How to Leverage Tech for Transformative Learning


In last week’s blog post, I talked about how human beings have experienced four explosions in innovation and creativity in all of our history. The common theme between these explosions was an increase in the ability of humans to share information, ideas and tools, the most recent example being the advent of the Internet.

At LearnFest, which took place in Toronto earlier this month, I facilitated a session where we discussed how to leverage technology for transformative learning. I started by asking participants to brainstorm as many answers as possible to the following question:

What are the qualities or skills of top employees at your organization?

Our results mirrored those of a study done by Google. Top employees possess soft skills: interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and creative problem solving skills—all skills that lead to greater collaboration and innovation. Google also found that those who possess soft skills were typically young people who had gone through some suffering, and had emerged as kinder more empathetic people.

Thus, the more you encourage the sharing of vulnerabilities, risk taking and tolerance for failure, the more likely that learning will be transformative for everybody, and not just the person who failed.

How can today’s technology be leveraged for transformative learning?

I believe the key is in becoming more open to sharing our moments of pain and failure with others, just as much as we share our victories.

I learned from Vishen Lakhiani, a very successful entrepreneur and personal development guru (and meditation teacher), that transformation happens in two key ways: Kensho and Satori. Both terms are Japanese in origin and from the Zen tradition.

Kensho refers to learning from an experience – often a painful experience. Once you recover from the experience, you enter Kensho – which is the enlightenment or learning you gain from that experience.

Satori is a different type of learning where no pain need take place. Satori happens suddenly and can be inspired by intellectual stimulation or learning from other people’s experiences. In Satori, your brain makes a sudden new connection that changes your way of thinking or your understanding of something. It’s often the type of insight that changes your deepest beliefs. And once your beliefs change, so do your actions and behaviours.

Satori is the type of transformation that we can enable through technology. Here’s how:

We know that our thinking expands when we are exposed to new ideas through books, lectures, and presentations. Transformative learning—Satori—is most likely to happen when you are an active participant in the learning. Being an active participant requires having opportunities for reflection, conversations, and brainstorming. Teaching others or being the one who presents rather than listening can also lead to Satori.

All of these can be enabled by technology, but only if you use the right types of technology.

While many organizations use technology to reduce the costs involved in bringing people together for full-day or multi-day trainings, they are not necessarily leveraging technology so that it creates opportunities for active learning. I think this a key reason why online learning fails to produce transformation.

My work involves designing and facilitating collaboration. I design blended learning experiences that create opportunities for collaborative learning across time instead of learning in concentrated blocks of time. I have my favourite tools and applications that allow me to create interactive learning exercises, but I wanted to find out what tools the LearnFest attendees use. I was sure they knew about many other tools that could facilitate active learning.  So, I asked them the following question: What are all the technologies, digital tools or apps you know can facilitate active learning?

The results are listed below, separated into two types: passive learning tools and methods, and active learning tools and methods

Passive Learning Tools and Methods

YouTube Podcasts Conference call  
Lecture TripAdvisor Webinars
Video Recordings Demonstration
Reading PowerPoint Asynchronous
E learning:
Captivate, Storyline,
Docebo, Elucidate, Saba,
PowToon, Prezi  
Books articles Augmented reality
Focus groups Sage on the stage! Smartboard
Adaptive learning Digital textbooks Wiki
Google A.I.  

Active Learning Tools and Methods

Simulations Blackboard Slack
Trello: Free collaboration
Breakout rooms Microsoft team
Games: Jeopardy, Survival
in the desert, Duolingo,
Polling tools: Kahoot,
SurveyMonkey, Stormz
Webex Discussion forums Hangouts
Whiteboard: Miro Skype Thought exchange
Capitvate Zoom Quizzes:Typeform, Playbuzz
Adobe connect Mind mapping, Mindjet Demo videos
Polling Interactive eLearning Virtual reality
Online meeting Improv Clickers
Gamification Slido
Online journaling Listening and identifying
Peer to peer discussions
Action planning Knowledge management
Interactive group surveying tools
Puzzles Peer to peer Video simulation
AI Chat Bots Role playing Nureva technologies
TripAdvisor Experiential learning Design thinking

Perhaps you’ve figured out that the active learning tools have better potential to spark moments of Satori than the passive learning tools.

Now, knowing what tools to use is important, but it’s more important to remember to always start with the end in mind. The tool is just a means to an end.

