers – 100,000 tele centers, broad band connectivity, and a secure state wide area network with minimum 2 mbps broad band connectivity as mentioned in the NISG report. A phase-wise plan to connect at least 1000 schools per year needs to be prepared and implemented.  The schools should have stable broadband based Internet connection through the state wide area network proposed as a Mission Mode Project (MMP) in 2011-12. Schools that are in interior regions may have access to Internet through W-LANs or Wireless links.

5.3.2     Power Supply

The state of Gujarat has traditionally had power problems, and power is also more expensive in Gujarat compared to other states. According to UDISE, as of 2014-2015, 99.7% schools (which includes government and private schools) have electricity. However, it is not clear whether this power supply is stable, uninterrupted. The district electricity board authorities need to be given the responsibility to ensure at least 5 hours of uninterrupted power supply in schools during working hours.

5.3.3     Student to Computer Ratio

At present, 73.8% schools have computers according to UDISE data. At the national level the budgetary allocation with a 75% support from the centre, allows 10 computers per school along with required peripherals. The recommendation here however is to provide bolster the budgetary allocation to serve a healthy and feasible Student-Computer ratio of 2 to 1, especially for upper primary sections to enable greater contact time with the computer. The ideal ratio can be determined in consultation with IT and pedagogy experts.

5.4       A Statewide School Management System

It is recommended that Gujarat follow the Kerala model of Sampoorna, a school governance system. Sampoorna handles state-wide student information and improved service delivery to students from the school administration. Gujarat also needs to build a system that helps in examination management, student enrolment, admissions, attendance, student transfers, drop out monitoring and health data tracking (such as vaccinations). The system can also help in issue of transfer and migration certificates as is required by RTE 2009. This recommendation also appears in section 5.2 of the National ICT Policy (revised 2012) envisioned as having multiple functions of being a digital repositories of tools, content and resources; professional development and continuing education platforms; and guidance, counselling and other student support services.

5.4.1     School Management Committee

The School Management Committee is an important part of one of the four pillars the ICT @ School scheme. The proposed School Management System can play an important role in the recruitment of SMC members making the entire process transparent. The role of the SMC in addition to what is envisioned in the ICT Policy and the RTE is also to monitor the quality of the e-content on the behalf of the students for its context, its ease of use and to ensure that all children have equal access to the e-content.

5.5       A School Learning Management System

As of 2012, there were 820 e-content modules (mainly videos and animations) for classes 8 to 12, designed to work on Ubuntu operating system have been created. At present these are available for free without any user id access. Similar to what is described in 5.2, the state needs to invest in a school-wide learning management system which will host all the content developed so far, that each government school can have access to. Budgetary allocations for the same need to be made. The learning management system will allow sharing of content across the state school, track student completion rates, collect feedback about different modules and recommend the popular modules through a module ranking system.  This system can also subsume the Gunotsav data which is being collected from classes I to VII.

5.5.1     Digital Examinations

The MHRD Implementation Report states that the government proposes to do away with paper-pencil tests and move toward digital examinations similar to centralized talent search tests. It is recommended that students are prepared for such examinations and a timeline of two years be set within which to train teachers to develop digital tests. The outputs of these examinations can also be linked with the School Management System where a school level performance can be recorded for future reference.

5.6       SMART Schools

With each state having its own idea of what a smart school is, there is already a move to streamline the idea of a ‘Smart School’ is in Gujarat.  At present, schools which score an A+ in the Gunotsav festival are marked out for converting to SMART schools and the target is 6500 schools. This scheme is currently available for classes IX to XII. The SMART school initiative should become more inclusive and this initiative should also be extended to the upper primary section to begin with, and later also consider schools that are not in the A+ bracket, so as to improve the school level performance and help students move toward 21st century skills.

5.7       Teacher Education

The recommendations in this section may be considered as applicable to other states or at a national level. These emerged based on a discussion with a) two school principals who run schools in semi urban areas b) a formal interview with members of a private organization who are implementing ICT in schools (although they are private schools).

5.7.1     ICT Support Teachers

It is recommended that the state create a role for teachers – called ICT Support Teachers – who will specialize in supporting other teachers for the general use of ICT and the use of ICT for teaching. The ICT Support Teachers or ICTSTs will be graduates with ICT being one their subjects and would have completed a state level examination and certification training course (described below) as a part of their pre-service training. A teacher may also opt for this course while she is serving for enhancement of her current role. If the school is small or only has a primary section, the services of the ICTST may be shared by more than one schools. For example, she may spend three days in one school and the other two/three days in another school.

5.7.2     State Level ICT Certification for Teachers

The state should train, assess and certify teachers to fit the role of an ICTST. The teacher thus certified for support will be able to use ICT productivity tools for administrative purposes and also be able to use ICT for teaching using ICT tools. Her main role however would be to provide administrative, pedagogic and specific task related support to other teachers.

5.7.3     Curriculum for Teacher ICT Certification Course

The ICT @ School Scheme and the National ICT Policy already have outlined the curriculum for ICT training. It is recommended that in addition to the existing modules, new modules may be added. For example, ways to leverage ICT for teaching, by complementing what is already present in the ICT content. Another example of a module could be to help prospective ICT Support Teachers to understand the local socio-economic and cultural contexts.

5.7.4     Action Research

The GCERT may commission action research projects in partnership with local DIETs, (DIETs already have a mandate and function to conduct action research) schools and teachers (and ICTSTs) across the state. The studies may include research on what techniques and strategies work, which frameworks need to be re-adapted to local contexts and so on. This action research may be published and be made part of future ICT training programs for teachers.

5.7.5     Teacher Training Institutes (Institutional Support)

The NCTE 2016 has a two-year B. Ed curriculum which serves the purpose of pre-service training in ICT. In-service teacher training is presently conducted mainly by DIETs – District Institute of Education and Training. ICT training for teacher may also be proctored and conducted by DIETs and also by RIE – Regional Institute of Education under the aegis of GCERT.

5.8       Design and Development of E-Content

These recommendations have emerged on the basis of the fact that excessive attention is paid to hardware and the number of modules created. For a truly enhanced quality of learning, design of the modules will also need attention.

5.8.1     Established Design Process

The NCF 2005 encourages the use of constructivist methods that promotes higher order thinking skills (refer section 1 of this document). Similarly the importance of 21st century skills are also important. Teaching with ICT provides an opportunity to incorporate the elements of constructivist, as well as constructionist learning along with 21st century skills into subject teaching. To ensure that these elements are incorporated, an instructional and communication design process needs to be put in place that must be followed for the creation of e-content.

It may be noted that the design of the e-content leverages and uses the media potential judiciously given that multimedia assets are expensive to create. For example, the design process should ensure that a photograph need not be replaced by an animation if as such an expensive asset like an animation is not required.

There needs to be an implicit understanding among designers that ‘one size does not fit all’. Given the socio-cultural diversity of the state’s population, the content design should take care of rural-urban mix. Students who reside in rural areas need to have content that is highly contextual whereas those who reside in urban populations should have content suitable for them. This is one way to maintain social sustainability of ICT initiatives in schools.

This process may be monitored by the state managed Project Monitoring and Evaluation Group (PMEG). The process also needs to be documented in detail for the purpose of communication with third parties and private vendors involved in the creation of e-content.

5.8.2     Training on Design Methods

Gujarat state DIETS, it is recommended, conduct periodic training sessions for its teachers as well as for their partner organizations, third party vendors on the concepts and vision laid out in the NCF 2005 and NCFTE 2009 respectively. The training should focus on concepts of constructivism and constructionism, with examples of ICT-based lesson plans that include both. The ICT Support Teachers can also play a key role here.

5.8.3     Established Development Process

The development of high quality e-content merits a systematic development process, similar to a product development process. The development process should incorporate adequate levels of design, subject matter and technical reviews to ensure consistent high quality for every module. It is recommended that the 820 subject modules that have already been created also be refreshed and re-designed as per the new process.

5.8.4     Established Standards

With a robust design and development framework in place, there is also a need for design and development standards that will help developers turn out a high quality learning module in time with minimum review and edits. The standards should specify design (such interactivity required, frequency and style of objective type questions etc.) language standards, technical standards especially for media assets, file naming standards and so on. Such standards can help reduce project execution time in large projects due to reduction in rework time.

