Yearly Archives: 2013

Google scholar

Google’s Treasure Trove for Educators

Google has a treasure trove of tools for educators and learners. We've listed out some exciting ones that are being used extensively for online education. Let's take a look: 

I Google Scholar:

This handy tool goes searching specifically for scholarly articles for your research, classroom activity, or personal interest.

More Information Here are some excellent tips to optimize your search:


Click the image above to enlarge.


II Google Helpouts:

“Real help from real people in real time.” This is the most amazing, recently launched, Google space for educators and learners. In this space everyone can be a teacher. And anyone can be a learner. People collaborate in real time to learn new things. 

Those who want to teach a subject can do so online. Share the per session rate you’d like to charge, or give out knowledge for free. Learners have a plethora of subjects and teachers to choose from. They can see the top rated teachers, take a course, and provide feedback. It would be interesting to follow how this space is used.


Click the image above to go to the site.


III Google Sites:

Google Sites are an easy way to set up a collaboration space for groups. These sites are easy to set up, and intuitive to use. They also have an exciting range of templates to cater to your specific needs.

You can use Google Sites for:

  • Classrooms / Online Learning Events: Learners can use them as editable “wikis” to collaborate and create a repository of knowledge that groups can utilize even after a course is over. Incorporating a wiki in your learning solutions can help people learn forever, and Google Sites is a cool tool to help you do just that. 
  • Projects: Project teams can easily use Google Sites to share documents, create visibility of progress, share a calendar, get project updates, and to collaborate on the project.

A sample project site made using Google Sites 


Click the image above to go to the site.

More Information: You can get very creative with Google Sites. Here are some links to begin:


IV Google Apps for Education:


Click the image above to go to the site.

These include the common range of products by Google:

  • Gmail
  • Calendar
  • Drive
  • Docs
  • Sheets
  • Slides
  • Sites
  • Vault

While these products are available to a personal Google account holder, using them via apps has some differences. With Google apps for education you can: 

  • Create a school/organizational domain, and learners will be able to access the tools via the school/organizational domain only. So these apps are a part of one umbrella, available only to the members of your domain. 
  • Have administrators who create the accounts for your school / organization. Individual students or teachers cannot create their own account. This helps you keep this space personal and private. 
  • Give a clear message to people to differentiate between a personal account (for sharing anything they like) and a school / professional account. 

More Information
Some free courses from Educators on how to find your way around Google products for education:


V Google Forms:

Google forms can be used to send invites, to ask quizzes and to take surveys. This touching video elaborates how a teacher broke barriers in the physical space by using Google forms to connect with her students. The possibilities are truly endless: 


VI Google In Education:
This resource provides all that Google is doing to help teachers grow and connect better with their students. There are stories, programs, and resources for teachers, trainers, and administrators. They also have an exciting set of programs for students.

So that's the list from us. Which Google tools have you found most useful for education? How have you used them to facilitate learning in your organization or school?

View Part II of this post here:

Timeline of MOOCs

Historical Timeline of Virtual Learning Environments

At every stage of human history, societies have built elaborate mechanisms and institutions to guard knowledge. Learning has always been available only to a certain few who have had the means and access to these institutions. Technology, however, has been a great leveler. By altering the process of production and distribution, technology has made knowledge more available and accessible. Beginning with the invention of the printing press all the way up to Google books and the open courseware movement, technology has freed learning and knowledge.

Here is a timeline that traces the key events in the development and adoption of technology in learning. It also places the evolution of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in a historical perspective.

(Please click the image below to enlarge.)


Image References


Analogy, Flight

“Active Use of Analogy” in the Manager’s Toolkit

Analogy, Flight

“I hit the television and it started working. Let me hit the toaster. That might work too.”

“We set up an online store for our range of jewelry, and it started selling well. Can we do the same for apparel?”

Analogies play a bigger role in our thought process than we give them credit for. Anytime we’re faced with unprecedented situations we look for solutions by running to an unrelated experience we’ve had in the past. We may do this overtly, but most of the times it’s a hidden process. We don’t actively know the fact that we’re drawing analogies with a past situation.
Well, many masters say that being actively aware of our thought process can help us harness the power of analogy, and it can also help us avoid the traps that poor analogies may lead us into.

