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

27 October 2015

Showing the World

Clark @ 8:03 am

One of the positive results of investigations into making work more effective has been the notion of transparency, which manifests as either working and learning ‘out loud‘, or in calls to Show Your Work.  In these cases, it’s so people can know what you’re doing, and either provide useful feedback or learn from you.  However, a recent chat in the L&D Revolution group on LinkedIn on Augmented Reality (AR) surfaced another idea.

We were talking about how AR could be used to show how to do things, providing information for instance on how to repair a machine. This has already been seen in examples by BMW, for instance. But I started thinking about how it could be used to support education, and took it a bit further.

So many years ago, Jim Spohrer proposed WorldBoard, a way to annotate the world. It was like the WWW, but it was location specific, so you could have specific information about a place at the place.  And it was a good idea that got some initial traction but obviously didn’t continue.

The point, however, would be to ‘expose’ the world. In particular, given my emphasis on the value of models, I’d love to have models exposed. Imagine what we could display:

  • the physiology of an animal we’re looking at to flows of energy in an ecosystem
  • the architectural or engineering features of a building or structure
  • the flows of materials through a manufacturing system
  • the operation of complex devices

The list goes on. I’ve argued before that we should expose our learning designs as a way to hand over learning control to learners, developing their meta-learning skills. I think if we could expose how things work and the thinking behind them, we’d be boosting STEM in a big way.

We could go further, annotating exhibits and performances as well.  And it could be auditory as well, so you might not need to have glasses, or you could just hold up the camera and see the annotations on the screen. You could of course turn them on or off, and choose which filters you want.

The systems exist: Layar commercially, ARIS in the open source space (with different capabilities).  The hard part is the common frameworks, agreeing what and how, etc.   However, the possibilities to really raise understanding is very much an opportunity.  Making the workings of the world visible seems to me to be a very intriguing possibility to leverage the power we now hold in our hand. Ok, so this is ‘out there’, but I hope we might see this flourishing quickly.  What am I missing?

13 October 2015

Supporting our Brains

Clark @ 8:29 am

One of the ways I’ve been thinking about the role mobile can play in design is thinking about how our brains work, and don’t.  It came out of both mobile and the recent cognitive science for learning workshop I gave at the recent DevLearn.  This applies more broadly to performance support in general, so I though I’d share where my thinking is going.

To begin with, our cognitive architecture is demonstrably awesome; just look at your surroundings and recognize your clothing, housing, technology, and more are the product of human ingenuity.  We have formidable capabilities to predict, plan, and work together to accomplish significant goals.  On the flip side, there’s no one all-singing, all-dancing architecture out there (yet) and every such approach also has weak points. Technology, for instance, is bad at pattern-matching and meaning-making, two things we’re really pretty good at.  On the flip side, we have some flaws too. So what I’ve done here is to outline the flaws, and how we’ve created tools to get around those limitations.  And to me, these are principles for design:

table of cognitive limitations and support toolsSo, for instance, our senses capture incoming signals in a sensory store.  Which has interesting properties that it has almost an unlimited capacity, but for only a very short time. And there is no way all of it can get into our working memory, so what happens is that what we attend to is what we have access to.  So we can’t recall what we perceive accurately.  However, technology (camera, microphone, sensors) can recall it all perfectly. So making capture capabilities available is a powerful support.

Similar, our attention is limited, and so if we’re focused in one place, we may forget or miss something else.  However, we can program reminders or notifications that help us recall important events that we don’t want to miss, or draw our attention where needed.

The limits on working memory (you may have heard of the famous 7±2, which really is <5) mean we can’t hold too much in our brains at once, such as interim results of complex calculations.  However, we can have calculators that can do such processing for us. We also have limited ability to carry information around for the same reasons, but we can create external representations (such as notes or scribbles) that can hold those thoughts for us.  Spreadsheets, outlines, and diagramming tools allow us to take our interim thoughts and record them for further processing.

We also have trouble remembering things accurately. Our long term memory tends to remember meaning, not particular details. However, technology can remember arbitrary and abstract information completely. What we need are ways to look up that information, or search for it. Portals and lookup tables trump trying to put that information into our heads.

We also have a tendency to skip steps. We have some randomness in our architecture (a benefit: if we sometimes do it differently, and occasionally that’s better, we have a learning opportunity), but this means that we don’t execute perfectly.  However, we can use process supports like checklists.  Atul Gawande wrote a fabulous book on the topic that I can recommend.

Other phenomena include that previous experience can bias us in particular directions, but we can put in place supports to provide lateral prompts. We can also prematurely evaluate a solution rather than checking to verify it’s the best. Data can be used to help us be aware.  And we can trust our intuition too much and we can wear down, so we don’t always make the best decisions.  Templates, for example are a tool that can help us focus on the important elements.

This is just the result of several iterations, and I think more is needed (e.g. about data to prevent premature convergence), but to me it’s an interesting alternate approach to consider where and how we might support people, particularly in situations that are new and as yet untested.  So what do you think?

6 October 2015

Mobile Time

Clark @ 8:05 am

At the recent DevLearn conference, David Kelly spoke about his experiences with the Apple Watch.  Because I don’t have one yet, I was interested in his reflections.  There were a number of things, but what came through for me (and other reviews I’ve read) is that the time scale is a factor.

Now, first, I don’t have one because as with technology in general, I don’t typically acquire anything in particular until I know how it’s going to make me more effective.  I may have told this story before, but for instance I didn’t wasn’t interested in acquiring an iPad when they were first announced (“I’m not a content consumer“). By the time they were available, however, I’d heard enough about how it would make me more productive (as a content creator), that I got one the first day it was available.

So too with the watch. I don’t get a lot of notifications, so that isn’t a real benefit.   The ability to be navigated subtly around towns sounds nice, and to check on certain things.  Overall, however, I haven’t really found the tipping-point use-case.  However, one thing he said triggered a thought.

He was talking about how it had reduced the amount of times he accessed his phone, and I’d heard that from others, but here it struck a different cord. It made me realize it’s about time frames. I’m trying to make useful conceptual distinctions between devices to try to help designers figure out the best match of capability to need. So I came up with what seemed an interesting way to look at it.

Various usage times by category: wearable, pocketable, bag able.This is similar to the way I’d seen Palm talk about the difference between laptops and mobile, I was thinking about the time you spent in using your devices.  The watch (a wearable)  is accessed quickly for small bits of information.  A pocketable (e.g. a phone) is used for a number of seconds up to a few minutes.  And a tablet tends to get accessed for longer uses (a laptop doesn’t count).  Folks may well have all 3, but they use them for different things.

Sure, there are variations, (you can watch a movie on a phone, for instance; phone calls could be considerably longer), but by and large I suspect that the time of access you need will be a determining factor (it’s also tied to both battery life and screen size). Another way to look at it would be the amount of information you need to make a decision about what to do, e.g. for cognitive work.

Not sure this is useful, but it was a reflection and I do like to share those. I welcome your feedback!

3 September 2015

Designing mLearning in Korean

Clark @ 8:12 am

It actually happened a while ago, but I was pleased to learn that Designing mLearning has been translated into Korean.  That’s kind of a nice thing to have happen!  A slightly different visual treatment, presumably  appropriate to the market. Who knows,  maybe I’ll get a chance to visit instead of just transferring through the airport.  Anyways, just had to share ;).


18 August 2015

Where in the world is…

Clark @ 8:09 am

It’s time for another game of Where’s Clark?  As usual, I’ll be somewhat peripatetic this fall, but more broadly scoped than usual:

  • First I’ll be hitting Shenzhen, China at the end of August to talk advanced mlearning for a private event.
  • Then I’ll be hitting the always excellent DevLearn in Las Vegas at the end of September to run a workshop on learning science for design (you should want to attend!) and give a session on content engineering.
  • At the beginning of November I’ll be at LearnTech Asia in Singapore, with an impressive lineup of fellow speakers to again sing the praises of reforming L&D.

Yes, it’s quite the whirl, but with this itinerary I should be somewhere near you almost anywhere you are in the world. (Or engage me to show up at your locale!) I hope to see you at one event or another before the year is out.


26 June 2015

Personal processing

Clark @ 7:48 am

I was thinking about a talk on mobile I’m going to be giving, and realized that mobile is really about personal processing. Many of the things you can do at your desktop you can do with your mobile, even a wearable: answering calls, responding to texts.  Ok, so responding to email, looking up information, and more might require the phone for a keyboard (I confess to not being a big Siri user, mea culpa), but it’s still where/when/ever.

So the question then became “what doesn’t make sense on a mobile”. And my thought was that industrial strength processing doesn’t make sense on a mobile.  Processor intensive work: video editing, 3D rendering, things that require either big screens or lots of CPU.  So, for instance, while word processing isn’t really CPU intensive, for some reason mobile word processors don’t seamlessly integrate outlining.  Yet I require outlining for big scale writing, book chapters or whole books. I don’t do 3D or video processing, but that would count too.

One of the major appeals of mobile is having versatile digital capabilities, the rote/complex complement to our pattern-matching brains, (I really wanted to call my mobile book ‘augmenting learning’) with us at all times.  It makes us more effective.  And for many things – all those things we do with mobile such as looking up info, navigating, remembering things, snapping pictures, calculating tips – that’s plenty of screen and processing grunt.  It’s for personal use.

Sure, we’ll get more powerful capabilities (they’re touting multitasking on tablets now), and the boundaries will blur, but I still think there’ll be the things we do when we’re on the go, and the things we’ll stop and be reflective about.  We’ll continue to explore, but I think the things we do on the wrist or in the hand will naturally be different than those we do seated.   Our brains work in active and reflective modes, and our cognitive augment will similarly complement those needs.  We’ll have personal processing, and then we’ll have powerful processing. And that’s a good thing, I think. What think you?


23 April 2015

Personal Mobile Mastery

Clark @ 8:29 am

A conversation with a colleague prompted a reflection.  The topic was personal learning, and in looking for my intersections (beyond my love of meta-learning), I looked at my books. The Revolution isn’t an obvious match, nor is games (though trust me, I could make them work ;), but a more obvious match was mlearning. So the question is, how do we do personal knowledge mastery with mobile?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Most of what you do on the desktop, particularly social networking, is doable on a mobile device.  And you can use search engines and reference tools just the same. You can find how to videos as well. Is there more?

First, of course, are all the things to make yourself more ‘effective’.  Using the four key original apps on the Palm Pilot for instance: your calendar to remind you of events or to check availability, using ToDo checklists to remember commitments to do something, using memos to take notes for reference, and using your contact list to reach people.  Which isn’t really learning, but it’s valuable to learn to be good at these.

Then we start doing things because of where you are.  Navigation to somewhere or finding what’s around you are the obvious choices. Those are things you won’t necessarily learn from, but they make you more effective.  But they can also help educate you. You can look where you are on a map and see what’s around you, or identify the thing on the map that’s in that direction (“oh, that’s the Quinnsitute” or “There’s Mount Clark” or whatever), and have a chance of identifying a seen prominence.

And you can use those social media tools as before, but you can also use them because of where or when you are. You can snap pictures of something and send it around and ask how it could help you. Of course, you can snap pictures or films for later recollection and reflection, and contribute them to a blog post for reflection.  And take notes by text or audio. Or even sketching or diagramming. The notes people take for themselves at conferences, for instance, get shared and are valuable not just for the sharer, but for all attendees.

Certainly searching things you don’t understand or, when there’s unknown language, seeing if you can get a translation, are also options.  You can learn what something means, and avoid making mistakes.

When you are, e.g. based upon what you’re doing, is a little less developed.  You’d have to have rich tagging around your calendar to signal what it is you’re doing for a system to be able to leverage that information, but I reckon we can get there if and when we want.