5.8.5     A Quality Control Body

The ICT @ School has already recommended the presence of a Project Monitoring and Evaluation Group (PMEG). This document additionally proposes that the PMEG be given a regional status to ensure that e-content development takes place under the guidance of the PMEG group. This group needs to be composed of project management experts, design experts and also teachers who have adequate number of years of teaching experience.

5.8.6     Reusability of Content

The e-content creation should use principles of reusability so that media assets, text and code can be re-used.

5.9       Pedagogy and Teaching

5.9.1     Teaching and Learning Methods

ICT in education by definition implies varied teaching and learning methods. While teaching is instructive, often done via a teacher or a computer, learning is essentially carried out by the student’s own internal process. The need is then to create a balance between teaching and learning through a mix of methods like games, stories, simulations, scenarios, examples and non-examples.

5.9.2     Teaching and Learning Blends

ICT implies varied modes of delivery, that blend classrooms and technology-based delivery. Review framework given below. Note the examples within each intersection.


These are some of the ways in which these modes can be blended with classroom sessions.

5.9.3     Classroom Teaching Approaches

ICT in a classroom merits a shift from didactic, behavioural approaches to facilitative approaches. The teacher’s role transforms into that of a facilitator. As a facilitator, the teacher needs to assist students to ask the right questions, arrive at answers with given information, form their views about current situations, learn to solve problems on their own, collaborate and cooperate. The requisite skills for this shift in teaching approaches need to be covered in the ICT training for teachers. The ICT Support Teachers can be the ‘go to’ persons at the school level for facilitating this shift.

5.10     Hardware and Software

In the classroom observations that I did, one major factor that emerged was failure of hardware components which led to a great amount of time lost in class. This also led to teacher demotivation and student distraction leading to a chaos in class. The recommendations given below emerge from here.

5.10.1   Maintenance of Software and Hardware

There is also a recurring expenditure provisioning in the state for maintenance of computers. The terms of maintenance should be extended beyond computers to printers, braille printers, speakers, monitors, mouse, keyboards, and electronic whiteboards. There should be a separate mention of software maintenance in the budget.

5.10.2   Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)

The state needs to adopt a policy of free and open software in line with the National ICT Policy, in order to protect the privacy and sovereignty of the students who would be using ICT. Privacy, security and integrity are best achieved through the transparency guaranteed by free software rather than the opacity of proprietary software.

5.10.3   Using Assistive Technologies

Assistive technology is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and also includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. (Wikipedia). In order to truly close the digital, socio-economic and socio-cultural divide states need to set aside a capital expenditure expense item for investing in and maintaining devices that will allow students with physical disabilities to actively participate in the digital learning movement.

5.11     Sustainability Plan

Sustainability is the ability of an educational ecosystem to maintain scholastic processes, functions, diversity and productivity into the future.  The state may draw up an overall sustainability plan with a horizon of at least ten years for the overall ICT initiatives. This master-plan for sustainability may be accompanied by a project-based sustainability plan (if the project sponsors feel it is needed). Given below is a template/master-plan form for sustainability pertinent to the requirements of Gujarat state.

5.11.1   Economic Sustainability

The plan should be able to provide answers to the following questions:

  1. How will the ICT project be funded in the long term?
  2. What is the source of the initial funding? What is the likelihood of the permanence of that source? Have local/multiple/other sources been identified? How will the funds be recycled? For example, can parents contribute part of the cost of running an ICT based school and how much?
  3. Identify the most cost-heavy infrastructure and the cost of maintaining it. For example, electricity in Gujarat state is expensive. So can a technology-based solution be found to cover for economic sustainability? Like solar-based units that can power computers. Maharashtra has set an example in solar computing.
  4. What are the areas to check for during the transfer of ownership in a BOOT model?

5.11.2   Social Sustainability

  1. Find ways and means to first alter the mind-set to remove resistance and create acceptance amongst teachers – the most impacted stakeholders in any ICT education project.
  2. Create a community level buy-in and acceptance of computers as a means of learning. Chiefly parents and next, village (in case of rural areas) gram sabha They will also help maintain economic sustainability.
  3. Plan for regular updates and communication with parents on the progress, the benefits of ICT for their children, using sustainable, easily accessible means like mobile messaging.

5.11.3   Political Sustainability

  1. Governments are more likely to support and sponsor projects that deliver the results. To that extent, building a school management system or a single window tracking system (as described above) will go a long way in ensuring political support for ICT in education.

Stories that Teach – I


All of us have been raised on stories from the Panchatantra. We know them as children’s stories where talking monkeys and wise jackals preach human values. Imagine my surprise then, when a few years ago, I happened to read the entire translated collection. I was surprised to find these stories, far from being children’s stories, actually deal with complex and nuanced human emotions and the dilemmas arising from them. These stories show …. well, let me stop here. In ‘Stories that Teach – I’, read this story from the Panchatantra that teaches any value that the reader may want to learn. In ‘Stories that Teach – II’. we will see why this is such a great teaching story.


In the Molasses belt of Middle India there is a city called Madhurnagar. In it lived two friends; Mehnata, a skilled weaver and Anokha, a skilled carpenter. They were masters in their own respective crafts and had earned money and a good reputation in the city. They worked nine hours a day. At the end of each day, they dressed up in their expensive, soft, and brightly colored garments; adorned themselves diffused odors of camphor, aloes and musk. Dressed and adorned, they met others from the village for recreation in places like the public squares or temples.

One day there was a great festival in the city. It was an occasion for the entire population to wear their finest ornaments and move around the temples of gods and the other public places. Mehnata  and Anokha were there as well, dressed in their finest. They wandered in the festive streets of the village with joy and abandon enjoying every moment. Just then, while walking the brightly decorated streets, Mehnata  caught a glimpse of a princess seated at the window of the palace. She was more beautiful than words could describe or the mind could imagine.

The weaver was enthralled by her beauty and could not stop thinking about her. He walked back home in a wondrous stagger. He could not sleep a wink that night. His friend Anokha came over the next morning and found Mehnata lying there with tears in his eyes. Anokha was skilled in detecting problems of the heart. He checked his friend and concluded that his condition was not the result of fever, but that of a man who is in love. He persuaded Mehnata to confide in him who his lady love was. When Mehnata finally told his friend who his love was, Anokha was shocked and sad at the same time. No King would give his daughter to a lowly weaver. Anokha warned Mehnata that his attempt to woo the Princess would only entail the king’s wrath.

Mehnata insisted that he loved the princess and that love did not bear the logic of the mind. Anokha could not bear to see the plight of his friend and decided to help him out. He decided to build something for Mehnata which would enable him to visit his love without losing out on time. Mehnata’s hopes risen, he now resumed his daily work.

After a few days, Anokha came with a huge mechanical bird made of wood. It was painted with beautiful colors and he called it ‘Garuda’, the bird of Vishnu. This bird had plugs placed in an intelligent fashion. Anokha informed Mehnata that with the insertion of one plug the bird would take him wherever he wanted. The removal of this plug would stop the flight of this mechanical vehicle. He asked Mehnata to mount the bird, dress in Lord Vishnu’s garbs and meet his lovely princess.

Soon, Mehnata was all set to meet his princess. He put on garlands, and garments rich in fragrance. He wore exquisite jewelry and when night came he followed the instructions of the carpenter. The princess saw Mehnata and thought he was Lord Vishnu. She, honored by the Lord’s visit asked him what she could do for him. Mehnata said to her that he had descended from the heavens to take her as his wife. She was his actual bride who had accidentally fallen to earth because of a curse. He told her that he would now marry her by the ceremony used in heaven.

So they were married and with each day their love only grew stronger. Mehnata and the princess continued to meet every day, but on one such day he was seen by the palace guards. The palace guards approached the king with this piece of information. The king shocked by what he had heard went and shared his hurt and shame with the queen:

You are worried when you hear that she is born;

Picking husbands makes you anxious and forlorn;

When she marries, will her husband be a churl?

It is tough to be the father of a girl.