So, what is an analogy?

According to Douglas Hoftstadter, an analogy is – “Perception of common essence between two things.” Hofstadter goes on to say that analogies happen inside our head. It is the connections we make between two mental representations that we project on the outside world.

We compare the essence of one situation/person/place to another, and that is how analogies help us connect the dots to make meaning of our world. 

How can it help decision makers and creative thinkers at work?

Analogies for Creative Thinking

Analogies have the power to facilitate creative thought. You take one concept and project it to another, and so forth. This helps us think more fluidly, which in turn leads to newer ways of looking at things.

In this video, Douglas Hofstadter (the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach) describes what analogies are, and how they can facilitate creative thought:

(The introductions are lengthy. You can watch the video from 13 minutes onward.)

Example of a creative analogy: The author of this post uses Sesame Street to draw lessons for breakthrough blogging.

Analogies for Reasoning and Strategic Thinking

Although Hofstadter doesn’t really associate “reasoning” with analogies, many management gurus propose that analogies do play a big role in the way decision makers and strategists operate. When we are faced with incomplete information, and unpredictable situations we make use of examples that we feel are similar to the problem at hand.

For example, in the learning design space, companies often follow the analogy of IT companies for project management and development models.

At Design Storm, we sometimes use the analogy of an advertising campaign to receive the brief of a problem – convert the brief to a design idea – start the creative process – promote the creative output to generate a pull with the learners.

Sometimes we also use the analogy of marketers to measure the success of our courses. Our blog-post brought out one such analogy in comparing Amazon’s marketing success criteria to online learning:

When faced with more complex situations, such as a company trying to expand into newer markets, or setting up a facility at a new location, people often look for analogous situations that will help them prepare. This Harvard Business Review article brings out several examples of how strategists have leveraged analogies in the past to solve novel problems:

While analogies are a great tool, they can also be extremely misleading. A, now hilarious, example is our first attempts to fly. We used the analogies of birds to learn to fly, and it failed us miserably:

Why did these people fail so miserably? Although they drew an analogy, they never paid attention to a lot of details. 

How can we avoid the pitfalls of an erroneous analogy?

We can use analogies more fruitfully by:

  1. Becoming aware of our thought process, and recognizing the fact that we’re using analogies to resolve a particular issue. That would be half the battle won. 
  2. Analyzing the source of the analogy deeply, and understanding the key reasons behind why things worked in a particular situation.
  3. Analyzing the differences from the source of analogy. This should help us know whether the situation we are handling is fundamentally the same, or radically different from the analogy we’re drawing. (This is what the winged flyers of the past missed.)
  4. Not following the analogy blindly. Using other methods like deductive reasoning to arrive at conclusions. 

Design Storm runs an intensive one day program designed specifically to help senior management learn to use analogies for good decision making. For more information about the program, please contact us.


Classroom Games: From Chaos to Meaning

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. – Plato

Games liven up a space, and they bring out the best and the worst in us. While playing, we design, connive, think creatively, fight on, give up and unabashedly show our emotions on the field.

Games have the power to help us learn about ourselves. All it requires is a little meta-cognitive thinking triggered by some Socratic questioning by a facilitator. 

As a game designer, I’ve had the great fortune to keenly observe the process of learning through games. This helped me arrive at a progression pattern that most of our classroom games follow. Take a look:

1. Chaos and Understanding of Game Mechanics

Learners concentrate on understanding the mechanics of the game, they ask a lot of questions, and are in a state of chaos. This is the exploratory phase, where things may not be in complete order. Usually people begin to make sense of the game at this stage. 

In a well-design game this phase lasts a short time. 

2. Intense Play

By this stage learners have understood the game and are immersed in it. They team up to device strategies, brainstorm, or just simply jump into the game to try and explore. A lot of discoveries about the topics under study happen in this phase. Learners may draw upon past experiences and knowledge. Relationships among players and opponents emerge, and emotions begin to run high. The classroom’s decibel levels are very high at this stage.

