Aparna Gupta: "Every individual learns in a unique and experiential way"
📌 Read the new interview with Aparna Gupta to learn about the benefits of coaching, how to personalize learning and measure its effectiveness.
Aparna Gupta is a strategic L&D Consultant, Author, Team & Group Coach at BetterUP.
Aparna has spent 20 years in envisioning, setting up and operationalizing learning and development functions, roles and solutions in global organizations. She has a demonstrated track record of transforming the people and performance development process in functional, technical, leadership development and behavioral domains to deliver performance impact.
AO: Hi Aparna, nice to meet you! How did you come to the coaching, and why did you choose this sphere?
Aparna: I enrolled in an International Coaching Federation (ICF) Coach training program at a time when I was lacking meaning in my corporate learning & development role. While my goal at that point was to formally learn a new enablement skill, the experience proved to be a turning point for me.
The Coach training program helped me discover the true power of coaching as I experienced its impact first hand in my own life.
Inspired, I became a tentative coach practitioner. The more I coached, the more I (upskilled and) learned to coach better, and the more its power continued to unpack for me as I observed the progressive impact on my clients.In parallel, this journey continued to transform me as I learned to expand my self-awareness and evolve from my core in the face of my greatest challenges and lowest setbacks.
Gradually and surely, I reached the tipping point of recognizing Coaching as my true calling and the rest, as they say, is history!
AO: What do you love most about your job?
Aparna: As I look back and connect the dots of my life journey, I realize that I've always leaned towards a path of being an enabler and a learner. Coaching offers me an avenue to do both – enable and learn and grow every day through each of my coaching sessions.
My journey as a coach transformed me as an individual and continues to do so.
Coaching and enabling others allows me to ‘pay it forward’ and find meaning and purpose in my day-to-day work.
That’s what I love about my work as a coach!
AO: Think back to your favorite project you've been involved in. What did you achieve, or how was it useful?
Aparna: This is always a tricky question to answer because as human beings we are evolving constantly and so is the lens through which we categorize things and experiences.
From my current lens, each time I enable a coaching client to make a shift, accomplish change and goals that fulfill them, is a favorite moment for me!
And oh, when I am able to enable any of this for my teenage daughter, I punch the air :-)
AO: As far as I know, you conduct both group and individual training. Which ones are more difficult and why? How do you overcome difficulties?
Aparna: Yes. Both group and individual training and coaching have their own benefits and employ different strategies to make it effective for achieving the goals of learners.
Let me explain how coaching is different. Unlike training, coaching is an individually driven journey. It is a partnership where the coachee defines their agenda and goal, and the coach facilitates the coaching process towards the goal by using a blend of reflective inquiry and powerful thinking models based on neuroscience and positive psychology insights.
Any successful coaching engagement is built on this partnership with the coach holding the space for the coachee to develop accountability and manage progress towards their goal.
Since the coach does not bring any agenda to the engagement and in fact holds the coachee’s agenda while maintaining flexibility of the coaching process, any challenge can be resolved by reflecting on what best serves the coachee towards their goal.
Individual or 1:1 coaching, as I just described, is a very effective modality when there is a specific goal that needs to be achieved by an individual.
Group Coaching is a group experience focused on a specialist topic or skill, such as ‘navigating uncertainty’ or ‘building resilience’. While there are generic outcomes and a broad topic framework that the coach offers to the group, each participant is invited to create their individual journey by defining their specific goals. The coach facilitates movement towards the goals by utilizing group coaching strategies and leveraging the group’s strengths and expertise to create a collaborative discovery and learning experience in a safe and confidential environment. Group coaching can especially be powerful for goals or skill challenges shared by groups of people, such as ‘Giving feedback’ for middle managers or ‘writing a book’ for aspiring authors.Note that unlike a training workshop, which focuses on delivering specific outcomes through predefined content, the group coaching process enables each participant to define their individual outcomes, explore and discover their unique insights, and grow along their chosen pathways (on the topic).
AO: Why is it important to study how the brain works to provide more effective learning?
Aparna: Latest and ongoing research in neuroscience and performance science has shown with conclusive evidence that the human brain functions in automatic patterns, which are not very conducive to learning or change.
The part of our brain which has the potential to learn, grow, and change needs to be intentionally activated.
Therefore, it is indeed important for L&D specialists to have foundational knowledge on how the brain works in order to integrate learning strategies that engage the brain effectively and lead to optimal learning outcomes for their audience.
AO: How essential is personalization in learning? What are the ways to achieve it?
Every individual is unique (as unique as our fingerprints) and learns in a unique and experiential way.
The ‘one-size fit all’ approach, at best, can serve the purpose of overview or conceptual learning; it would need to expand into a personalized and experiential learning approach to deliver higher level objectives or skill building.Some ways in which this can be achieved are:
- Using learning platforms that enable personalized learning maps (based on individual learning needs or gaps), offer recommendations (based on learning styles and preferences), and integrate exploratory, inquiry-based or reflective learning.
- Using learning technology, such VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) to offer personalized and experiential learning experiences.
- Integrating design strategies such as David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle to construct personalized and experiential learning experiences.
AO: How to check if learning / training is effective? What tools/points of control do you use?
Aparna: Learning can be measured for effectiveness at various levels. I have always relied on guidance from the Kirkpatrick learning evaluation model to measure learning. The model measures learning at four levels.
- Reaction or Level 1 – uses a post training survey to measure whether learners found the training relevant and useful.
- Learning or Level 2 – uses a post training assessment to measure whether learners could recall or apply the content taught in a learning environment.
Note: levels 1 and 2 are preliminary measures, which are conducted in the learning environment and serve as indicators for effectiveness in real-life environments.
- Behavior or Level 3 – is conducted at least 3-6 months post training to measure whether the learning translated into on-the-job performance.
- Results or Level 4 – is typically conducted 9-12 months post the training to measure whether the training led to desired business outcomes or indicators.
Note: levels 3 and 4 are conducted in real-life environments and would need to be planned before the start of training to ensure desired levels of performance (level 3) and successful business indicators (level 4) are pre-defined. This would allow for the training to be designed towards integrating those measures into learning objectives and also enable a pre- and post-measurement to study impact at these two levels.
From a coaching context, an important measure is whether learning has sustained – which focuses on whether the coachee has integrated the skill, habit, or goal as an unconscious competence or practice or with consistent results.
AO: What personal qualities do you think an L&D specialist should have?
Aparna: The top 3 that come to my mind are:
Learning agility — to be able to quickly learn from and adapt to any context, content, and audience.
Cognitive agility — to be able to adapt to challenging situations by shifting one’s thought processes into a more resourceful state. Growth mindset — 1) having the belief that one’s abilities and talents can be improved through dedication and hard work; 2) investing time and effort into learning and continual growth.
AO: What advice would you give to a person who needs to tune into a working mood and abstract from personal experiences?
Aparna: Every 3-4 hours, take a couple of minutes to drop off your head and into your body and focus on your breath; as you deeply inhale and slowly and gently exhale. If any thoughts come to mind, gently let them go (as if enclosed in a bubble floating away) and bring your attention back to the breath. This practice (if done consistently) helps to reduce the volume of mental chatter and sharpens our focus as well as the ability to tune into our resourceful brain, which can offer answers or insights to any challenge or crisis.
AO: Thank you for being with us and for this wonderful interview!