The queen went up to the princess’s room and questioned her about her paramour. The princess confessed the entire story to her mother. That evening the Queen and the King hid in the balcony to see if it was really Lord Vishnu who came to meet the princess every night. The sight of Mehnata on the huge bird pleased them and they were now sure of their great fortune. The King felt blessed and told the Queen that he was fortunate to have Vishnu as is son-in-law.

The King’s feeling of gratitude slowly turned to greed. He was the father-in-law of the great Lord Vishnu. What could he possibly not achieve with such great power on his side? Soon he started dreaming of conquering the neigbouring and the foreign lands. He challenged them all to a fierce battle and almost immediately challenged the great monarch of the South to a battle. The King called on his daughter and asked her to speak to her husband, his son-in-law, the great Lord Vishnu to slain his opponents.

That day when the princess spoke to Mehnata he was crushed. He felt sick at the thought of losing his lady love and his life too. His reputation was at stake. Feeing defeated at the card life had handed him, he spent one more sleepless night full of suffering. Once again Anokha, always quick to detect his friend’s problem, came to his aid. He advised his one and only dear friend to face the consequence of his lie like a man of honour. Mehnata decided that he would proceed for battle and lay down his life.

Let resolution guide the great, However desperate his state,

However grim his hostile fate: By resolution lifted high,

With shrewd decision as ally, He grimly sees grim trouble fly.

Now it so happened that far away and up above, deep in the heavens, the real Garuda was watching all this and decided to consult the real Lord Vishnu. He expressed to Lord Vishnu that if this weaver failed to save the city and was executed in the battle, it would only reflect badly onto the Lord, as people considered the weaver to be the real Lord Vishnu. People would stop performing ceremonies with the Lord’s name and the gifts and offerings would cease to come as well. Lord Vishnu felt that Garuda was right about his observation and decided to help the weaver. He decided that on the morning of the battle his spirit would enter the weaver and the spirit of Garuda would enter that of the mechanical bird and he would slay the army. On the morning of the battle he blew the conch and the sight of the Lord on the mighty bird scared the army and the men ran for their life. Lord Vishnu used his discuss to slay the Southern monarch’s head and the army bowed down to him for:

An army leaderless, is slain

All the enemies of the King kneeled down in front of the Lord and he asked them to give control of their land, chariots, men and elephants to the King of Madhurnagar city. At this point, Mehnata came forward and revealed that he was really a simple weaver who had fallen in love with his daughter. The great Lord Vishnu warned the King of unfettered greed and praised Mehnata for not ducking the challenge. The King was glad and accepted the weaver as his son-in-law and his secret stayed safe with the real Lord Vishnu. Hence:

The Gods befriend a man who climbs

Determination’s height…

(Adapted from the translation made from original Sanskrit by Arthur Ryder).

Second to None: The Role of Women in their Own Education


This is an extract of a paper I wrote in 2015 for my ‘History of Education’ assignment which is a part of my MA in Education course. I found it fascinating that women in India, as early 300 years ago, were so committed to learning to read and write. Not because they sought independence of any kind, or because they could have great careers. Such things did not exist at that time. Learning to read and write, in harsh conditions, against  all odds, simply because they wanted to, because they saw themselves as capable to learn and because they wanted to ‘see’ the world outside through books. This article chronicles the role of women’s own agency in educating themselves against all odds and opposition around early to late 20th century! I hope it leaves you inspired!


Azizunisa Begum was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s mother. Born in 1780, she was able to read difficult religious texts in Arabic and Persian through the strict confines of the purdah. (Basu, 2005). Moving up on the timeline, you find Rashundari Devi, born in 1809 in Bengal. She taught herself to read amidst stiff opposition and obstacles. (Basu, 2005). Moving further up the timeline, there was Parvatikunvar, born in 1828 in Gujarat, who was taught to read and write by her mother. (Basu, 2005). And Tarabai Shinde, born in Maharashtra in 1850, learnt to read and write at home from her father. (Sarkar, 1999).

These are but a few images, from the larger picture of women’s education in colonial India. Scattered and disparate as they may seem, these examples have in common the operative agency of women that was unwilling and unbending against the strictures of caste and gender that were dominant at that time. These and several other examples are signposts of a time that was replete with stories of women who defied norms and sought whatever means available to alter their pitiable state of bondage. Education was seen by many – women and men both, as one of the means to break free from oppressive practices and put an end to the ignominious state of affairs.

Whether through their own grit, or assistance from the educated, progressive and reformist gentry, women acquired the means to educate themselves and others in the wake of strong superstition and the imposed subservient positions.


Pre-colonial records of eighteenth century paint a bleak picture of women’s education. One may come across a reference of a learned woman in a vast span of time in history; like Gul-Badan Begum, daughter of Emperor Babur or Jehanara Begum, daughter of Shah Jahan, (Acharya, 1978) or Hati Vidyalankar, a child widow of Kulin Brahmana family from Rarh who was proficient in Sanskrit literature, philosophy and law ran a chatuspathi (center of Sanskrit learning) in Banaras. (Chakrabarti & Chakrabarti, 2013). The idea that women’s education was alien and unheard of.

In Bengal, most Brahmin women and those from lower castes were denied all forms of education except that one type which was closely associated with that of domesticity – vratas or bratas. (Acharya, 1978). Often cast as playful, socio-religious rituals, it involved rote learning of epics and ritual text that ‘taught’ women to undergo penance in the form of fasting and praying for the well-being and longevity of their family, specifically their husbands and sons. The bratas were often enjoyably performed by little girls who were thus ready to be betrothed at an early age between five or ten years.

These instances are more exceptional in that they serve to prove the proposition that learning for women was severely restricted and if available it was reserved for women of nobility or elite class like that of rulers or Brahmins, usually at home under strict seclusion.

Women, however, were neither ignorant nor without knowledge. Women, more than men were responsible for the oral transmission of knowledge which usually came in the form of smriti literature, music, ballads and folklore. Women’s learning and their role in generational transmission was more crucial to cultural survival than maintenance of Vedic tradition by men.  (Sen, 2002). In that sense, writes Samita Sen, when colonial education spread across India, the shift was much bigger for women in terms of nature of learning, content and method. (Sen, 2002).


A review of the reasons for lack of education for women is appalling. It was believed that a woman who can read and write could ‘make secret assignations of illicit nature’. (Sen, 2002). Such a woman, who forgot her domestic place would invite the wrath of gods, which would eventually lead to her being a widow. Even if the gods would spare her husband, her own immorality would lead to her husband’s death. Superstitions like these resulted in educated or literate women being labelled as immoral. (Sen, 2002).

It was in social contexts as harsh as these that women needed to exercise their agency.


It was Raja Ram Mohan Roy, who in 1818 questioned some of the norms based on which education was denied to women. He rejected the idea that women were incapable of learning, hence denigrated to their life of domestic chores. He reversed the idea to say that because they were denied education, they were not learned and hence perceived as incapable of any intellectual or useful activities. This idea found affirmation when Mary Wollstonecraft, an advocate of women’s rights, wrote about the reversal of cause and effect with regard to women’s education and empowerment. (Sarkar, 1999).

Even though women’s education was deemed as un-necessary, it was found that it did find its uses acceptably in certain situations. In the case of widowhood, they were expected to manage family properties, know how to read land agreements and books of accounts. Rashundari Devi put her education to practical use by writing a plea in her husband’s absence. The low-caste boshtomis, a devotional sect, were literate and integral to women’s education in that they were assigned as teachers for upper caste households. (Sarkar, 1999)


The subject of women’s education, though largely subsumed under the nationalist discourse, was at the helm of the social enlightenment so desired by reformists. From a life behind the veil to being de rigueur, women’s educational journey marshalled support from various sections within society – mainly Missionaries, empathetic government establishments and national reformists looking at societal transformation. The biggest impetus however came from women their own agency.

Here are a few examples.