This phase is full of discoveries, formation of new knowledge, drawing up on past knowledge, formation of relationships, and learning through connections. This is the stage that players will usually reflect back to once the game is over.  

3. Concentration on the End Goal, and Competition

During this phase, the end goal takes over and learners concentrate on winning. This is a phase of heightened activity, where learners are in action, executing their strategies and thoughts. Competition among groups/individuals usually peaks at this stage. 

Teams practically apply the topics under study and they may need to rethink concepts, strategies, and previously held beliefs. Facilitators may intervene to help losing teams to understand their situation very well. 

4. Realizations

This is the last phase where winners emerge, and almost all teams have an “aha” moment of discovery, either by having played the winning game or by observing other teams. 

This is where they start to look back at what they did during the game. Talk about what they did right or where they went wrong starts to emerge.  People may try and buy more time to correct some actions. 

5. Reflection

Good learning design usually helps facilitators to grab this opportunity to help learners reflect on what they actually did, and what they could have done. We usually make all our games reflection heavy, because this is where the learning becomes relevant and obvious to learners. 

A lot of meta-cognitive thinking helps learners reflect back on their thoughts, behaviors, strategies, misconceptions. This phase is debate and thought heavy. Learners have several “aha” moments at this stage too and realization dawns on them about their own and their team’s actions. This is where a large part of the learning takes place.

6. Formation of Far and Wide Connections

This is an extension of the reflection phase where facilitators help learners connect their learning to real life situations, their job, and the tasks they perform. 

Extension to real life and formation of connections with other things helps learners imbibe the concepts taught and take the learning with them forever. 


Performance Assessment: A Self-Check

Every time I assess performance of my team members, I do some meta-cognitive thinking. And the stuff that I find out about myself is always startling. Sometimes I find myself controlling the urge to shield a favorite high performer. Other times I'm outright political. I even catch myself getting swayed by popular opinion. And what's worse, often I don't even have enough evidence or observed data points about a person to qualify to give feedback. For those, who like me feel the brunt of being human, here are some fun ways to control that devil inside:

1. Peep into Your Own Mind—Avoid Bias

Ask yourself‚ "Am I biased?" If the little voice in you says, "No," give it an Implicit Association Test (IAT):

I came across this test in Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Blink," and it was an eye-opener. Most of us are biased, and as this site explains, we may not even be aware of it. Just becoming alert towards our biases may help us avoid them while assessing performance.

2. Probe the 12 Angry Men—Go by Evidence, Not Perception

Many times we get so carried away by our perceptions that we don't look for enough evidence of performance or the lack of it. We're too quick to jump to conclusions. The film‚ "12 Angry Men‚" is an intense watch that sensitizes the mind to look for facts. At some level, it even reminds me of an appraisal discussion where we take decisions that affect people's careers. The film (1 hour 52 minutes) tells us to state facts and to provide evidence for every definitive statement we make about a person's performance.

3. Be Like a Sleuth—Observe Carefully

Sherlock Holmes, Chapter 2, "The Science of Deduction" is a witty account of how Mr. Holmes stumps Dr. Watson with his capability to observe and to deduce:

While we don't need to be super sleuths, we do need to observe to be able to gather appropriate facts.

4. Avoid Political Appraisals—Support Good Performers

Give people their due. Avoid political appraisal of people's performance. In this candid address (7 minutes), Carl Icahn brings out the common culture and politics that surround promotions in our organizations. He gives a funny analogy of anti-darwinian organizations that promote talent that is weaker and weaker.



5. Monkey Say, Monkey Do—Don't Follow Popular Belief

Think for yourself. Don't get swayed by what others say about a person. We may not realize it, but we are not immune to peer pressure or popular opinion. Here is an interesting experiment (2 minutes) that tells us that we aren't infallible: 

We must double check for such effects on our feedback and assessment ratings. While these resrouces opened my mind towards performance assessment, you can also use them in workshops to help executives become better performance and talent assessors. So have fun assessing people, and keep that devil in check.


