Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

26 February 2014

A little bit better

Clark @ 7:04 am

I have never really cottoned on to the practice of photo-bombing.  While it might be a fun trick to play on a friend, otherwise it seems to me to be selfish.  Could there be something better?

One of the things I’ve been doing is something that I call ‘reverse photo-bombing’. When I see a picture being taken, instead of getting in it, I get behind the photographer, and at the right time, I put up bunny ears behind them (or something else silly).  What happens is that the audience laughs, and they tend to get a much better picture.  And then I slink off, hoping no one noticed (except the photographees, and they’re too busy).  It’s hard to get the timing right, so it doesn’t always work, but when it does I think it’s a boon to the group.  Though it did embarrass my daughter when I did it while out with her one time, but I think that’s in the parental job description anyway…:).

I think this is a good thing (though I’m willing to be wrong); I think that the world can use more good in it.  What I  am looking for is more ideas of how we can be quietly adding value to what’s going on, instead of detracting. I’ve heard of nice things like buying someone else’s coffee, or providing extra change. Are there other ideas we can be using?  I welcome hearing yours!

25 February 2014

Interface Design for Learning Review

Clark @ 7:09 am

Dorian Peters has written the first book I’ve seen on UI for learning, linking two of my favorite things.  Understand that I did my Ph.D. in a research group that was hot into HCI at the time, and my first faculty position was to teach User Experience.  At the time, in many ways UI was ahead of ID in terms of user-centered practices, and I made many presentations on porting UI concepts to Ed Tech audiences.

Consequently, it was a pleasant surprise to hear about this book, and more so now that I’ve had a chance to peruse it.  This book is very valuable not just for interface designers doing learning solutions, but also for IDs and developers who end up having to design.  The second chapter on how we learn is a great whirlwind tour of learning, well grounded in research and setting up the background for those who’s background isn’t learning. Similarly, she provides an overview of elearning in Chapter 3, and UI basic terms in Chapter 4.  From there, it’s all about UI for learning.

She starts very early on in the book by showing how learning interfaces have to be different from user interfaces.  If your goal is to learn, not do a task, it makes sense that the interface should and could be different.  She then delivers on this and goes on to cover a suite of principles: learning is visual, learning is social, learning is emotional, and learning is mobile, in subsequent chapters (with one on multimedia and gaming interspersed). She even discusses the design of learning spaces. In each, she separates out principles and strategies.

This is a fun book, widely illustrated with examples and illustrations, quotes, and graphical highlighting to practice what she preaches.  It is clear from the breadth and depth of citations that she’s done her homework, and this is a well-organized, easy to read, and useful book.

Interface Design for Learning is a book that everyone who ends up developing learning experiences, creating the interface learners interact with, needs to have to hand, on their desk ready to refer to and get the principles down on each project until they’re firmly internalized.  Highly recommended.

20 February 2014


Clark @ 6:52 am

While we were at the Training 2014 conference, I was interviewed by Bryan Austin of GameOn Learning about what my crusade is.  And they have been kind enough to host it.

In the video, Bryan asks me about what I’m causing trouble about, why it’s important, and what people might do.  It’s all the stuff I’m fired up about, and if you’d like to hear me talk about it instead of reading it, this is an easy way. It’s not the only thing I’m stirring up this year, but it’s arguably the largest.  Check it out!

19 February 2014

Explain versus describe?

Clark @ 6:45 am

I’ve been watching the Olympics, at least select bits (tho’ I’m an Olympics widower; the full panoply is being watched in the house). And I enjoy seeing some of the things that I can relate to, but I realize that the commentators make a big difference.

The distinction seems to come down to a fundamental difference (aside from the ones that drill into uncomfortable zones with a zeal that seems to be a wee bit inhuman): the ones who describe what’s happening versus those who explain.  Let me explain.

Description isn’t a bad thing, so when I watch (American) football, a guilty pleasure, the play-by-play commentator tends to describe the action, helping to ascertain what’s happened in case it’s confounded by intervening people, bad camera angles, interruptions, what have you.  Similarly, I’ve been listening to Olympic commentators describe the action in case I have missed it. And that’s helpful.

But in football, the color commentator (often a player or coach), interprets or explains what happened, and interprets it.  Similarly, the good commentary on Olympics has someone explain not just what happened (X just made a spectacular run), but why (Y was absorbing the forces better, minimizing the elements that would detract from speed). And this is really important.

I have a former mentor, colleague, and friend who is now part of an organization that enhances sports broadcasts with additional information; it’s a form of augmented reality showing things that started with first down lines in football but now includes things like wind and tracking information in the America’s cup.  Similarly, I have loved the overlays of one person’s performance against another.  The point is providing insight into the context, and more importantly the thinking behind the performance.

The relevance I’m seeing is that showing the underlying concepts help inform the exceptional performance, help educate about the nuances, and help support comprehension. This relates so much to what we need to be doing in business.  Working and learning out loud is so important to transfer skills across the organization. Showing the thinking helps spread the understanding. Whether it’s breaking from the pack in snow cross, or closing deals, having the thinking annotated is essential for spreading learning.

