How do we Learn to Learn, Especially in the Ed-Tech Environment?

There is a lot of interest in psychology of learning – we as yet do not know how we learn! Lot of ed-tech companies have analytics about on-line eLearning courses with millions of clicks (interactive tools) that can be monitored at the back end – but do these clicks really mean that learning has occurred? Most ed-tech researchers and companies are scratching their brains with learning analytics to answer this; one of the the main purposes of setting up free on-line MOOCs seems to be just this – how are people able to learn; there are almost 98 videos of TED website with the theme: How We Learn.

How can we answer this question? How can we monitor and say that a learning has occurred a 100% of the time?

This is a question that has intrigued many. Let me see if I can answer this question, it is difficult, but I will try…………….from my experiences in teaching and learning science. Any learning is an interplay between nature and nurture!

Step 1: Indoctrination (inspiration, hook)

To learn anything, one has to be indoctrinated into multiple intelligences.


But how does one get indoctrinated or inspired? Inspiration for a particular learning quest can come from family, friends, teachers, some nice lecture/video that triggers an interest in a certain field, a movie, some exhibitions, books – this is the hook. One gets hooked into a new learning direction.

You must have heard this phrase – ……… got hooked to………… (from old English anglers)

Step 2: Motivation (focus, stimulation and perseverance)

That inner urge to surge in the chosen direction – requires focus, and even incentives (incentives in terms of intellectual stimulation and financial stimulation – have you ever wondered why there is a successful Silicon Valley?). High motivation can also create a persevering quality that keeps one rooted in a particular learning quest. There is no substitute for hard work.

It is said that Thomas Alva Edison failed a 1000 times before he made a bulb design that actually worked!

You must have heard this phrase -………..never give up…………. (Winston Churchill)

Step 3: Social Interaction (team effort)

Because of the advent of the internet, and eLearning, a lot of EdTech companies have realized the importance of social learning. The social cognitive learning theory was first discussed by Albert Bandura in 1977.

(From Wikipedia- Social learning is learning that takes place at a wider scale than individual or group learning, up to a societal scale, through social interaction between peers.)

The explosion to social media and access to content via mobile devices, this kind of learning has gained high importance these days.

social media cartoon

This team effort or team work is the key to reaching any goals – and in our case – the learning objectives or goals. Working effectively as a team creates momentum, improves morale, and almost anything that is decided can be achieved.

You must have heard this phrase -……….. Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much (Hellen Keller)

Step 4: Experience (and results)

Remember that any learning – means change in cognitive behaviour or attitudes – if behaviour/attitude change has not happened, then the learning has NOT occurred!  The more experience you take in the direction of learning (exams, assessment, results, feedback, discussions, apply, analyze, hands-on work) the more you will learn thoroughly! It is more enduring, and results are sort of permanently lodged in your brain. When you assess your learning (formative) and get a feedback from someone (say on a social platform or a teacher or a guru) you will learn better.

You must have heard this phrase – experience is the best teacher………. (Benjamin Franklin)

And finally………….if you have mastered what you have learnt, you will be able to evaluate your understanding, critique someone else’s work and go on to innovate and create something new, to your utmost joy (any new learning can be real fun!)


In conclusion: we can say that learning has occurred if we can monitor a change in behaviour and attitude. This can be done by assessing thoroughly – may be by creating rubrics and measuring the ‘learning’.

Aside: When I was little, I always used to think of placing my books under my pillow before going off to sleep, hoping against hope that all the content from the books would automatically get transferred into my brain!


Learning with a MOOC vs. Learning on an LMS

To me, as a person seeped into the use of technology in education, I often wondered at the difference between various vocabs used in the eLearning space!

Web-based or computer based learning (or eLearning) is not a new phenomenon. All of us have used some form of tools used in a virtual learning environment at least sometimes in our lives. MOOC is a recent addition to this vocab – initially I thought a MOOC is something like an LMS, but it is NOT!

An LMS is software that automates the administration of training. The LMS registers users, tracks courses in a catalogue, records data from learners; and provides reports to management. An LMS is typically designed to handle courses by multiple publishers and providers. It usually doesn’t include its own authoring capabilities; instead, it focuses on managing courses created by a variety of other sources.

