Thursday, December 01, 2005

E-learning or E-burning: The life of an Indian ID


By Asim Choudhury

The Role of an Instructional Designer is often exaggerated in India. For the amount of brainwashing and rumour doing the rounds in e-learning companies, one can’t help but believe that IDs are the ‘kings’ in the world of writing. The real fact: they are like tissue papers – get momentary pleasure by being placated the one moment and then get thrown out when the job is done.

Days back I found myself in the company of an Instructional Designer (ID) working in an Indian e-learning company. Young and full of gait, the chap threw the airs of a king: possibly induced by his newly acquired status and the monetary benefits. He was casual and remained serious. A little time in some silly talk, I settled for the killer question: “what do you think is your future in e-learning?” He fancied my question, paused, gave a weird smile and took a long drag from his Malboro before coming out with a loosely crafted response, “Well dear, see, now I am here…cool job… 3 years and I hop somewhere as a Project Manager and then…shoooo…I am off… off to the US or some foreign country.”

I digested the essence of his chimerical response and stared at him for sometime before throwing the next query: “Do you think some good learning is happening here in your present role as an ID”? “Learning?” he quipped smartly, “what learning?”… “Hey cool it man…we gotta work out the present and not strain our brains on what’s what.”

The answer said it all…and he said it pretty clear. Though the interaction appeared simple, the essence was thought-provoking. The answer revealed desperation and a possible ‘professional suicide.’

Most e-learning companies in India boast of a talented ID resource. In reality, all they have to pride is a fragmented ID workforce consisting of simple graduates who find themselves in in e-learning by a waft of fate than by will. Any observation will reveal that Indian vendors are least interested in analysing ID skills because of reasons whatsoever, and any wayward dummy with some knowledge of hinglish can hop in. Credentials are passe and cost factors are important. Afterall, at the end of the day, costs have to be justified.

A closer look at the academic background of most IDs in the industry, a select few can boast of a post-graduate degree. A majority are graduates and lack sound academic knowledge. One can only magine the value they bring to the workplace. Even by the standards of an average layman, it would be difficult to understand as to how could someone with shoddy education create powerful instructional designs.

E-learning companies today frequently advertise for IDs keeping the simple criteria of “a minimum of 1 year experience.” Thereby applications are screened by the dozens and consequently selected. Training, they say, can happen on the job. Unfortunately that training never comes by. Apart from a few companies like NIIT, Inforpro and Accenture, most organizations in India offer no ID training whatsoever.

Talking of remuneration, the scale of an ID appears tempting for most middle-class Indians with a penchant for quick money. The long-term prospects, however, appear bleak, as is evident from several instances in the Indian e-learning industry. While industry honchos vouch that IDs can notch up a package of anything between Rs 20k to 1 lakh a month, reality is something else. IDs in India have a saturation point beyond which they turn into a liability for the organization. A few years of increments lands the ID into a position that is a dead end. Neither can organizations afford them, nor can they justify their package to prospective clients. This is the time when organizations dump them like a fly from a bowl of soup. The result: IDs have to start analyzing their skill-sets and eyeing opportunities in related fields like technical writing and journalism. Wonder do they really stand a chance there!

Identity-wise, IDs are rather unknown creatures – all they have is a name lost in heaps of HR files in the database. Poor chaps, the best they can do is to fill their CVs with tall claims of having done some great piece of work for some XYZ GREAT MNC. The actual glory is reaped by Project Managers and the top management from clients.

As an ID one tends to burn-out the knowledge they have accumulated over the years after almost 25 years of education. This is since, theories apart, IDs do not get the opportunity to learn on the job. And all they leverage on during their stint as an ID is the knowledge they have learnt over the years. Unfortunately, their work is just like another clerk, bereft of learning opportunities. As an individual the ID tends to become a virtual recluse – cutting out from regular social interactions and knowledge exchange. The ID work gobbles up the fun and excitement from their lives: too much work pressure and very little rest.

One opinion in the industry is that the role of an ID hones one’s skills and helps them become better writers – partly true and partly false. True that ID develops the skills of objectivity and rationality but in the process, they kill the creative writer within. The final result is that they hang around like a misfit – quite like the washerman’s dog, neither at home nor on the river banks (Ghar ka nag hat ka). They neither make good journalists nor do they fit into a creative role.

Recent years have seen a large number of frustrated IDs in India hopping from one organization to another in the vain hope of having something different. But its all the same everywhere. There are ample instances of IDs who have pulled out of the nerve-wracking role of IDs from companies as small as Magic to big giants like NIIT. Wonder what beckons them!