Rashundari Devi, born in 1809 in Calcutta, taught herself to read and write by scratching letters of the alphabet onto a corner of a blackened wall in the kitchen. She had the support of her mother-in-law which by itself is commendable given the popular myth of impending widowhood that awaited women who tried to study. She used her literacy to pen her autobiography in Bengali – ‘Amar Jiban’. Credited as the first Indian autobiography, the book chronicled her life of drudgery and monotony in great detail. It was praised immensely during those times for its crisp and beautiful, descriptive prose. Portraying things as they were, her book epitomizes the strength and determination shown by her in view of the times she lived in. (Tharu & Lalita, 1991)

Pandita Ramabai was a prolific social activist and educator and served as an inspiration for generations of women ahead of her. She was born in 1858 in the state of Karnataka. Her father taught her to read and write Sanskrit and interpret Vedic texts. She became a widow within two years of her marriage. In living up to her late husband’s desire to educate young widows, she founded the Arya Mahila Samaj in Pune. She strived for the cause of women’s education and deliverance from the oppression of child marriage. In the years that followed she went on to establish many institutions like Mukti Sadan, Mukti Mission and wrote and translated several books including the Bible. One of her most important books was ‘The High Caste Hindu Woman’ in which she revealed the darkest aspects of the life of Hindu women.  (“Pandita Ramabai” 2015)

Swarnakumari Debi was born in 1855 and was among the first women writers in Bengal to gain prominence. She taught herself to read and write at home and participated creatively in the literary efforts of the household. She started the first all India Women’s Association that brought into focus women’s issues. (“Swarnakumari Debi” 2015)

Ramabai Ranade was born in Maharashtra, in 1863. Ramabai was a women’s rights activist and an educator. Married to Mahadev Govind Ranade, she soon started learning to read and write. She started the Hindu Ladies Social Club in Mumbai to develop public speaking skills amongst women. Distraught and desolate after her husband’s death she continued her work by establishing Seva Sadans and organizing the Bharat Mahila Parishad to educate and awaken women. (“Ramabai Ranade” 2015)

Lady Abala Bose, born in 1864 in Calcutta, was a social activist and educator known for her work in the betterment of the conditions and the upliftment of widows. She was also a feminist who wrote passionately about the status of women as ‘being a mind first and a physical body after’. She set up the Nari Shiksha Samiti in 1915 through which she established primary schools, prepare suitable textbooks and open child welfare centers. (“Lady Abala Bose” 2015)

Sarala Devi Chaudhrani was born in Calcutta in 1872. She studied at Calcutta University and completed her B.A., receiving a gold medal in English Literature.  She was the founder of the first women’s organization in India, the Bharat Stree Mahamandal in Allahabad. Promoting education among women was its primary goal. This organization went on to open several branches in Northern regions of India. (“Sarla Devi Chaudhrani” 2015)

Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was a remarkable Mulsim educationist. Born in 1880 in Calcutta, she strived for gender equality and other social issues. She set up a school for Muslim girls in 1911 in Calcutta. In addition to writing short novels, Sultana’s Dreams and Padmarag, she also founded Anjuman-e-Khawateen-e-Islam which was an organization that served as a prominent voice in issues related to women and their issues.

In 1893 in Calcutta, Mataji Tapaswini, a Sanskrit scholar, established the Mahakali Pathshala. The school educated young women from conservative families. To satisfy the conservatives, they developed a curricula dominated by home science and religious lore. She also set out to systematize traditional education girls received at home.  Her school flourished until the 1920s. (Sen 2002)

Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy was born in 1886 in Madras. Her life is memorable for that she aspired to be different from other women in her times. She studied till matriculation securing several gold medals. She continued her studies from home after being denied school when she turned older. Much against the wish of her father she went on to become a doctor and is credited today as being the first woman house surgeon in a government hospital. She was also the first woman legislator in India. (“Muthulakshmi Reddy” 2015)

Sister Subbulakshmi was born in 1886 in Madras. As was the practice then, she was married at the age of nine even though she had secured a first rank in the public examination of the Chingleput district in the Madras Presidency. Widowed at a young age she went on to become the first woman graduate in Madras Presidency with first class honors in 1911. She worked toward rehabilitating child widows and educating them. She started the Sarada Vidyalaya and was the principal of Lady Willingdon Training College and Practice School. She established several other associations for women and children. (“Sister Subbulakshmi” 2015)

Vidyagauri Nilakanth was born in Ahmedabad, and worked for women’s welfare. She started tailoring schools for women, edited a magazine on education with her husband. She conducted literacy classes for women and was awarded the MBE (Member of British Empire) and Star of India.

Sister Nivedita’s school in Calcutta was for girls from poor families. Inspired by Vivekananda to attempt the best in Eastern and Western literature, she sought to provide modern education in the context of Indian culture without making it academic.

Worth mentioning here, in addition to the above, are the multitude of associations and organizations founded by women who shared a vision about the common future of their gender. The three major associations that emerged after the end of the First World War are Women’s India Association, the Women’s India Association, the National Council of Women and the All India Women’s Conference.

These are but a few examples that underline the rise of women’s education in colonial India.Of the many who make it possible for us to read and write and learn whatever we want, let us also wave a thank you to them all today.


The Books I Ate for the Main Course

An ID related question that I don’t particularly enjoy answering is: ‘Can you recommend some good ID books?’

This question overwhelms me. In my mind, there is no simple answer. It usually has me looking for ways to divert or deflect or duck the question. Here’s why. First, I don’t know of a simple, ID-for-beginners type of a book. Given that this knowledge seeker could be an L&D professional or a K-12 teacher or someone who wants to get started on elearning just complicates matters further. Second, even if I did find such a book through a Google search, how could I possibly recommend it without reading it? So then, divert or deflect or duck.

In the last few months, I started facing this question far too many times for guilt-free ducking. So I decided to trace my own ID learning path, to recall the books that build my foundations of ID. I thought, maybe some of you may find this path useful. So here they are: the books I ate for the main course.


The books I ate for the main ‘course’

In this post, I will share the titles of books I have read. These are not some books that I have read. These books built my professional foundation. Let me shout out a piece of caution here. I like theory. In fact I find it irresistible.  Understandably, this love for theory reflects in my selection and choice of good ID books.

I am also tempted to add here that reading books, good books, is a form of self-learning where perhaps you also learn to deal with unknown concepts, which are explained using more unknown concepts. It can get maze-like. Which means you can get lost, confused and overwhelmed. For me, finding my way out of this maze presents the joy of a self-learning exercise that one should not shy away from or be afraid of.

So, here goes, in no particular order.

Instructional Design Theories and Models Volume I: The book, lovingly called the ‘Green Book’ by many who tried to read it, was my first exposure to ID. It was like someone had thrown me in the Marianna trench without any life support tools. I survived with the following learnings:

  • I understood the exact and precise meaning of the term ‘ID theory’. This knowledge helped understand the difference between theories and models. For example, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a model and not an ID theory, while Gagne’s 9 events of learning is only a part of an ID theory proposed by Gagne.
  • I learned that ID is a ‘descriptive’ and not a ‘prescriptive’ science.

This sort of knowledge is just that; ‘knowledge’. It has no immediate practical applications as such.

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 4 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 1.5 stars

Should you buy this book? Not really, plus it is out of print.

Instructional Design Theories and Models Volume II: I must have secretly liked the Marianna trench experience which Volume I provided. Why else would I immediately grab Volume II as soon as it was released? I have not regretted this purchase and I still use it a lot. Far more structured and application oriented, this book edited by Charles Reigeluth is truly a great compendium of insightful ID. For me the list of take-aways is quite long, but here are some of the more shiny ones:

  • A powerhouse of information, theory and practical applications on the affective domain – both for corporate learning and K-12 (with a special focus on troubled teenagers).
  • A precise, readable and application-enabling introduction of all ID theories

green book

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 4.5 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 4 stars

Should you buy this book? Yes, only if you are looking at ID seriously as a part of your professional journey.

The Systematic Design of Instruction by Walter Dick and Lou Carrey: This book covers every inch, nook and corner of the ISD model. It is the most important text for a student of ID studying at a graduate or post-graduate level. However, the ISD model itself, in its present form is outdated and even irrelevant in many industries. So says SAM. I do believe that some verticals like manufacturing or even defense may still benefit from the rigour of this model. This book has been my go to book for many years when ID was not as popular as it is today. I refer to it occasionally even today to get some of my concepts clear when I face a tough project.

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 2.5 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 3 stars

Should you buy this book? Yes if you are serious about ID. Get the latest edition. No if ID is just 5% (or less) of your annual KRAs.

