Eklavya – the unfortunate reality of modern learning

Long time ago, there was a Guru of far reaching fame and unparalleled accomplishments. His pupil could learn from him just by thinking of him and practicing the basics again and again… He came to know about one such pupil and was really surprised to find that a pupil he had once rejected on the grounds that there was no room for him among his more illustrious students (Pandavas & Kauravas) who he felt had a higher potential to reap benefits from Drona’s efforts. This pupil had taken rejection as a challenge and just by his dedication and unwavering resolve mastered the art by himself. His only failing, he dedicated his learning to this one man – Drona. The Guru feels cheated; he after all felt that he had an unconditional and exclusive right to all the knowledge that existed in that field – archery. He wanted his returns (vengeance?) – he got that by incapacitating this brilliant pupil – Eklavya, from ever practicing archery again!

How can one justify such an act? After all teaching has been defined as a selfless service. How can the idea of guru dakshina (meaning – alms to your teacher; interpreted as an equivalent to genie’s all-encompassing wish) be held together with the concept of vidya daan (meaning donating knowledge; equivalent to the toughest promise of performance). The age old belief of Guru being the highest form of relationship (even higher than the Almighty himself) one possesses is founded on the importance learning has been given in our legacy. In the same thinking is held a belief that the teacher is a sea of wisdom and answers to all the questions that a fertile students mind is capable and willing to soak. It is humanly impossible for any teacher in the current information age to accomplish such a feat.

Modern learning has unfortunately not seen much progress from that mindset at least in India. The other day I was sitting in a key note address given by a renowned and veteran teacher who compared a teacher to a tree. Like a tree, a teacher should unconditionally spread the fruits, wood, shade and other valuables to all the seekers. Teacher should expect nothing in return as teaching is a noble profession. Wonder, why no one stood up and raised the question – why should the charity begin and stop with the teacher?

Being a teacher once myself, I can accept that there is a Drona lurking behind each one of us. Any amount of cover up to make the profession noble and all giving just doesn’t cut ice. After all who is not looking for a return for the investment they make? How can one find their motivation to continue the process of transferring the learning if you don’t get the returns? Modern teachers do make a packet today if they are capable and catering to the needs of value conscious learners.

The conundrum seems to be resolving itself (for me at least) when I try and understand learning in its truest form – mutual, expansive, evolving and transformational. At any point in time when I reflect back on my teaching experiences I can easily remember the classes where I felt happy. I can relate to them on all the four counts mentioned here. I was mutual because I learnt something in that class too. It was expansive as I did not rule out the natural connections the class (including myself) made as we progressed. It was evolving because I had new experiences to share even when I was running the same course for a new batch and it was transformational because both me and the class felt that we went through a noticeable change either in our awareness (or expertise), behavior (overt or implied) or just the way we looked at ourselves (most difficult one to achieve).

After all wasn’t the objective of my class to learn? The course outline I shared with my class clearly mentioned something to the effect that “at the end of the session a participant would learn to…”. Did it not apply to me too? I feel really sorry when I meet a “professor” (quotes restressed) who seek applause because their course material did not change decade after decade. I only wonder, if they did not learn anything from their own course in decades, who could have possibly learnt any thing by being taken  through it just once?

That brings us to a new paradigm critical in modern learning. An age where content is free and readily available for anyone, an age where you can create a one-to-one learning relationship with each of your student using technology, an age where memory no longer establishes you to be a higher intellect, and most of all the age where learning is so evolved that the returns have to be visible for everyone.

Today it is implicit that the teacher plays more of a role of learning facilitator. To my mind that was always the case, only that today it has become more explicit. Please remember, learning is a very personal act, a teacher can only lead a learner to the water, but the act of soaking it is entirely the call of the learner. The effectiveness of a teacher is measured by her ability to facilitate the process of efficient (input/output) learning. This I contend can only happen, when unlike Drona, we seek our Dakshina in the mutual, expansive, evolved and transformational learning we acquire after each session we conduct.

It would hold equally true even in the eLearning context. All the comments that you leave for me after you read this post is my learning…