To demonstrate how technology can be used to leverage transformative learning, I want to share a personal story of transformative learning. I am very interested in experimenting with what makes learning stick and what doesn’t. Experimenting involves testing teaching approaches with my MBA students, but it also requires that I be on the receiving end of the learning and development world, which is why I enroll in a different online course every quarter.

This past winter, I enrolled in a very transformative online learning experience.

The experience was a perfect example of learning from moments of Satori: transformative learning through gradual insights. And students got to the gradual insights not by suffering and not by passively watching videos, but by practicing, joining group discussions, reflecting and teaching each other. I was part of a learning community, which made us all into active learners.

Through this course, I was transformed in ways that I never could have imagined. What made all the difference was not the online tools; it was that that course was extremely well designed and made really good use of behavioural change theory.

In fact, the learning was so transformative that I’m even considering ways to free up time so that I can offer a coaching program on the focus of this course: nutrition and healthy eating. As a side note, being a coach in this program would support my teaching creativity and innovation; good nutrition is a pre-requisite to creative problem solving because, the better you eat, the better able you are to focus and think creatively.

Back to LearnFest. Knowing the importance of starting with the end in mind, the participants at Learnfest dared to dream big while reflecting on the following question:

If you had a magic wand and you could suddenly transform everyone at your workplace, what would be all the positive behaviours you would see the next day? Then we asked them to review all the ideas and to vote for the ones that they believed would make the biggest difference. In order for them to “vote” we gave them a pretend budget of $100,000. They could choose to invest the full amount in one behaviour or they could distribute their pretend budget across a maximum of four behaviours.

Here were the results:


The ones that are bolded are those that received “pretend funding.”

If you had a magic wand and you could suddenly transform everyone at your workplace, what would be all the positive behaviours you would see on the next day?

Collaboration Integrity Respect
Gratitude Clear communication Willing to resolve
personal differences
Curiosity Empathy Solution based
Optimism Integrity Laughter
Personal accountability Resiliency Being positive/Positive
Creative problem solving Open minded Can do attitude!
Creative thinking Adaptable Engagement
Adaptability Continuous learning Agile
Treat each other like our
best customer
Transparency Listening
Less talking more
Clarity No laptops phones in
Diligence Good leadership Trust
Enthusiastic Collaboration More doing!
Superhero Intention Empathy
Consideration Transparency Accountable
Sincere Manageable change Job joy
Proactive Sharing Vulnerability expressed
Excitement Curiosity Supportive
Etiquette Change adaptable Energized
Empowerment Directedness Personable
Independence Empowerment Joyful
Values based culture Knowledge sharing Following up
Open communication Endless possibilities Integrity
Celebration Patient Brevity
Encouraging Loyal Regular employee
engagement activities
Conscientious Shared leadership Understanding
Friendly Learn from our failures
and take the time to do it
Considerate Pragmatic Appreciate others
Timely responsiveness Productive No egos
Open door Reflective Awareness
Agility Disney land Inquisitive
Thoughtful Forward thinking No blaming or finger
Everyone reaches their
Lift each other up Generous with honest
positive feedback
Inventive Willingness to be
Curious Conflict resolution Visionary
Humility Intuitive Superpowers
Authenticity Kindness Awareness
Appreciative Willing to take risks Teamwork
Neat Common sense Responsibility
Inspiring Honesty Sense of humour
Fun Live the vision Flexibility

For someone to change behaviour in a way that is lasting, you need them to actively change their own habits. And people do not change habits unless there are three key elements in place:

  1. They are highly motivated to make the change. People are motivated by three things:
    1. Status (e.g., financial, credentials, recognition),
    2. Relationships (e.g., a sense of belonging)
    3. Intrinsic motivators (e.g., the satisfaction of completing a challenge)
  2. They learn new habits to adopt
  3. They are in an environment that supports the change; they are surrounded by people who will support them as they experiment with making changes, fail, learn and try again until the new habits become the norm.

The key point here is that the more people who begin to adopt new habits at the same time, the more motivated to persist and the more supported everyone will be to making lasting change. At the same time, the more opportunities people have to share their struggles and their successes the more likely that everyone will experience moments of Satori.

Technology can enable Satori, when it is used to enhance and already existing sense of community, to encourage sharing and to facilitate collaboration.

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