A Survey of Instructional Development Models by Kent L Gustafson and Robert Maribe Branch: This thin little book is a powerhouse of information. I bought it with much reservation given its size. But I am really glad I did. It is a fantastic compilation of ID models and how they are classified as classroom-based, product-based and systems-based. The learnings from this book I cherish are:

  • That ADDIE is indeed a cyclic model and not linear as many ADDIE-bashers would have us believe id models
  • That ADDIE is the underlying framework for more than 15 ID models including ISD
  • That there are models better suited than ISD for dealing with media rich learning programs
  • That life need not begin and end with the rigour-based ISD

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 2 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 4 stars

Should you buy this book? Yes. Look for latest editions.

Instructional Design by Patricia L. Smith and Tillman J. Ragan: But for an uninspiring title, this book has been my all-time favorite. I read this book more than a decade ago. Some of the core concepts covered in this book are now becoming significant talking points. I was lucky to have had this book way back then. This is one book that a K-12 teacher and a corporate L&D professional can find useful. Some of the key learnings of this book are:

  • The mapping and appropriate allocation of terms like education, training, teaching and learning
  • A learner analysis framework that talks of static and dynamic learner characteristics – what an amazing insight
  • A simple and easy to understand look at the affective domain
  • And above all – the emphasis this book has on the ‘Design’ in Instructional Design.

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 4 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 4.5 stars

Should you buy this book? Yes. Look for latest editions.


A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing by Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl: Of course we all know THE taxonomy. But we also know that relying on free Internet resources for something as critical as Bloom’s taxonomy is not safe. For something as important as the taxonomy of Cognitive learning, you need to go to the most credible source – the authors of this taxonomy.

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 4 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 4.5 stars

Should you buy this book? Yes. Look for latest editions.

trends and issues

Trends and Issues in Instructional Design by Robert A Reiser and John V Dempsey:  I thought a lot before adding this book to this list. This book provides an overview of ID and technology in different spheres like Pharma, Military, Higher Education and K-12. It also covers briefly myriad topics like evaluation of learning, motivating learners and how ID is linked to workplace performance.  A great book for both beginners and advanced users of ID.

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 3 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 4 stars

Should you buy this book? Yes. Look for latest editions.

hpt handbook

Handbook of Human Performance and Technology: If learning content creation is not your main goal of using ID then this book is for you. If you are a manager of the learning function where your main role is the identifying, servicing and evaluation of learning and performance needs, then this book is a must-have on your shelf. From this book, I learned how to look at an organization through a ‘systems’ lens and link ID effort to workplace performance.

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 3 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 4.75 stars

Should you buy this book? Yes.

Handbook of Improving Performance in the Workplace – Volume I, II and III: These volumes are an expansive (not hpt 123expensive) edition of the Handbook of HPT described above. A must-have for everyone in corporate L&D. Experienced IDs may find these books a bit repetitive. I would still go with having them rather than not.

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 3 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 4 stars

Should you buy this book? Yes. Look for latest editions.

elearningeLearning and the Science of Instruction by Ruth Colvin Clark and Richard E Mayer: I could not possibly end this list without putting one of my favorite authors in here. An original thinker, her books and published papers clearly map the role of cognition in learning and to me the science is important. Hence I recommend this book and any others written by her with both thumbs up.

Rate this book for its theoretical content: 4 stars

Rate this book applicable content: 4.5 stars

Should you buy this book? Yes. Look for latest editions.

In my next post, I will bring you the books I ate for dessert. Books, not from the field of ID which have made this domain interesting and irresistible for me. Here’s my parting shot – that lets you out of the maze.The Dictionary of Psychology. And hopefully I will be forgiven deflecting or diverting or ducking.psycho dict

Comic Style Narratives for Learning

Once upon a time, we did not allow them in classrooms and other places of formal learning. But that’s an old story now. Comics tell stories that make us laugh, cry, reflect and listen.  They have been creating an interactive experience for the reader way before the advent of technology. Think cave art. Comics evoke an emotional response with their art – whether it is a simple line drawing or a detailed flourish of graphics. But aren’t Comics meant for children? Well, Comics do come with certain pre-loaded notions. Perhaps the strongest association of Comics is with superhero stories for children. Superman, Batman, Spiderman and others are legendary. In India, we have consumed Mandrake, Phantom, Tinkle and Bahadur when we were kids. A lot of our mythology is narrated through comics. Such a perception about Comics makes it the perfect non-entrant for serious learning or learning seriously. Well, we say nay to Comics being essentially a children’s medium. Here are some modern-day examples where Comics have been used for serious topics. A great example is the documentation of the 9/11 report. A Comic was the medium of choice to narrate a complicated event, featuring multiple agencies and their actions leading up to the final tragic event. comic image 1 Then there is Persepolis, an autobiography about life in Iran during and after the Islam revolution. comic image 2 At iDesign Skills, we believe that Comics may be allowed to enter the realm of organizational learning. And there could not be a time better than now to make this happen for two reasons. The first reason is because story-telling or learning with stories is here to engage us, the citizens of the attention economy. Comics are a great vehicle for taking stories to learners. The second reason is that our collective ability to understand icons – the basic alphabet of the Comic – is at its peak. And now, pushing us aside, the Comic decides to speak for itself. Here’s a little Comic Caper, starring a Comic (who else?) and an L&D function somewhere in the world.

A Comic Caper - I Illustrated by Savio D'Silva

A Comic Caper – I
Illustrated by Savio D’Silva

A Comic Caper - II Illustrated by Savio D'Silva

A Comic Caper – II
Illustrated by Savio D’Silva

A Comic Caper - III Illustrated by Savio D'Silva

A Comic Caper – III
Illustrated by Savio D’Silva

While we love and believe in Comics and their suitability for learning, we do not wish to oversell the idea. Comics do not come with a guarantee of learning, but they do grab attention and they engage. Attention and engagement are both essential pre-requisites for learning to happen. Content delivered through Comics also has a huge recall potential. To know why, we need to understand what a comic really is. Our knowledge source for everything related to Comics is Scott McCloud’s book ‘Understanding Comics’. According to McCloud, Comics are “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the reader”

Features of a Comic Illustrated bu Sangeeta Rao D'Silva

Features of a Comic
Illustrated by Sangeeta Rao D’Silva

Feature # 1 – Juxtaposition In a Comic, images appear side by side separated by spaces which are called ‘gutters’. These white spaces are the ‘time line’ within which a sequence moves ahead before the next image appears next to it. You may call a film a fast-moving Comic. But here’s the difference. In a Comic different frames appear in different positions on a time line. In a film, different frames appear rapidly in the same position on a time line.

Frames in a Comic are separated by space and in films they are separated by time.

Frames in a Comic are separated by space and in films they are separated by time. Illustrated by Sangeeta Rao D’Silva

The Learning Advantage of Feature # 1 – Juxtaposition At a cognitive level, juxtapositions result in experiences that are different while reading a Comic or watching a film. In eLearning, when you click on the Next button, a new content frame replaces the old frame – exactly like in a film. Research has shown that images that are ‘spatially distributed’ i.e. when they are juxtaposed, result in lesser cognitive load for the learner than when images are ‘spatially stacked’ or placed one on top of another like in a film or in an eLearning program. This is called the ‘split attention effect’. Feature # 2 – Icons In the ‘Comic Caper’ you came across a character that looked like this.

An icon representing a Comic

An icon representing a Comic. Illustrated by Savio D’Silva

It did not need any telling that this character was a Comic. Neither did you question why it looked a certain way and why it was a living creature. It was something you accepted easily as a part of the story. Images like these are popularly called icons. Icons maybe images of a person, place, thing or an idea. Icons are highly simplified representations of everyday objects. A circle with two dots and a line below is immediately recognized as a human face – the ubiquitous smiley. The image below can be identified as that of a man although you may have never really seen a man looking exactly like that. Icons simplify our understanding of any object with least cognitive load.