The repository of learning knowledge is as vast as one imagination and cannot be simply captured within the framework of a few cognitive or constructivist learning theories by Bloom et al. What the industry respects and perhaps looks forward to are innovative people capable of developing top-of-the-line courseware, not clerks who mug-up a couple of tailor-made theories and set for the kill.

Instructional Designing by virtue is very limiting. Its not always that the IDs in the Indian industry cannot think of innovative strategy for designing e-learning courses. They do have some up their sleeves but most remain constrained with whatever the client dictates: another rationale for comparing the work to that of a clerk’s. Strategy is the client’s call and IDs are not allowed to think. The situation can be compared to that in the Defence forces where a soldier is not supposed to exercise his thoughts; he is simply supposed to act on the orders. The result is a mind that is bereft of creativity; or more precisely programmed not to think creatively. Unless IDs are allowed to treat into the creative domain of e-learning solutions, the work would continue to remain drab.

The programmed thought in IDs contains very few items: suggest a graphic with a few lines of text in a frame and then follow them intermittently with reinforcements in the form of drag and drop, multiple choice or fill-in the blanks. The visualization also is a problem area. Working under stringent timelines, graphic designers always ask for simpler graphics which they can work on very fast. A creatively visualized flash graphic can send the whole project awry as the developer will have to put in extra effort which time never permits him.


It's time Indian IDs forego their slumber and get onto doing some real analysis. They need to make up their minds -- whether they want to hang around the lively world doing unyielding and unsatisfying work or get into a cutting-edge area. And this analysis has to come fast, before they burn out the last remains of their intelligence and creativity.

14 comments:

Rakesh said...

Asim Bhai,

You are right, of course. Lekin the point is, how many of these IDs have the opportunity and skills needed to learn to go beyond the blind form filling that ID content creation in india has become?

Haan hai toh ab kyaa karein? Merey ek acquaintances key company mein, if the guy is 5 mins late, the HR mamager marks him as absent for 1/2 a day. I ask the guy to yell and fight back, but he is too scared. Now what? Intel is one thing; using it is another.

Things take time. Just as the Indian s/w industry is evolving towards a specialized high-end delivery model, it shall take time, but indian ID shall also stabilize.

Kaaraj dheerey hote hai ...

Chill.

Rakesh.

Sukumar said...

Hi Asim,

That was a beauty! ID in India is on the same lines. But, i do think this is true only in cases of lower-end products. True e-learning demands innovative ID's which infact tests one's ability to interpret any subject.

ID's should ideally work for such products. Regarding the mail from rakesh, HR issues are common in any industry and not e-Learning industry alone.

matthew said...

Hi Asim!

I agree with Sukumar's comments about low-end products... there is still some innovative e-learning out there which calls for IDs to ply the full range of their skills. Unfortunately, this work does seem to be drying up.

As an ID with a Masters qualification, I found myself burning out in a similar way to what you describe. I diversified and went into project management, getting a qualification in this area to back up the move to PM. I think there is a natural progression that professionals in the e-learning industry move through, and this is one of the logical options. Your sentiments reflect this.

Based in Australia, I think that the e-learning industry here has undertaken similar transformation. E-learning is fast becoming e-learning for the sake of organisational cost saving, and learning outcomes are a secondary consideration.

That is not to say that optimism is not justified! Every day is a brave new world...

Heads up!

M.

Shweta said...

Hi Asim,

I have to this industry from creative content writing 7 months back. Within these 7 months I have been fortunate enough to work on some really demanding courses. So I can't say that ID-wise there is a dearth of creative work. But I have also discovered that even in big companies, ID may be confined to writing a few boring HTML pages rather than creating learning for people and organizations. I also feel that a lot depends on clients as well. If a client is cutting costs, you can't really go on to suggest a learning tool that is intensive but costly.
As an individual, my writing has become too conditioned to a single style of writing that does not leave any room for experimentation and creativity when it comes to words. I keep breaking the monotony by writing things on my own and sharing with my friends. That is the only way to keep your writing alive and creative.

Anonymous said...

hey read ur blog.. filtered the essence of ID and served it steaming hot on a cup... only thing is since ID is such crap.. you wld think twice before drinking this cup.... Great Blog though

Chaitali said...

One thing only I would like to comment is that "Mr. Asim, are you an ID yourself?" If yes, then I am ashamed to say that you have categorised every ID in this industry as yourself! If not, then Sir, please do a little more background check before claiming that this is an honest representation of facts!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi! Asim

I just could relate so much to your article. I am a 3yr old ID and I completely agree with your comments. I have worked for small to big organisations (like Accenture) but all I see there is a rat race to keep their jobs as an ID to sustain their stay in the concerned organisation.

I am sure this rat race will end some day. The worst part is people realising their helplessness at an age where they cannot revert to change their field at the prime of their lives. What you have written is the exact representation of an ID's state in India. Great! analysis. Kuddos to you :)

aman said...

Sir,

While the facts of your entry here are correct for the most part, I'm just beginning to wonder if you're reading them the way they should be read.

Yes, very few ID's are post-graduates. But how does a post-graduation degree outside of the ID field help? Straight answer? it doesnt!

Can someone without a degree in instructional design actually do instructional design? Well, lets see. Considering that most indviduals are ultimately employed in fields that have very little or no relation to their formal education [you will, for example, find a huge number of IITians in corporate sales] I'd have to say that the present bunch of ID's get along just fine.

What qualifies you for ID anyway? Does being able to list gagne's nine steps make you an ID? Or does their application over a consistent period of time make you an ID?

I have worked for two of the three companies you accuse of training their IDs. While NIIT does perform some form of credible training, the other has very little to do with training their employees. In any case, you can tell keep telling me about how the qualifications make all the difference... i have but one thing to say to you: When you're faced with a design problem, it doesnt matter what sort of certificate you hold... what matters is how well you grasp it. A certificate gives you a worldview, yes. But the only time you're fit to solve a design problem is when you've sat down and solved it. Giving me a textbook definition of Gagne's steps wont help.

But you know the funny thing sir? Had you been any sort of decent ID, you would already have known that!

Hot Spot said...

Hi Asim!

I dont know what you think about this but i dont think that In Indian Companies you only have elearning happening. I have not seen any ID in these places in the last 12 years... what say!

Kasturi said...

Thank you Aman for your comments as I too am an ID who has no formal training of an ID. I was trained to be an Environmental Manager but those dreams vapourised as soon as I reached the real world from the heady days of the University.

My own experience as an ID: No worries if you have the brains to toggle and use Gagne's or whoever else's ID theories and apply it properly to the problem. To me all these guys sound almost similar, so though I have read them but I have not memorised any of their so called 'Theories'. I feel that they are more like loosely fitted instructions to people who might someday stumble upon them and hopefully pick it up, like you might a nice looking stone and then use it to hit and open someone's brains. :-)

The ID scenario in India is pathetic and the companies that you are speaking about do form filling, not ID work. I know people from these two companies are now going to kill me with stupid blog answers but you already know what you do guys.

To be an ID or to be anything else, you don't need an education that has been choosen by your seniors for you. I think our old system of teaching in Gurukul's was much better as it did not use market statistics to put people in a field of study but their aptitude. I have seen and used suggestions sometimes even from my driver to create an animation for which later on I was appreciated. I have made him part of this appreciation by telling him later on how nice his idea was but just goes to show that when a 12th pass guy can do it, how am I with a Master's degree better? Just because I know English? :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Aman for your comments as I too am an ID who has no formal training of an ID. I was trained to be an Environmental Manager but those dreams vapourised as soon as I reached the real world from the heady days of the University.

My own experience as an ID: No worries if you have the brains to toggle and use Gagne's or whoever else's ID theories and apply it properly to the problem. To me all these guys sound almost similar, so though I have read them but I have not memorised any of their so called 'Theories'. I feel that they are more like loosely fitted instructions to people who might someday stumble upon them and hopefully pick it up, like you might a nice looking stone and then use it to hit and open someone's brains. :-)

The ID scenario in India is pathetic and the companies that you are speaking about do form filling, not ID work. I know people from these two companies are now going to kill me with stupid blog answers but you already know what you do guys.

To be an ID or to be anything else, you don't need an education that has been choosen by your seniors for you. I think our old system of teaching in Gurukul's was much better as it did not use market statistics to put people in a field of study but their aptitude. I have seen and used suggestions sometimes even from my driver to create an animation for which later on I was appreciated. I have made him part of this appreciation by telling him later on how nice his idea was but just goes to show that when a 12th pass guy can do it, how am I with a Master's degree better? Just because I know English? :-)

Anonymous said...

You have to believe in yourself . That's the secret of success.


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Ruprecht-Karls—Universitat Heidelberg

Anonymous said...

The man who has made up his mind to win will never say "impossible ".

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it support service said...

This is a nice blog. Elearning companies are really increasing as elearning is in demand. elearning is a nice way of learning and teaching by making the use of technology.