Drop the Instruction, Not the Story

KathakaliDancer_MediumThere is a story from the Mahabharata, which almost every Indian child knows. This is how it goes:

Dronacharya, the great teacher to the royal family, was teaching his students the skill of archery. He placed a clay parrot on a tree, gave each student a bow and an arrow, and said to each one of them, “Aim at the eye of the parrot and tell me what you see.”

Each student took turns to aim at the parrot. One student said, “I see the sky, the tree, and the parrot.”Archer Another one said, “I see the beautiful tree, the fruit on the tree, and the parrot.” Listening to their responses, the teacher didn’t allow any student to shoot the parrot. After many students had tried and had not been allowed to shoot, one student called Arjuna, finally said, “I can only see the eye of the parrot.” This student was allowed to take an aim, and he managed to bring the parrot down. 

​When I was a child, this story inspired awe, and spoke of focus and observation to me. Now, in the context of learning, it brings forth a few new things to my mind. The tools of bow and arrow, and repetitive practice could have made the boys good archers. However, the teacher helped them construct the meaning of the terms, “focus” and “observation” on their own. What were the components of this experience?

The experience included:

  • A task (Shoot the clay parrot)
  • A question/problem (What do you see?)
  • Resources (The bow and arrow)
  • The freedom to construct their own responses to the question
  • The environment (Listening to other’s responses)
  • Timely feedback (The person who constructed the meaning of focus got the appreciation of the Guru and was allowed to shoot)​

What is interesting to observe is the dynamic interplay of these components, which leads to a constructivist learning environment. It is very important to understand the story from ​the perspective of the children who did not get the right answer. How did they react? What did they learn out of this experience? Did they learn the meaning of the term, “focus?” Well, as the story goes, all students of this teacher became accomplished warriors in the epic tale of Mahabharata.

Another essential aspect of this story is the “story” itself. It’s a part of the oral tradition, and usually, the way it is told brings back the experience of Arjuna to each child. A child in PuppetsIndia who has not received formal education also gets to hear this story (and many more) through their parents, grandparents, or through travelling storytellers. ​Stories have the power to transcend time, space, and literacy barriers. They can travel from one end of the nation to another in such a viral fashion that education can almost ride its way to Indian villages through them. Many artists/students take messages to the masses by performing stories on the streets. Some other examples of these travelling storytellers are the nautanki, the jatra, and the phad. Some dance forms like Kathakalli and Oddissi too tell stories to the people who have never entered a formal schooling system.

Can we harness the power of stories to take education to the remotest parts of the world, while maintaining the context that the people of these places understand and know?

Can we create a world of young storytellers who will be able to empathize with people from diverse cultures, diverse backgrounds and exchange stories to create meaning of the world they inhabit?

A few examples from India on the power and reach of storytelling:

An interesting storytelling experiment on the Internet:

Documentary as a tool for storytelling—The Story of Human Origin (An online museum):

Branching scenarios—Interactive stories in the formal teaching environment:


Image of the Indian boy with a bow:

Image of Kathakali dancer:

Image of kathputli (puppet) story tellers:



Think Like the Marketers


We’re not selling you anything. It’s your dreams, your aspirations, and your game. We can just enable things for you. If a commercially driven product like Nike can say this to me, why not a course that has been created for my benefit and is being offered to me for free? Are people sold out to your learning offerings and HR interventions? Do they love them, await them, and can’t wait to see them play out in their lives? To achieve this, you could:

  • Follow the success criteria of online retailers
  • Promote learning as a brand

Follow the Success Criteria of Online Retailers

Picking up a cue from and we can change the learning ecosystem of an organization to look like an online retail store where each course (online or offline) is vying for learner’s attention.  Here are some of the ways in which you can allow learners to choose and rate their courses:

  • Ratings and Views

How many times do you visit and check the ratings that books have received? Ratings correspond with the perceived value of a product, and they can help learners to assess the worth of the courses they intend to take. Also, viewing how others have rated a course can motivate learners to “look inside” the course.