Does this look like a man?  Illustrated by Sangeeta Rao D'Silva

Does this look like a man? Illustrated by Sangeeta Rao D’Silva

An icon representing a working professional Illustrated by Sangeeta Rao D’Silva

Icons are the language of Comics. Comics can have icons that vary in their degree of detail – from simple outlines to detailed flourish of art. The Learning Advantage of Feature # 2 – Icons Using Comics to narrate stories or represent other types of content gives us the icon advantage. The use of icons makes content highly comprehensible. With the use of icons, content can be made to have universal appeal, and is most suited for both human and non-human representations. Feature # 3 – Emotions Scott McCloud says “The idea that a picture can evoke an emotional or sensual response in the viewer is vital to the art of comics”. Let’s extend the idea of the 2nd feature, icons, to what Scott McCloud says. Just as icons can be used to represent physical objects and the living, they can also allow us to ‘objectify’ emotions – thus allowing us to represent varying degrees of different kinds of emotions – aesthetically. No other form really allows this. You may find this little aside related to Comics interesting. The evolution of comics was greatly influenced by the art movement in the 1920s – where art extended itself as a form of expression of the artist’s inner turmoil. Strong lines, bold colors were used to identify different emotions. We must mention Kandinsky’s work here whose work gave us a new form of symbolism – triangles represent aggression, squares represent balance and circles represent spirituality. The Learning Advantage of Feature # 3 – Emotions When narratives need to focus on affective, emotional content, we cannot imagine a media more suited than Comics. Comics allow representation of strong emotions in an aesthetic manner. This feature is particularly useful in Behavioral Learning or Affective Design. Type of Learning Suited for Comics So if Comics are such a great medium for learning, where can they be used judiciously? We have mastered the art of imparting knowledge and skills. The lack of focus on affective education or attitude development was keeping us one step away from holistic learning. This scenario is undergoing change as L&D functions are waking up to weaving affective development in training programs. Undoubtedly, the most popular tool for holistic learning – stories – is therefore in great demand. And story-telling cannot get a better vehicle than Comics.

A Comic is a great way to narrate stories. Illustrated by Savio D'Silva

A Comic is a great way to narrate stories.
Illustrated by Savio D’Silva

In addition to stories, Comics are great for teaching:

  1. Procedural content where a step-by-step approach needs to be shown visually
    1. Teaching scripts to service associates – where the effect of correct or incorrect phrases is best represented through highly emotive icons
    2. For teaching complex processes
    3. For teaching about equipment maintenance
  2. For teaching rules and guidelines where you want to show the impact of not following rules
    1. For teaching impact of mis-selling or insider trading on markets
    2. For teaching ethics and code of conduct
    3. For teaching of service standards (rules)
  3. For teaching certain types of concepts, especially those which are abstract. Using Comics can give them abstract concepts a ‘face’.
    1. Investing in debt vs. equity
    2. Understanding Values in the context of business
The Comic exhorts you to let it in the realm of corporate learning. Illustration by Savio D'Silva

The Comic exhorts you to let it in the realm of corporate learning.
Illustration by Savio D’Silva

Sources: 1. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud 2. http://www.u.arizona.edu/~flondono/martin.pdf

Analyzing Needs – Quick but not Dirty

Analysis of learning or training needs is a covert mental operation that sets the cognitive wheels flying in all directions looking for scattered dots to join, unjoin and rejoin till a new, coherent picture builds up inside. The trouble with such covert processes is that they are difficult to articulate (exactly what it is you are doing?), difficult to explain (why did do this?) and most difficult to teach (how did you do this?).

The fuzziness of this mental circus presents many difficulties.  For one, it becomes difficult to estimate how much time and what resources will be required to analyze the need. Another pointed difficulty of a largely abstract activity like analysis is the difficulty in collaborating with the business, the line, sponsor or with the learner for that matter.

How do you analyze a learning need and then talk about it or write it out it so everyone (non-ID and sometimes non-learning professionals) will understand? In this post we bring you the quick, but not dirty way of conducting a learning/training needs analysis based on Thomas Gilbert’s Behavioural Engineering Model or BEM. Using this model as a framework for analyzing learning or training needs makes:

  1. An abstract activity like analysis more tangible and concrete
  2. Possible the collaboration of other stakeholders in the system
  3. It easy to teach learning analysis to novice Instructional Designers

Gilbert introduced the BEM in his path-breaking book ‘Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance’ published in 1978. Gilbert posits that performance is a product of the organizational or external environment and an employee’s internal resources.

To do their jobs well, employees need support from their external environment. They need toknow what their job requires, they must have the necessary resources and they must be adequately incentivized. A good job performance also depends on the internal environment which includes the employees’ inner drive to perform, their capacity and their knowledge and skills.

Since the time the BEM was introduced in 1978, the model has been updated several times to suit the changing structure of organizations and industries. The figure below shows the ‘updated BEM’ as suggested by Roger Chevalier.

The Updated BEM by Roger Chevalier (info in a few cells modified by iDesign Skills)

The Updated BEM by Roger Chevalier (info in a few cells modified by iDesign Skills)

What this model says is when you have a performance problem; a training program may not be the only solution. The model urges you to analyze both external and internal factors. The model asserts that the performance equation is a sum of both internal and external factors. And this is how the BEM serves as the perfect diagnostic tool for analyzing a performance problem in an organization – for an individual or for a team. And it also concretizes the otherwise abstract mental operation of needs analysis. Here’s how.

We are pre-disposed to concluding that a performance shortfall is the result of ‘lack of knowledge’. Like in the Prima Worth scenario the Delivery Head finds that Project Managers (PMs) do not provide informal feedback. He assumes two things here – one that the need is correct and two – this need can only be fulfilled by training. After a Needs Identification process, if indeed it is found that PMs do not provide day-to-day informal feedback, it is very likely that a half-day training program on informal feedback will be organized. The training program will hit the nail on the head only if the reason for PMs’ performance shortfall is ‘lack of knowledge’ about informal feedback. If the shortfall is due to a lack of motive or lack of information, the training program is not likely to do any good.

The BEM has the potential to save the day by putting itself as a diagnostic tool between verifying a need and proposing  a (most often a training) solution. After verifying the need (using the Questions Grid and expressing it in the 4W format) this need must undergo cause analysis to determine the ‘why’ PMs do not provide informal feedback.

It is possible that PMs’ performance shortfall is a lack of motives (internal factor 4), incentives (external factor 3) or simply are not aware that informal feedback is a part of their role (external factor 1)? Having them undergo training would be an off-the-mark solution.

To enable this analysis, Gilbert’s BEM comes with a questionnaire called the PROBE or Profiling Behaviour Questionnaire. This questionnaire provides a set of generic questions for each factor which can be customized according to context.

The process of identifying and analyzing learning needs then can be summarized as:

Step 1: Decide the information you want to dig up through the NI exercise. Do your best to put it down as a NI goal statement.

Step 2: Your goal statement of step 1 will help you determine the roles you need to interview. This is a good time and place to decide the sample size of your respondents.

Step 3: For each role you will interview, use the Questions Grid to plan and phrase your questions appropriately.

Step 4: Execute your plan. Record responses. Make sure you do not record an interpretation of the responses.

Step 5: Publish your findings. Express your findings in clear unambiguous terms. A format we find useful in expressing a need is the 4W Format. W – who, W – what, W – when, W – why.

Step 6: Use the updated BEM to determine ‘Why’; the cause of the need.

The BEM is simple enough to understand intuitively and deep enough for a meaningful analysis. This quality of the BEM lends it a great deal of credibility among clients who otherwise are skeptical of an analysis on a project. It has helped us to have conversations about needs with stakeholders in projects. The BEM is really a boon that has made analysis a front-end, tangible activity for us at iDesign Skills.

This series on foundations of ID continues with focus on another type of analysis. That’s for next week. Until then…



1. Handbook of Human Performance Technology, 3rd Edition, Pfeiffer







Teacher Training Workshop @ Pench, MP


On 17th April 2014, David Merrill’s performance-content matrix acquired a new, enthusiastic and a rather unusual set of learners. They were the school teachers of villages Turia and Teliya in Pench, Madhya Pradesh, India. This workshop was organized by Conservation Wildlands Trust. In acknowledgement of the fact that teachers also need to receive periodic updates in their knowledge, the Conservation Wildlands Trust decided to extend their support to school teachers. They commissioned iDesign Skills to conduct a workshop for teachers to teach them about using interesting teaching methods, specifically the use of stories for teaching.

