by Gunjan Trivedi

Untrain, Unlearn

Nov 18, 20134 mins

The pedagogical approach to learning is witnessing revolutionary changes. Perhaps, CIOs can also introduce these changes to radically impact the way business users adopt systems.

Gunjan Trivedi is executive editor at IDG Media. He is an award-winning writer with over a decade of experience in Indian IT. Before becoming a journalist, he had been a hands-on IT specialist, with expertise in setting up IP WANs. Reach him at

How about inculcating the ethos of creating intuitive systems that should be handed over to the business users without the whole hog of going through rigorous training schedules, creating adoption strategies, and maintaining stressed-out helpdesks?

The November issue of Wired has a very intriguing cover. The Apple fanboy in me immediately responded to the US edition of the magazine that said ‘The Next Steve Jobs’. My interest further piqued as this headline was printed across a picture of a 12-year old Mexican girl in her crisp uniform—gray polo, blue and white skirt—with a fifth-grade maths book in hand. Joshua Davis’ cover story on free thinkers and how a radical new teaching method could unleash a generation of geniuses was a thought-provoking read indeed. Especially, when I began to wonder what if CIOs adopt some of these new strategies to remodel the way user training, user adoption, and change management strategies behave in their organizations.  Wired’s Davis took us to José Urbina López Primary School, just across the US border in Mexico in the dusty city of Matamaros, and told the story of a certain Paloma Noyola Bueno and her teacher Sergio Juárez Correa.  Correa had been working through the government-mandated curriculum, and in his quest to alter the mind-numbingly boring teaching and learning experience, he stumbled upon an emerging educational philosophy. This philosophy challenges the traditional methods of learning and training, and applies the logic of decentralized systems that have proven to be more productive and agile than rigid and authoritative. The idea was quite simple. He prompted just the questions and left the children to explore the answers by themselves. The fundamental tenet of public education systems—delivering knowledge from teacher to student—went straight out of the window.  The result? A year later, Correa’s students performed at a world-class level in ENLACE, Mexico’s national achievement exam. The previous year had seen 45 percent students failing the math section. This year, the number of failed students reduced to just 7 percent. In fact, the 12-year old Paloma got the highest math score not just in her class, but in the whole of Mexico.  Interestingly, this whole new level of educational philosophy came about closer home. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Sugata Mitra, the then head of training at one of India’s leading IT education and developer enterprise, got curious to know how children of a slum or a remote village would react to computers and the Internet without any training. Thus began his experiment Hole in the Wall. He would install the machine and use the new pedagogical method: Say no more and leave. The children not only taught themselves English to effectively use computers but also began training others in their community.  In fact, one of Mitra’s experiments at Kallikuppam, a village in Tamil Nadu, saw unbelievable results. His Hole in the Wall computer was loaded with lessons on biotechnology. About six months later and with a local 22-year old accountant’s words of encouragement (no subject guidance, yet), the 10 to 14-year olds at the village scored 50 percent in a test on DNA replication and other facets of biotechnology.  It’s pretty evident that Mitra’s Self-Organized Learning Environments, which have broadband, collaboration and encouragement put together, are doing revolutionary wonders to the educational ecosystem. Now the question is, can these environments be created by CIOs to change how business users are trained on newer IT applications and systems, and the way they adopt and absorb these systems in their workflows? How about inculcating the ethos of creating intuitive systems that should be handed over to the business users without the whole hog of going through rigorous training schedules, creating adoption strategies, and maintaining stressed-out helpdesks? Let users understand the systems and train each other, and IT just backs out.  This may sound a little far-fetched here. But, I strongly believe that this approach does warrant attention. I am also aware that to create, organize, and adopt such Self-Organized Learning Environments in enterprises will involve varied reactions at the beginning, from raised eyebrows to downright rejections. But, eventually, this new approach seems promising enough to radicalize the change management process phenomenally. After all, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University, Joel Voss says in Davis’ story, “If you are not the one who’s controlling your learning, you’re not going to learn as well.”