A MOOC on the other hand is an entire course. A MOOC is accessible, usually with no prerequisites, to anyone who wishes to enroll, usually for free, and with self-assessment or peer assessment along the way. It enables the possibility to teach over 100,000+ students at the same time in the same course.

From my experience, I can say that any new learning is imbibed better if there is a social component to the learning, and in future a MOOC will enhance this aspect of a learner’s ability – surely!

I would like to quote this: “I believe MOOCs are going to be an important – not to mention fascinating – social development…… “(Robert McGuire From:



Apparently, in the near future a teacher or a lecturer can have his or her own branded MOOC, like a website or a blog on a WordPress!

Here’s what I have collated from my own research on the net.

Feature MOOC LMS
Long Form Massive Open Online Course Learning Management System
What is it? It is an entire course. It is NOT a platform.Massive: means may users can log in simultaneously

Open: means open to anyone in the world

A platform where resources can be placed.Not massive – limitations in number of simultaneous users

Mostly not open to everyone.

Examples Courses on edX, Coursera, Udemy 

Coursera, edX, Udemy are platforms – they are first and foremost a branded website promoting courses based on a Learning Management System (LMS).


Moodle, Blackboard, Click2LearnLMS platforms provide a place for course creators to host their content and manage their learning environment (forums, quizzes, exams, peer to peer assessment, etc.)
Inclusion MOOCs include LMS technology/architecture An LMS is not a MOOC
Needs any standards? HTML 5/MOOCdb? AICC or SCORM for monitoring and reporting
When was it started? In the late 2000’s In the early 1960s
What do they do? It is an open-ended course, not overtly managed. It is a course management tool and hosts close-ended courses. Management and monitoring can be quite detailed, and programmed accordingly. Can be a bit intrusive.
Authoring tools None None
Exam tools YesLearning analytics can be programmed. YesLearning analytics can be programmed.
Networked More networked – blogs, tweets, wikis, etc. Less networked – wikis, forums, etc.
Size Large size – due to the availability of large servers and high internet speeds.Distributed and social learning. For knowledge networking, and life-long learning Relatively small sizes – limitations and slowness due to connectivity.Some LMSs have facility for distributed learning.

Once the course is over, access to course is removed.

Course Hosting It is an entire course. It is NOT a platform. 

Coursera, edX, Udemy are platforms which host a MOOC. These platforms provide a place for course creators to host their content and manage their learning environment (forums, quizzes, exams, peer to peer assessment, etc.)

Many courses simultaneously can be hosted, from various providers and publishers. And a catalogue of courses may be offered to users to pick, choose and pay to start the course.
Credits No, not yet Some courses can have credits


Diagnostic, Formative and Summative Assessments

In any teaching-learning process, the importance of any assessment as a feedback tool cannot be underestimated.

Assessment and imbibing new information (learning) are two sides of the same coin. As teachers-students engage in an assessment exercise, besides grades and marks, they should be able to get pointers to the learning processes as well.

The challenge is for teachers-students is to shift the assessment paradigm and think of it as a concept than a terminal event.

An assessment outcome is a powerful tool for high stake holders such as educational management professionals, as they can gauge if teachers are really teaching or not! Many times in India, it happens that teachers don’t teach and complete the curriculum and syllabus, and the students are left to fend for themselves, unfortunately

In my earlier blogs on Analytical Framework for Monitoring Teaching-Learning Process

( in Quality Assurance in Education and Training ( I have emphasized the importance of assessments and rubrics. In this blog I explain the various types of assessments and compare formative and summative assessments.

For teachers, the purpose and the need for assessment is an important criterion to decide which types of assessment to conduct. There are three types of assessments:

  • Diagnostic
  • Formative, and
  • Summative


Diagnostic assessments are used to gather information about what students already know and are able to do. It provides a way for teachers and trainers to chart a course of action. Typical diagnostic assessment will be:

  • A pre-test
  • KWL (know, want to know, and what did we learn)
  • Graphic organizers

On the other hand formative assessments can occur throughout the teaching-learning process. They provide multiple opportunities for students as well to teachers if the targeted goals and learning objectives are achieved, without the concerns about grading and getting good marks.