This workshop was conducted at the Interpretation Center at the Turia Gate of the Pench Tiger Reserve, Seoni, MP. The E-base serves as a space for classroom and training.

E-base at the Interpretation Center at the Turia Gate in Pench

E-base at the Interpretation Center at the Turia Gate in Pench


School teachers in Turia and Teliya villages operate in difficult conditions. Lack of basic infrastructure, shortage of funds for basic school operations, coping with absenteeism of children who either don’t attend school or are forced to drop out are some of the challenges teachers deal with on a daily basis. In their struggle to fulfill their basic teaching and administrative responsibilities, teachers barely have the inclination for any kind of lesson-planning. To think of spending time for using creative teaching methods to keep children engaged is almost a luxury. As a result, most of the teaching activities are lecture-based which most children, even those interested in learning, find ‘boring’.

The Conservation Wildlands Trust, in recognition of the challenges described above, sought inputs from iDesign Skills on how teachers could be taught and encouraged to use interesting activities like stories, games and experiments in class. We proposed a one-day workshop where teachers would learn a basic, simple, task or content analysis method followed with a session on how to craft simple stories and use them for teaching parts of the syllabus.

Design of the Workshop

In planning for this workshop, we chose to teach Merrill’s performance-content matrix.

The Performance Content Matrix

The Performance Content Matrix

We selected it because of its simplicity and intuitive application in school syllabi. A content analysis model was a must because it is an essential pre-requisite for selecting appropriate teaching methods.

During the design phase of this workshop, we were made aware of the attitudes of teachers toward external interventions like the ones we were about to conduct. Teachers, we were told, had this perception that those who came from the cities and economically forward regions did not quite understand the plight and realities of the rural schools. We had a sense that we might be met with disdain or passive resistance if not active opposition to whatever we were teaching. Not a good environment for learning, we concurred.

In light of the context, the selected content and the possibility of encountering aloofness from teachers, our core objective was then to convince teachers of the following:

  1. While their challenges were real and difficult to address, there was one thing within their control – quality of teaching. They could take charge if they wanted to.
  2. Simple lesson planning was not time consuming. Besides, it was a one-time incremental effort after which it would be reusable through forthcoming academic years.
  3. Stories were an accessible medium which would increase classroom engagement levels.
  4. And most of all, the teachers would be able to write their own stories with help of basic guidelines.

The session was planned and delivered in Hindi.

An Interesting Start to the Workshop

Except for one, most of the teachers attending the workshop had at least 10 years of experience. During the introductions, we found teachers to be curious and also participative, much to our relief. The disdain or aloofness we had feared was not visible. It gave us confidence to move ahead with the opening activity we had designed. We asked them a question “If you had a magic wand (jadoo ki chhadi) or a super power (divya shakti), name one thing you would change about the current situation in the school.” And we heard some amazing insightful answers!

“I would do something that would make content ‘fit’ in the children’s memories” said one of them.

“I would use the magic to instill instant discipline because lack of discipline is the root of all trouble” said the next teacher.

“I will use my magic to make sure all parents would cooperate with us and send their children to school daily” said one teacher who had served for 32 years.

What was interesting about the responses we received is that none of them ill-targeted or complained about children, parents or the system. Their “wishes” were obvious, valid even, given their current realities.

 Addressing the Key Objectives

The workshop got even better from this point onward. Our biggest surprise however was how rapidly they understood and applied Merrill’s Content Classification model which translates in Hindi as ‘Vishay Vargikaran ka Dhancha’. After a quick explanation, followed by an exercise where they had to classify a given list of content points, we felt they were ready to apply the new learning on the textbooks. Using a simple table-template, each of them was able to identify Facts, Concepts, Procedures and Rules from a chapter in the Science and Social Science text books.

We urged them to think about the teaching method for each type of content. They had no trouble in coming up with basic teaching methods like ‘drill’ technique for Facts, examples for Concepts, and demonstrations for Procedures. We later supplied them with a list of more teaching methods they could use for each content type.

A quick exercise with a pre-defined template to apply Merrill's Model

A quick exercise with a pre-defined template to apply Merrill’s Model

The Story-telling Part

The session after lunch was completely focused on how Concepts could be taught through stories. We started this session with a story from the Panchatantra called ‘The Weaver and the Princess’. A funny, witty, yet poignant story with interesting characters, multiple plots and multiple morals too. We de-constructed this story into elements:

  1. A time-line (takes place over a month)
  2. An outline of an event (a poor weaver falls in love with a Princess and ultimately marries her against all odds)
  3. Characters (primary and supporting)
  4. A plot and/or twists (the King agrees to the unusual match only because he thinks the weaver is actually an avatar of Vishnu, which the weaver was not)
  5. Morals or learning (one learning is “when you lie about something it can hurt not just you but also those who you love” or “when you make a brave effort even Gods will come to support you”)
Teachers learn under the gaze of the Tiger, pained in the Gond style

Teachers learn under the gaze of the Tiger, painted in the Gond style

After a brief discussion of each element and their examples, we had them think up a story of their own. And they did so, using their experiences. We urged them to think about how they could come up with stories around various syllabi related concepts. They did have great ideas but we were really out of time to have them implement these ideas in the class. The day was almost over.

Concluding the Workshop

We closed with an action plan – each of them would write a story based on a topic from the Science or Social Studies syllabus and share it with us at the beginning of the new academic year. Teachers were curious about other such tools and walked away inquiring about the next workshop.

We have conducted many workshops on Instructional Design and its tools for teachers in city or urban schools. Teachers usually enjoy the workshop and see the merit of the tool. They however also feel burdened at the idea that using these tools may increase their workload considerably. Based on this experience, we asked our Pench village teachers whether they would also find it cumbersome to use these methods in day-to-day life. Their response was quite unusual and heartening. They said:

“We are happy that we are also considered for such inputs”

“We spend our evenings and holidays canvassing around the village to ensure parents send their children to school. Compared to that effort doing a bit of extra work on lesson planning is a small thing for us if it gets the child to school”

We thought that was quite a sense of commitment coming from them all unanimously. Whether and how the learnings will actually be implemented in the next year is a post for another day. But on that day it felt wonderful to conclude the workshop on hope and a good feeling in the heart.


Identifying Needs: Quick but not Dirty

Prima Worth is a large IT organization based in India with a global presence. Each IT project is managed by a team of 5 to 6 Project Managers who report to a Program Manager. The duration of each Project is around 18 to 36 months. The Program Managers report to Sharad Gupte Delivery Head, Projects.

Sharad has requested for a meeting with Prima Worth’s L&D Head, Pradeep Mandke. Sharad is having grave concerns over how his Project Managers manage and handle day-to-day, informal feedback with their project teams.

 “Pradeep, I need you to design a ½ day module on feedback for my PMs” begins Sharad after the initial pleasantries are over. “Sure Sharad, We can. Tell me more. What is the problem?” Pradeep responds. Sharad offers a quick description of what he believes to be the problem. He explains to Pradeep how PMs are not well versed with the idea of day-to-day informal feedback. Sharad emphasizes to Pradeep that while the quarterly review is important and has its own place, it is the day-to-day, informal feedback that saves the day. It helps keeping a check on minor discipline issues, tracking deadlines and quality related issues.

“Sharad, I’ll have a team member take this up immediately. Meanwhile…” Pradeep explains that he will need time to plan a quick study before the program is actually put together. Sharad is tempted to raise an objection to the ‘study’. Deep down he believes that the study will be a waste of time but holds himself back. Instead he promises that he and his team of PMs will give whatever time is required for the study. After discussing possible launch dates for the program, the meeting between them ends.

(This scenario is fictional and sketchy, written only for driving the main idea of this post.)

Most L&D professionals might relate to this scenario. A request for a training program from the line or from a business, where the problem, its solution and the training need are already drawn up clearly before L&D is brought in. The line manager or the business is all too often confident about the need. And I am sure in many cases their conclusion may be spot on. But I feel that is no reason to skip or avoid or assume that a Needs Identification (NI) exercise is not required. If nothing, a NI exercise provides validation of a training need.