I’m not a big fan of ‘learning’ on a mobile device, maybe a tablet in transit or something, but not courses on a phone.  On the other hand, I am a big fan of self-learning on a phone, using your phone to make you smarter. These are embryonic thoughts, so I welcome feedback.   Being more contextually aware both in the moment and over time is a worthwhile opportunity, one we can and should look to advance.  I think there’s  much yet, though tools like ARIS are going to help change that. And that’ll be good.


15 April 2015

Cyborg Thinking: Cognition, Context, and Complementation

Clark @ 8:25 am

I’m writing a chapter about mobile trends, and one of the things I’m concluding with are the different ways we need to think to take advantage of mobile. The first one emerged as I wrote and kind of surprised me, but I think there’s merit.

The notion is one I’ve talked about before, about how what our brains do well, and what mobile devices do well, are complementary. That is, our brains are powerful pattern matchers, but have a hard time remembering rote information, particularly arbitrary or complicated details.  Digital technology is the exact opposite. So, that complementation whenever or wherever we are is quite valuable.

Consider chess.  When first computers played against humans,  they didn’t do well.  As computers became more powerful, however, they finally beat the world champion. However, they didn’t do it like humans do, they did it by very different means; they couldn’t evaluate well, but they could calculate much deeper in the amount of turns played and use simple heuristics to determine whether those were good plays.  The sheer computational ability eventually trumped the familiar pattern approach.  Now, however, they have a new type of competition, where a person and a computer will team and play against another similar team. The interesting result is not the best chess player, nor the best computer program, but a player who knows best how to leverage a chess companion.

Now map this to mobile: we want to design the best complement for our cognition. We want to end up having the best cyborg synergy, where our solution does the best job of leaving to the system what it does well, and leaving to the person the things we do well. It’s maybe only a slight shift in perspective, but it is a different view than designing to be, say, easy to use. The point is to have the best partnership available.

This isn’t just true for mobile, of course, it should be the goal of all digital design.  The specific capability of mobile, using sensors to do things because of when and where we are, though, adds unique opportunities, and that has to figure into thinking as well.  As does, of course, a focus on minimalism, and thinking about content in a new way: not as a medium for presentation, but as a medium for augmentation: to complement the world, not subsume it.

It’s my thinking that this focus on augmenting our cognition and our context with content that’s complementary is the way to optimize the uses of mobile. What’s your thinking?

14 April 2015

Defining Microlearning?

Clark @ 8:32 am

Last week on the #chat2lrn twitter chat, the topic was microlearning. It was apparently prompted by this post by Tom Spiglanin which does a pretty good job of defining it, but some conceptual confusion showed up in the chat that makes it clear there’s some work to be done.  I reckon there may be a role for the label and even the concept, but I wanted to take a stab at what it is and isn’t, at least on principle.

So the big point to me is the word ‘learning’.  A number of people opined about accessing a how-to video, and let’s be clear: learning doesn’t have to come from that.   You could follow the steps and get the job done and yet need to access it again if you ever needed it. Just like I can look up the specs on the resolution of my computer screen, use that information, but have to look it up again next time.  So it could be just performance support, and that’s a good thing, but it’s not learning.  It suits the notion of micro content, but again, it’s about getting the job done, not developing new skills.

Another interpretation was little bits of components of learning (examples, practice) delivered over time. That is learning, but it’s not microlearning. It’s distributed learning, but the overall learning experience is macro (and much more effective than the massed, event, model).  Again, a good thing, but not (to me) microlearning.  This is what Will Thalheimer calls subscription learning.

So, then, if these aren’t microlearning, what is?  To me, microlearning has to be a small but complete learning experience, and this is non-trivial.  To be a full learning experience, this requires a model, examples, and practice.  This could work with very small learnings (I use an example of media roles in my mobile design workshops).  I think there’s a better model, however.

To explain, let me digress. When we create formal learning, we typically take learners away from their workplace (physically or virtually), and then create contextualized practice. That is, we may present concepts and examples (pre- via blended, ideally, or less effectively in the learning event), and then we create practice scenarios. This is hard work. Another alternative is more efficient.