Whether it’s a retrospective by the performer or expert commentary, explaining, not just describing, is important. Does my explanation make sense? :)

18 February 2014

Flip the office?

Clark @ 6:22 am

In talking with my ITA colleagues yesterday, we were discussing the necessity of  going into the office, or not.  And it seemed that there were times it made sense, and times it didn’t.

What doesn’t make sense is trying to do work in an office.  If you need to think, having random conversations and interruptions happen gets in the way.  Yes,  you need colleagues and resources ‘to hand’, but that’s available digitally and distally.

Being together makes sense, it seemed to us, when you either are meeting for the first time (e.g. with clients), or want creative friction.  You can interact virtually for planned work, but it helps to interact F2F when getting to know one another, and when you’re looking for serendipitous interactions.  Jay Cross, in his landmark Informal Learning book, talked about how offices were being designed to have the mail room and coffee in the same place, to facilitate those interactions.  If conversations are the engine of business, having the opportunity for their occurrence is useful.

This seems the opposite of most visions of work: work away from the office, interact in the office, instead of the reverse.  So, is this the flipped office?


11 February 2014

Smarter Than We Think Review

Clark @ 6:35 am

In Smarter Than We Think, Clive Thompson makes the case that not only is our technology not making us stupider, but that we have been using external support for our cognition from our earliest days. Moreover, this is a good thing. Well, if we do so consciously and with good intent.

He starts by telling the story of how – as our chess competitions have moved from man against man, through man against computer, to man & computer against man & computer – the quality of play has fundamentally changed and improved. He ultimately recites how the outcomes of the combination of man and machine produce fundamentally new insights.

He goes on to cover a wide variety of phenomena. These include augmenting our imperfect memory, the benefits of thinking out loud, the gains from understanding different media properties, the changes when information is to hand, the opportunities unleashed by crowd-sourcing, the implications for education, and the changes when you have continual connection to others. This is not presented as an unvarnished panacea, but the potential and real problems are covered.

The story is ripely illustrated with many stories culled from many interviews with people well-known and obscure, but all with important perspectives. We hear of impacts both personal, national, and societal. This is a relatively new book, and while we don’t hear of Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning, their shadows fall on the material. On the other hand we hear of triumphs for individuals and movements.

I have argued before about how we can, and should, augment our pattern-matching capability with the perfect memory and complex calculation that digital technology provides, and separately how social extends our cognition. Thompson takes this further, integrating the two, extending the story to media and networked capabilities. A good extension and a worthwhile read.

4 February 2014

Exaggeration and Alignment

Clark @ 11:05 pm

In addition to my keynote and session at last week’s Immersive Learning University event, I was on a panel with Eric Bernstein, Andy Peterson, & Will Thalheimer. As we riffed about Immersive Learning, I chimed in with my usual claim about the value of exaggeration, and Will challenged me, which led to an interesting discussion and (in my mind) this resolution.

So, I talk about exaggeration as a great tool in learning design. That is, we too often are reigned in to the mundane, and I think whether it’s taking it a little bit more extreme or jumping off into a fantasy setting (which are similar, really), we bring the learning experience closer to the emotion of the performance environment (when it matters).

Will challenged me about the need for transfer, and that the closer the learning experience is to the performance environment, the better the transfer. Which has been demonstrated empirically. Eric (if memory serves) also raised the issue of alignment to the learning goals, and that you can’t overproduce if you lose sight of the original cognitive skills (we also talked about when such experiences matter, and I believe it’s when you need to develop cognitive skills).

And they’re both right, although I subsequently pointed out that when the transfer goal is farther, e.g. the specific context can vary substantially, exaggeration of the situation may facilitate transfer. Ideally, you would have practice across contexts spanning the application space, but that might not be feasible if we’re high up on the line going from training to education.

And of course, keeping the key decisions at the forefront is critical. The story setting can be altered around those decisions, but the key triggers for making those decisions and the consequences must map to reality, and the exaggeration has to be constrained to elements that aren’t core to the learning. Which should be minimized.

Which gets back to my point about the emotional side. We want to create a plausible setting, but one that’s also motivating. That happens by embedding the decisions in a setting that’s somewhat ‘larger than life’, where we’re emotionally engaged in ways consonant with the ones we will be when we’re performing.

Knowing what rules to break, and when, here comes down to knowing what is key to the learning and what is key to the engagement, and where they differ. Make sense?

Jill Bolte Taylor Training 14 #trg14 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 3:18 pm

Jill Bolte Taylor gave a rapid fire overview of our cognitive anatomy and insights about how we act and why. Most importantly, she gave us a powerful message about how we can choose who and how we can be.


BJ Fogg Training 14 #trg14 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 10:39 am

BJ Fogg gave a lively and focused presentation. Seen him before, but great to renew, and there were further extensions. Very worthwhile!


3 February 2014

Shawn Achor Training 14 #Trg14 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 10:35 am

Shawn Achor gave a rapidfire, amusing, and engaging presentation about the benefits of happiness and ways to cultivate it.


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