In the scenario described above, a NI exercise will determine the ‘real’ need that leads to minor disciplinary and quality issues.  Pradeep’s team must conduct a NI exercise that may either validate Sharad’s conviction or provide new information about the reasons for daily discipline issues amongst team members.

The most practical way forward to gather information about the real issues around daily discipline would be to talk to Project Managers and other stakeholders like team members, Program Managers and Sharad. Of course, this ‘talk’ would need to be planned as a series of interviews with members from each role. The focus of this post is on the importance of interviews as a quick, practical way forward to a good NI exercise. And interviews are made up of questions. At the heart of good interviews are good questions. Nothing deep, not even remotely insightful can come from a question like “What challenges do you face while giving informal feedback to your team members?”

Crafting good questions needs time and the Questions Grid – a framework of different question types you can ask get to the heart of the matter. Just like you need different types of tools to do different tasks, you need different type of questions to ‘dig’ out relevant information from your interviewees. The Questions Grid does just that.

The Questions Grid

The Questions Grid

The question types on the X axis are obvious. But here’s a quick definition of the question types on the Y axis.

Role-specific Questions: Questions that reveal more about the role

Technical Questions: Questions that reveal technical aspects of a role

Problem-based Questions: Questions that reveal specifics of a problem in the role that the employee maybe encountering at that time

Situation Specific Questions: Questions that reveal more about a situation in which the problem occurs and in some cases, a situation- specific question maybe similar to a problem-based question

The Questions Grid is a tool for generating questions and needs to be as a part of a quick, but not dirty 5-step NI process.

Step 1: Decide the information you want to dig up through the NI exercise. Do your best to put it down as a NI goal statement.

Step 2: Your goal statement of step 1 will help you determine the roles you need to interview. This is a good time and place to decide the sample size of your respondents.

Step 3: For each role you will interview, use the Questions Grid to plan and phrase your questions appropriately.

What you need to do is pick and choose from any question combinations that you think will best elicit the information you seek from your respondents. For example you may need a couple of situation-specific probing and clarifying questions for the Delivery Head or a few situation-specific open-ended questions for the Project Manager.

With your NI goal, roles and questions in place, you have a simple but robust NI plan in place. You may also now fine-tune details about the mode of the interview, the time to be allocated to each interview and how you will record the answers you will receive for each question.

A real, jargon-free NI plan can quell apprehensions that managers like Sharad may have about the ‘study’. Most cynical stakeholders may see a value of asking well prepared questions and may actually encourage a NI study the next time around.

Step 4: Execute your plan. Record responses. Make sure you do not record an interpretation of the responses.

Step 5: Publish your findings. Express your findings in clear unambiguous terms. A format we find useful in expressing a need is the 4W Format. Who – describes your audience, What describes the skill or behavior the audience lacks, When describes the specific conditions under which the skill or behaviour is absent and Why describes the reasons for the lack of that skill or behaviour or both. Here is what the format looks like:

The 4W Format

The 4W Format

The result of a NI exercise becomes concrete and specific when expressed in the 4W Format. Stakeholders involved in the project find it easy to agree or disagree on something stated with specificity. A clearly articulated statement like this can take a needs related conversation to another level altogether.  Once agreed upon, this needs statement can serve as a starting point to define a clear specific learning goal or outcome.

The use of constructs like the Questions Grid and the 4W Format make NI a quick but not necessarily dirty process. In fact both constructs add a great deal of value to NI by virtue of making NI simple, intuitive and a transparent process, devoid of technical or ID jargon that all stakeholders understand.  And when stakeholders understand NI, they are seldom resistant to it.

Continuing our series on quick and practical methods of NI, in the next post we dive into the 4th W called “Why”. How do we determine the cause of a need? Until then…

ID: The Discipline and its Practitioner

This is a fond memory of more than 15 years ago when I worked for a large and on-the-rise eLearning organization.

I was assigned as Instructional Designer for a prestigious project. A couple of days later, a colleague came over to my desk and pointed toward the large conference table on the other side of the huge open-plan office. I saw the entire project team (of ‘my’ project) in the midst of what seemed to be an intense discussion which lasted for over two hours.

After the meeting was over, I went up to the Project Manager and asked him whether he knew that I was the assigned Instructional Designer and why I was not invited for that meeting. He replied quite matter-of-factly “Oh! You were not needed. We were conceptualizing and designing. Doesn’t your work begin after the product is ready?”.

“No” I said.

He reacted “So then aren’t you going to spell check and review language inconsistencies?”

The discipline of ID first made its presence felt in the eLearning space in India almost 20 years back and not everyone understood it very well. At that time, most folks thought that the role of an Instructional Designer was primarily to proof-read and weed out grammar errors, punctuation errors and language inconsistencies. They would at best be required to rewrite the verbs on the Learning Objectives screen, after the screens were ready.

Thankfully, today this is no more than a fond memory.

This post briefly looks at the evolution of Instructional Design and its emergence in Indian organizations with the objective of understanding the discipline and the role of its practitioner as it is today.

It was in the early 90s, when present-day eLearning companies (called Multimedia companies at that time) hit upon a realization. In a team of Programmers, Visual Designers, Graphics Artists and Project Managers and Writers, whose job is it to look after learning? Who would be that person who ‘knew something about learning’? This role would have to be filled in by a perhaps a Teacher, a Trainer or someone who would be able to facilitate learning in absentia. And here began the story of the Instructional Designer.

To fulfil the need of a resource who ‘knew something about learning’, eLearning organizations hired smart people from different academic and professional backgrounds – Engineering, Management, IT, Science and Literature Graduates as Instructional Designers. They were trained internally, mainly on-the-project, by other senior team members well-versed with ID and in some cases even by clients.

Two factors helped the growth of Instructional Design in India eLearning organizations tremendously. The first one being that the presence of an Instructional Designer on a project was a key client requirement. Organizations had to showcase ID capability in order to win projects. They provided direction and focus to internal ID training for the role holders.

The second factor that helped the growth of Instructional Design was the sheer zeal with which aspiring Instructional Designers learned the craft on the job. Unfazed by the lack of formal or even systematic structured training, Instructional Designers picked up the practice of ID pretty much on the job.

A new profession was born in the training rooms of these organizations.  And it would be no exaggeration to say that in India, as well as globally, ID is one such profession that has more self-taught practitioners than qualified professionals.

Now here’s the interesting bit. The lack of a defined ID curriculum or course made this an open field. Instructional Designers learned everything from understanding the pieces of Cognitive Science to Bloom’s Taxonomy. They stepped into projects to give learning design inputs and along the way they wrote eLearning storyboards and scripts, understood Visual and Communication Design, mastered the strengths and limitations of the online medium, dabbled in Project Management and at times even managed clients. With panache.

The role of Instructional Designers has evolved today be like that of a movie director who needs to understand all aspects of film-making in addition to directorial skills. Instructional designers can, if required, hold together the Instructional, Creative, Process-related and Technical reins of learning, and not just eLearning. They have become the go-to people for performance gaps that can be traced to a learning need. They apply principles of cognition, and use their understanding of media and technology to create learning interventions that solve performance problems. And this is just a macro-level view of the skills Instructional Designers  demonstrate.

At the micro-level, an Instructional Designer adds tremendous value to the content being taught. To craft a sound instructional strategy, Instructional Designers first need to understand the subject matter to a large extent possible.  An Instructional Designer must also do the following: chunk content into topics, name them in in a logical and appealing way, layer the content, come up with creative ways of teaching the subject using constructs like Games and Stories, ensure that the written word is culturally and technically accurate.

The skill list does not end here. In addition to all of the above, most Instructional Designers have a keen sense of their clients business, have excellent verbal and written communication and research skills, discuss usability standards with flair, can tell a good animation from a bad one and sometimes make small code corrections.

Today almost 20 years on, there is no ambiguity about the field of ID its practitioner. It is fascinating when you think about it. All of these skills – learned on the job, pretty much on their own.

In keeping with the spirit of self-learning that has defines the discipline of ID and its practitioner, this blog will bring a bit of knowledge, a few resources and mainly a host of insights gained in the practice of this amazing profession.