  • Recommendations

If learners find your courses invigorating and useful, they will automatically make time to write about them and to recommend them to peers. Showing favorable and critical reviews adds authenticity to your offerings. It also makes learners interact with each other in a positive way through the means of a course.

  • Learners Who Took this Course Also Viewed

If in your organization most learners who took a Selling Skills course also took a course on Communication Skills, then this information will most likely benefit others too. These “affinity recommendations” make it easier for learners to reach beneficial content. When used appropriately, it can be a revolutionary way to replace a fixed curriculum with a loosely coupled set of learner centric courses or learning objects.

  • About the Subject Matter Expert

Giving out information about industry subject matter experts, their Twitter address, blogs, and so on can help an enthusiastic learner to dig out more information on the subject. If you can get learners to connect with experts you will have turned them into life-long learners.

Additionally you could look at the criteria that marketers use at the back end. These include:

  • Average Time on Page: This is the amount of time that learners spend on each page of the course.
  • Exit Rate: This indicates the percentage of people that drop out of a page having spent less than 10 seconds on it.
  • Page Per View: This shows the number of pages viewed by each learner in every session.
  • Goal Conversion: Goal conversion is the current traditional course success criteria, such as “course completion rates” and “assessment passing rates.”

Promote Learning as a Brand

With the success criteria redefined, you know that it is critical to be able to sell your courses to learners. Once again, put yourselves in the shoes of marketers and follow these steps:

  1. Identify the Positioning of Your Courses
  2. Create Awareness
  3. Live Up to the Image
  4. Generate Talk
  1. Identify the Positioning of Your Course

There are many shoes in a retail store, but what sets Nike apart? Nike, doesn’t sell shoes, it sells “winning,” it sells “hope.” Similarly, don’t sell a course on “product knowledge,” sell “fun” and sell “the end of ignorance.”

Also, ensure that the course delivers what it claims to deliver. Nothing damages reputation like building expectations and then not delivering up to them.

  1. Create Awareness

Like the advertisers, be present at the right time, at the right place, and get noticed often. Plan the media you will use, the messages you’ll send out, and the number of times you’ll reach your audience (the learners). For example a poster in an elevator can get you a captive audience.

  1. Live Up to the Image

If your communication promises fun and end of ignorance, then deliver just that. For online courses, opening up opportunities to learn from a group of people and experts online, to solve real life problems, and to merge learning and work will most likely make learning fun and relevant. Silo-like, SCORM compliant courses won’t be required if the success criteria for the courses have been redefined (as described above). With the new criteria you can create an experience that learners will cherish.

  1. Generate Talk

Do the learners who take your courses (online or live) talk about the courses in their life or while at work? This is an immeasurable test of the success of your course. Like famous advertisements, the characters, the examples, the situations, the activities from your courses should become a part of the day-to-day vocabulary of your learners. They should motivate the learners to participate in and to contribute to what you offer. Your courses need to generate reviews (appreciation or criticism) and you will know that you’ve done your job well, and reached out to the audience the way the marketers do. You’ve sold change.

Reference for the image on the Home Page:

Creative Commons License
This work by Design Storm is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


Twitter Skills for Learners


On Twitter, ask and you shall receive much more than you asked for. Given the reputation of the Twitterati and their lunch and burp updates, this may sound like a counterproductive boon. However, you ask for the right stuff, and you will receive the right stuff—in abundance. While Twitter can be one of the best tools that learners will have in their toolkit, it needs some skills for them to avoid getting overwhelmed and lost.

So what are these skills? Here is a quick list:

  1. Follow Your Interests
  2. Select The Right Information
  3. Reflect
  4. Mindcast Not Lifecast

Let's explore each of these in a little more detail.

1. Follow Your Interests

TwitterSkills_Point1"Follow Your Interests" is not just a tag line on the Twitter home page, but also a very good piece of advice. I learned early that if cricket interests you, you follow cricket, and not your star struck neighbor who chases film star updates and re-tweets them every five seconds.