Summative assessment is a type of assessment that makes a final judgement a about student’s learning achievement.

Formative versus Summative Assessment

Feature Formative Assessment Summative Assessment
When is conducted? This assessment is conducted at anytime, especially as teaching is in progress, with feedback from the teacher. (It is also useful for the teacher to adapt the instructions so that students follow the teaching). This assessment is conducted after a particular unit of time (weekly, monthly, etc.)
Examples Quiz, surprise tests, journals Unit tests, final exams, projects
Is it timed? Not necessarily Yes
Purpose/aim? Generally aimed at what students cannot do.It is prospective in nature. Generally aimed at what students can do.It is evaluative/retrospective in nature.
Is any feedback given? Yes. No, not generally.
Does it test the instruction? Yes.It is a reflection on the teacher’s instruction.

Instructional effectiveness – high

No, not really.It is a reflection on the student’s assimilation.

Instructional effectiveness – most of the cases it is not in the picture!

Does it motivate a student to learn? Yes.Leads to motivation to learn for the students. No.Leads to understanding of a student’s level of learning.
Can it be used for self- evaluation by a student? Yes.It can be used for self-evaluation, self-assessment, and goal setting No, not generally.It cannot be used for self-evaluation, self-assessment, and goal setting
Grades and accountability It is not about grades or accountability, but it is used for getting better. It is about accountability, for getting marks and grades.
Does it measure learning objectives/outcomes? Tests to measure learning objectives. Tests to measure learning outcomes.
Stakes Low – stakes for students’ learning, high stakes for teachers’ instructional methods High – stakes for students’ learning, low stakes for teachers’ instructional methods


Conducting a Science Workshop (for school teachers) – My Thoughts

Some Important Learning Principles:

  • All types of learning is sequential in nature.
  • Learner’s experiences shape their motivation and approaches to learning.
  • Learners (teachers/children) learn in a variety of ways.
  • The pace of learning  is faster when a learner is challenged.

Any learning has to follow a sequence, there has to be some background information, or prior knowledge before new learning can be assimilated. For example, in teaching about ‘why we see colour’, one has to know about the principles of dispersion of sunlight, scattering, reflection and even refraction.

A learner’s maturity of understanding a concept is important. In the sense it follows from above, that prior knowledge and experience helps in furthering the process of development; learning and assimilating new knowledge.

All learners do not learn in the same fashion and speed. Each needs a variety of different channels, so that the temporary learning in the frontal cortex is shifted permanently in their learning centres. That is why the instructional strategies have to vary – to take into account different learners, and their speed of learning.

In addition, it is nice to remember Confucius’ quote: What I hear, I forget; what I see, I remember; and what I do (hands-on), I understand!

Learning Objectives

Outline the learning objectives of the workshop. If it is a 4-hour workshop then I suggest there has to be about 8 bullet points in the LO.

Instructional Strategy

  • Start with a ‘hook’
  • Teach (Engage)
  • Demo/hands-on (Explore)
  • Worksheets (Query/Discuss)
  • Fun Facts (Everyday application)
  • Quiz/exam/project work (Evaluation)

Process of Training

Training Process

Teaching Learning Aids

  • PPTs, internet, you-tube, pictures and images
  • Videos and animations
  • Activity sheets, worksheets and quiz sheets
  • Interactivity, virtual labs

Learning Outcomes

Check if the learning objectives are met. There could be more that one learning outcome for a particular learning objective. Map them out before hand. Write your expectations of the learning outcomes down. The outcomes can be monitored while quiz answers and discussions. Re-check if the objectives are met from the outcomes that you have monitored.

Importance of a Well-Defined Curriculum in an EdTech Space

I need to write about importance of a well-defined curriculum, especially for k-12 science in the educational technology (or ed-tech) space.

(From Wikipedia: In formal education, a curriculum is the planned interaction of pupils with instructional content, materials, resources, and processes for evaluating the attainment of educational objectives.)

When I develop content for the k-12 science vertical, I come across writers and instructional designers who have no clue firstly what to include (besides what is already included in the prescribed text books) and then (most crucially) where to stop.

Where to stop – is a tough decision to take, and can be taken only by a learning expert who is capable of judging and understanding the psychology of the learners. It is similar to sports: just as you cannot expect a 10 year old boy or a girl to run a marathon, similarly while meting out learning content to an audience – whether in self-learning modules, in a classroom chalk-and-talk or in a distance-learning (video lectures) mode, one has to be extremely sensitive and responsible to this issue of what is presented and to whom. And especially in science and math, because if it is too easy then the learners will be ‘bored’ and if it is too difficult then the learners will ‘turn away’, and who knows forever!

Personally I think we need to respect expert curriculum developers in these matters. Unfortunately, there-in lays the problem with all that is happening in the ed-tech space these days. Any and everybody (including people with no back ground in teaching and education) start becoming curriculum developers! And this is creating more chaos in an already muddy educational system, and confusing poor young leaners and teachers too!

In India what generally happens is this – we don’t trust the Indian board curriculum approval committee members (especially state boards’, where things are dumbed down for mass education for rural audience who learn in regional languages), because various strata of the Indian society is demanding different things from the educational system.

And that is reason why the ed-tech companies are stepping in!

So what is a well-defined curriculum? It is something that goes in steps:

  • A pre-requisite
  • Actual curriculum content (clear cut objectives, outcomes, assessments, activities, step-by-step enhancement of knowledge level imparted)
  • Extra resources – for those who are really really interested in the topic


What most ed-tech companies mess up completely is the pre-requisite and the extra resources. And when it comes to the actual curricula – they just cut-paste from prescribed text-books, add some animations, interactivities, and voice overs, that’s it! This makes an absolute ridiculous ed-tech product.

Here’s a quintessential case that I’d like to share – my writers were creating an activity on heat radiation for class VII students (aprrox age 12 years) and included something that said heat radiation was infra-red! Although correct, but how could a 12 year old kid know anything about infra-red? So what was the solution? We included all this information in the extra resources section. Further, when we were creating content for older students, we put this bit as a pre-requisite, and therefore could take the content to a higher level easily! This resulted in systematic, step-by-step enhancement of knowledge imparted and learning imbibed, resulting in great satisfaction of students and teachers alike.

Provide bite sized content and that will encourage learners to take higher and higher steps, and develop a keen interest in knowing more.

Ste by Step process of learning

I hope I am able to tell you about the importance of a well-defined curriculum in an   ed-tech space. After a curriculum is a like a bridge that we need to build, piece-by-piece, step-by-step, to attain enlightenment, is it not?


Role Models

Role models are important in all our lives. They help us become the person we want to be and inspire us to make a difference.

(From Wikipedia: A role model is a person whose behaviour, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people. The term “role model” is credited to sociologist Robert K. Merton, who coined the phrase during his career.)


I do not have a role model right now, but there are many people from whom I have learnt a lot and do look-up to them. Given below are some of the people I’d like to mention, who have made a positive impact on my life.

My family members: My grandfather and my parents influenced me a lot when I was young; I always wanted emulate them. In that sense they were my role models. My grandfather was very meticulous and organized; I have taken up some of that quality from him. My mother was a highly creative person, whatever she touched, she excelled. She was super at cooking, knitting, stitching, embroidering, and what have you! She had great language skills (Marathi, Sanskrit, and Bengali), published 8 books, composed songs, and wrote poetry: the list is endless! And although I am not that prolific, I have picked up at least some of her enthusiasm for being a creative person. On the other hand, my father was a quiet engineer, a voracious reader (was encyclopaedic!), played golf, and bridge. He was a level headed and a very rational person. In many tough situations, I try to think like him, and say to myself, “Hmm…, what would Baba have done?”

People whom I have not met: Many may say that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, etc. are their role models. I will not say that because I have not met them.

Here is my list of Indians who should definitely be role models:

  • Sachin Tendulkar for achieving what he has! It definitely requires tremendous mental strength, concentration and discipline to get that kind of score!
  • Film stars and public persona, especially women, who have great talents, such as Madhuri Dixit, Mary Kom, Sania Mirza. As a woman I can understand what grit and determination it must have taken them to reach where they are.
  • Narasimha Rao, and others responsible for liberalizing India, Narayan Murthy, APJ Abdul Kalam, Azim Premji, for creating opportunities and making a generation of self-believers and entrepreneurs in India.

People whom I know: There are people who have touched my life and I admire them for that.  And feel that I should pick up some of their qualities at least.

  • UG: a CEO of a company. She has boundless energy and enthusiasm for her work; her patient and perseverance is truly amazing!
  • SJ: a person having his own start-up. Very calm and cool headed, treats all his employees with so much gentle care, and respect, it is worthy of appreciation.
  • P-bai: my housekeeper. Every day she comes to my house with a smile on her face, and does her work with complete honesty, integrity and abundant energy. Her attitude and dedication towards her work is exemplary!
  • Some of my teachers: Their sincerity and boundless energy for teaching, and even bettering themselves every day, is way ahead at the top. Some of their mental agility and quickness in thinking is inspiring!

The Curious Case of Science of Learning versus Learning of Science

I wanted to write this blog more than a month ago – about my experience in this curious case of a mix up between science of learning and learning of science…………………….one thing led to another and I have delayed writing and posting this blog…………but here it is now, and here’s what I would like to note down………….

I was asked to take a science workshop in a school at Surat, Gujarat, India, by a publisher of well-known Indian textbooks, of which the said school was a client. Now I get prepared for the workshop, my usual stuff of Dumb Charades with names of scientists, and some hands – on activities, some fun quizzes, everyday science and what not……………….

Now what happened is this – the school principal who was hosting this workshop, probably, and that is my guess, had informed other school teachers near-by to attend the workshop on  applying Science of Learning……………..and this was not captured by the publisher’s product coordinator who informed me to take a workshop on Learning of Science!! (I got to know about this curious mix up because that was what was written on the school’s website!)

Now imagine my plight………………….., and all the chaos it created while the workshop was on (the teachers attending the workshop were like naughty kids in class), and afterwards too……….No one’s expectations were met, and everyone went back unhappy; I was crest fallen to say the least.Science Workshop @ Surat 2

But that got me thinking about Science of Learning versus Learning of Science. And here are my notes!

Science of learning is a term that interplays between the learning, instruction, and assessment. The science of learning is a systematic but an empirical approach to understanding:

  • of how people learn
  • of how to help people learn, and finally,
  • of how to determine what people have learnt (e.g., learning, remembering, transferring knowledge)

Now all these three points are way off from learning of science – is it not?

So what does learning of science encompass? In my earlier blog on How to Encourage Learning of Science – I have written a detailed report on how to foster a scientific temper among one and all. Please see:

So how should learning of science be encouraged? Here is the summary from the blog:

Ways of Learning Science Suggestion
Science as a Quest
  • Have public and popular science lectures
  • Have local science and astronomy clubs
  • Create Science museums, science based theme parks
  • Excursions to scientifically significant places
  • Celebrate National Science Day and National Technology
  • Have public outreach programs in all institutions
Scientific Temper
  • Have a rational and logical outlook to everything
  • Have popular science education to know the impact and benefits of application of science
Science for Social Transformation
  • Educate public and make them aware about science based applications, so that they will look to logical solutions for their issues, rather than visit god men and fall prey to their bogus and nonsensical advice.
  • The analytical and predictive nature of science is a great empowering tool
Science Teaching
  • Have science workshops for teachers so that they contiguously upgrade themselves;
  • Have a few hands-on fun filled practical sessions for the young students
  • Make project work, self-study and research compulsory for students in higher classes
  • Make a science hobby workshop available in the school, keep a few hours per week for learning from content on the internet (there are plethora of things available freely on the internet)
  • Organize local science clubs with activities such as lectures, presentations, visits
  • Subscribe and buy science magazines and books for everyone to read and enjoy the discoveries of science.
Science Channels
  • Science news and science channels do wonders for keeping up the interests in science learning among everyone.
  • Space news, a few NASA channels, You Tube should be watched regularly.

I hope all people concerned will read this blog, and get to know the difference between Science of Learning and Learning of Science!! (and of course apologize to me!)