Here, we layer the learning on top of the work learners are already doing.  Now, why isn’t this performance support? Because we’re not just helping them get the job done, we’re explicitly turning this into a learning event by not only scaffolding the performance, but layering on a minimal amount of conceptual material that links what they’re doing to a model. We (should) do this in examples and feedback on practice, now we can do it around real work. We can because (via mobile or instrumented systems) we know where they are and what they’re doing, and we can build content to do this.  It’s always been a promise of performance support systems that they could do learning on top of helping the outcome, but it’s as yet seldom seen.

And the focus on minimalism is good, too.  We overwrite and overproduce, adding in lots that’s not essential.  C.f. Carroll’s Nurnberg Funnel or Moore’s Action Mapping.  And even for non-mobile, minimalism makes sense (as I tout under the banner of the Least Assistance Principle).  That is, it’s really not rude to ask people (or yourself as a designer) “what’s the least I can do for you?”  Because that’s what people generally really prefer: give me the answer and let me get back to work!

Microlearning as a phrase has probably become current (he says, cynically) because elearning providers are touting it to sell the ability of their tools to now deliver to mobile.   But it can also be a watch word to emphasize thinking about performance support, learning ‘in context’, and minimalism.  So I think we may want to continue to use it, but I suggest it’s worthwhile to be very clear what we mean by it. It’s not courses on a phone (mobile elearning), and it’s not spaced out learning, it’s small but useful full learning experiences that can fit by size of objective or context ‘in the moment’.  At least, that’s my take; what’s yours?

17 March 2015

Making Sense of Research

Clark @ 7:37 am

A couple of weeks ago, I was riffing on sensors: how mobile devices are getting equipped with all sorts of new sensors and the potential for more and what they might bring.  As part of that discussion was a brief mention of sensor nets, how aggregating all this data could be of interest too. And low and behold, a massive example was revealed last week.

The context was the ‘spring forward’ event Apple held where they announced their new products.  The most anticipated one was the Apple Watch (which was part of the driving behind my post on wearables), the new iConnected device for your wrist.  The second major announcement was their new Macbook, a phenomenally thin new laptop with some amazing specs on weight and screen display, as well as some challenging tradeoffs.

One announcement that was less noticed was the announcement of a new research endeavor, but I wonder if it isn’t the most game-changing element of them all.  The announcement was ResearchKit, and it’s about sensor nets.

So, smartphones have lots of sensors.  And the watch will have more.  They can already track a number of parameters about you automatically, such as your walking.  There can be more, with apps that can ask about your eating, weight, or other health measurements.  As I pointed out, aggregating data from sensors could do things like identify traffic jams (Google Maps already does this), or collect data like restaurant ratings.

What Apple has done is to focus specifically on health data from their HealthKit, and partner with research hospitals. What they’re saying to scientists is “we’ll give you anonymized health data, you put it to good use”. A number of research centers are on board, and already collecting data about asthma and more.  The possibility is to use analytics that combine the power of large numbers with a bunch of other descriptive data to be able to investigate things at scale.  In general, research like this is hard since it’s hard to get large numbers of subjects, but large numbers of subjects is a much better basis for study (for example, the China-Cornell-Oxford Project that was able to look at a vast breadth of diet to make innovative insights into nutrition and health).

And this could be just the beginning: collecting data en masse (while successfully addressing privacy concerns) can be a source of great insight if it’d done right.  Having devices that are with you and capable of capturing a variety of information gives the opportunity to mine that data for expected, and unexpected, outcomes.

A new iDevice is always cool, and while it’s not the first smart watch (nor was the iPhone the first smartphone, the iPad not the first tablet, nor the iPod the first music play), Apple has a way of making the experience compelling.  Like with the iPad, I haven’t yet seen the personal value proposition, so I’m on the fence.  But the ability to collect data in a massive way that could support ground-breaking insights and innovations in medicine? That has the potential for affecting millions of people around the world.  Now that is impact.

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