Following organizations, gurus, peers, enthusiasts who are interested in the same subject as you can make you a life-long learner. You can do this by:

  • Evaluating people's profiles on Twitter before you start following them. This helps to cut out noise of unnecessary tweeters.
  • Following authors of books, articles, research papers, and blogs that you find interesting.
  • Searching for hashtags by subject. For example, if you are interested in the field of education, you could search for #education or #learning and then follow the people who frequently use these hashtags in their tweets. Similarly, when you tweet, use appropriate hashtags (hash sign # + relevant search word) to get the right kind of followership.

Tip: To search for trending hashtags in your subject of interest, you could run a search on:

As you know, knowledge in our organizations lies with our employees. Connecting them together through a common objective or interest, using a tool like Twitter, can help us harness this tremendous network. Some tools also provide the option of creating an organization based Twitter community.

Tip: If you wish to have a secure micro-blogging option for your organization, consider This tool by Hashworks utilizes Twitter to form a closed community of users. Here's a review of the tool:

2. Select the Right Information

Despite following the right people, you will be inundated with tweets. Initially you are bound to feel overwhelmed with the chaotic surge of information running past your eye. However, take a deep breath and let go.

TwitterSkills_Point2Luckily, with frequent use our eyes become accustomed to selecting only the tweets that are relevant. Our mind learns the art of tuning out unimportant tweets. Surprising as it may be, we are automatically able to discard—select—classify—read the tweets that buzz past. 

As George Siemens puts it, "Chaos is the new reality for knowledge workers." We deal with a mind boggling amount of information each day. Therefore, being able to quickly sift out information will not only help new age employees to use Twitter, it will also prepare them for life-long learning. Educators can encourage and promote this skill.

Tip: Here's some deep thought from John Seely Brown on "digital age" learners, and the power of connections in learning and innovation: As you read this article, you'll also realize that the power of Twitter can be utilized to create a learning ecology where experts, amateurs, and enthusiasts interact to create a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts.


3. Reflect

TwitterSkills_Point3One very good use of Twitter is to reflect aloud. Each day, give yourself just one minute to think publicly about something interesting that you've read, heard, or watched. You will be surprised to see how 140 characters shape your thoughts. Use Twitter to formulate new ideas, summarize, comment upon, share about, or add to your topic of interest. The network that you form through such an activity will feed your thoughts further.

Let your personality and thoughts show through your tweets, be free, and be yourself. However, remember you're not ideating in isolation. You may want to make your tweets meaningful to your audience too.

You could try this in close teams or in workshops where people are working towards a common objective:

  1. Ensure that the participants are aware of these tweeting skills (you could share this article)
  2. Create a hashtag
  3. Declare a tweet minute
  4. Give one minute to the participants to tweet about the subject that they are working on
  5. Encourage a culture of responding to meaningful tweets
  6. Help participants walk off from the workshop with a small Twitter network of people they can learn from

Tip: Here's a list of some of my favorite tweeters in the field of learning:



4. Mindcast Not Lifecast

TwitterSkills_Point4Most interaction on social media sites is said to follow the 90-9-1 rule. According to this, 90% of the users on a social networking site are lurkers, 9% are contributors, and 1% are creators of content.

On Twitter, creators or contributors can:

  • Mindcast, add value, contribute original ideas and thoughts, share experience, vocalize tacit knowledge, state the previously unnoticed obvious points, and so on


  • Lifecast‚ talk about what they had for breakfast, the color of their nail paint, or the new pair of shoes, and so on

It's up to you to choose where you'd like to fall in this user grid. However, like in life, so on Twitter—be to others as you'd like others to be to you.

Tip: The term "mindcasting" was coined by @JayRosen, a journalism teacher at NYU. This article elaborates about mindcasting as it traces the acceptance of the meme:

At DesignStorm we encourage the use of Twitter in workshops to foster meaningful, life-long learning networks for our learners. Follow us @design_storm on Twitter.

Images for this Blog entry have been sourced from: