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

29 July 2015

The future of libraries?

Clark @ 8:30 am

I had lunch recently with Paul Signorelli, who’s active in helping libraries with digital literacy, and during the conversation he talked about his vision of the future of the library. What I heard was a vision of libraries moving beyond content to be about learning, and this had several facets I found thought-provoking.

Now, as context, I’ve always been a fan of libraries and library science (and librarians). They were some of the first to deal with the issues involved in content organization, leading to information science, and their insight into tagging and finding is still influencing content architecture and engineering.  But here we’re talking about the ongoing societal role of libraries.

First, to be about learning, it has to be about experience, not content. This is the crux of a message I’ve tried to present to publishers, when they were still wrestling with the transition from book to content!  In this case, it’s an interesting proposition about how libraries would wrap their content to create learning experiences.

Interestingly, Paul also suggested that he was thinking broader, about how libraries could also point to people who could help. This is a really intriguing idea, about libraries becoming a local broker between expertise and needs.  Not all the necessary resources are books or even print, and as libraries are now providing video and audio as well as print, and on to computer access to resources beyond the library’s collection, so too can it be about people.

This is a significant shift, but it parallels the oft-told story of marketing myopia, e.g. about how railroads aren’t about trains but instead are about transportation.  What is the role of the library in the era of the internet, of self-help.

One role, of course, is to be the repository of research skills, about digital literacy (which is where this conversation had started).  However, this notion of being a center of supporting learning, not just a center of content, moves those literacy skills to include learning as well!  But it goes further.

This notion turns the role of a library into a solution: whether you  need to get something done, learn something, or more, e.g. more than just learning but also performance support and social, becoming the local hub for helping people succeed.  He aptly pointed out how this is a natural way to use the fact that libraries tend to exist on public money; to become an even richer part of supporting the community.

It’s also, of course, an interesting way to think about how the locus of supporting people shifts from L&D and library to a joint initiative.  Whether there’s still a corporate library is an open question, but it may be a natural partner to start thinking about a broader perspective for L&D in the organization. I’m still pondering the ways in which libraries could facilitate learning (just as trainers should become learning facilitators, so too should librarians?).

 

28 July 2015

The New Business Imperative

Clark @ 8:27 am

Learning is the new business imperativeIt is now an indisputable business reality: companies must become more nimble and agile. As things move faster, new processes arise, and the time to copy a new business approach drops, it becomes clear that continual innovation is the only way to not just survive, but thrive.  And this doesn’t, can’t, come from the status quo.

And if the answer isn’t known, as is inherent in situations like problem-solving, trouble-shooting, new product/service creation, and more, then this, too, is a form of learning. But not the type addressed by training rooms or eLearning courses. They serve a role, but not this new one, this needed approach,  We need something new.

What we need are two things: effective collaboration and meta-learning. Innovation comes, we know, from collaboration.  Collaboration is the new learning, where we bring complementary strengths to bear on a problem in a process structured to be optimally aligned with how our brains work.  And we need to create a culture and set of skills around continually learning, which means understanding learning to learn, aka meta-learning.

Accelerating the development of these capabilities means doing things different and new. It means sowing the seeds by instigating a learning process that develops not only some specific needed capabilities, but also the meta-learning and collaboration skills.  It means understanding, valuing, and explicitly developing the ability of people to learn alone and together. It means making it safe to share, to ‘work out loud’. And finally it means scaling up from small success to organizational transformation.

This is a doable, albeit challenging move, but it is critical to organizations that will excel. Learning is no longer a ‘nice to have’, or even an imperative, it is the only sustainable differentiator.  The question is: are you ready?  Are you making the new learning a strategic priority?

23 July 2015

A Nurturing Culture #blimage

Clark @ 8:34 am

My colleague Jane Hart dobbed me (and several other colleagues) in for the #blimage challenge.  I usually resent when someone publicly asks me to do something, but fortunately this is easy and, well, it is Jane ;). She presented the following image and our task is to blog about it:

So my take is how things grow in a nurturing environment.  Here plants are flourishing under the energy of the sun.  This to me is a metaphor for the benefits of creating a culture in which learning can flourish.  I’ve earlier detailed what the research says about the elements of a learning organization, and it’s clear that you  need a culture with several elements.

First, learning independently has to be enabled. The resources to learn need to be there, as does the time for learning. Further, the ability to learn on one’s own shouldn’t be taken for granted; identify, model, evangelize, and develop these abilities.

In addition, learning is social.  The possibilities to learn together need to be facilitated.  There need to be ways to find individuals with complementary skills to learn together. This in particular means collaboration: learning while innovating on solving new problems, devising new solutions, and more.  It also means being willing to share. It has to be safe to ‘show your work’!  Again, don’t assume skills for learning together, but scaffold the development of these abilities.

It is really important that leadership reinforces learning, both by supporting and more importantly by practicing visibly! There’s evidence that when leadership doesn’t share, others won’t truly believe it’s valued.

So there’s my blog on the image.  Two colleagues also were challenged with this image and have replied; you can see what they came up with:

Jane Bozarth

Charles Jennings

Rather than dob in anyone in particular, I will simply recommend that you take your own stab, and here’s a proposed image:

Maze

I hope to hear what you come up with; drop a link in the comments if you do!

 

21 July 2015

Engagement

Clark @ 7:58 am

I had the occasion last week to attend a day of ComicCon. If you don’t know it, it is a conference about comics, but also much, much, more. It covers movies and television, games (computers and board), and more. It is also a pop culture phenomenon, where new releases are announced, analysis and discussion occur, and people dress up.  And it is huge!

I have gone to many conferences, and some are big, e.g. ATD’s ICE or Online Educa, or Learning Technology (certainly the exhibit hall).  This made the biggest of those seem like a rounding error.  It’s more like the SuperBowl.  People camp out in line to attend the best panels, and the exhibit hall is so packed that you can hardly move.  The conference itself is so big that it maxes out the San Diego Convention Center and spills out into adjoining hotels.

And that is really the lesson: something here is generating mad passion.  Such overwhelming interest that there’s a lottery for tickets! I attended once in the very early days, when it was small and cozy (as a college student), but this is something else.  I haven’t been to the Oscars, but this is bigger than what’s shown on TV.  It’s bigger than E3. Again, I haven’t seen CES since the very early days, but it can’t be much larger. And this isn’t for biz, this is for the people and their own hard earned dollars.  In designing learning, we would love to achieve such motivation.  So what’s going on?

So first, comics tap into some cultural touchstone; they appear in most (if not all) cultures that have developed mass media.  They tell ongoing stories that resonate with individuals, and drive other media including (as mentioned) movies, TV, games, and toys.  They can convey drama or comedy, and comment on the human condition with insight and heart. The best are truly works of art (oh, Bill Watterson, how could you stop?).

They use the standard methods of storytelling, strip away unnecessary details, have (even unlikely) heroes and villains, obstacles and triumphs). And they can convey powerful lessons about values and consequences.  Things we often are trying to achieve. It’s done through complex characters, compelling narratives, and stylistic artwork.  As Hilary Price (author of the comic Rhymes with Orange) told us in a panel, she’s a writer first and an artist second.

We don’t use graphic novel/comic/cartoon formats near enough in learning, and we could and should. Similarly with games, the interactive equivalent, for meaningful practice.  I fear we take ourselves too seriously, or let stakeholders keep us from truly engaging our learners. We can and should do better.  We need to understand audience engagement, and leverage that in our learning experiences.  To restate: it’s not about content, it’s about experience. Are you designing experiences?

15 July 2015

Locus of the Revolution?

Clark @ 7:37 am

If we’re talking about beginning to use IT in alignment with how we think, work, and learn, a question arises about who should be in the lead?  It could be HR, it could be L&D, it could be IT, or it could even be the business units that are taking advantage of the opportunity.  What makes sense?

In one sense, it’s about using IT well, and that theoretically is IT’s job.  They’re supposed to provide an infrastructure that supports the business. They typically have not only the back end engineers, but the front end designers for any custom applications, and should be evaluating any off-the-shelf solution for viability as well.  Of course, this typically isn’t the case, as an eminent IT guru opined to me that IT doesn’t understand people.  In general, IT folks are highly selected to be able to do things most people can’t, and they’re not necessarily valuable when they can think like other people.

Well, then, maybe it’s HR; the whole talent development perspective should include considering the tools to hand.  Unfortunately, HR isn’t particularly astute about people nor technology. They are more about administration and control than about empowerment and success.  The HR policies we  tend to see are almost antithetical to the culture that most promotes innovation.

It could also be the business units themselves; they are being seen to create solutions to self-learning and collaboration rather than wait for them to emerge from other environments.  And they certainly (should) understand their own needs.  Unfortunately, they’re not likely to really understand people or IT either.  Too often they don’t realize what is effective.

Let’s be clear, there are successes in all the categories above, but they’re typically more from an astute leader rather than a systematic organizational strategy.  And that’s not a repeatable approach. We need better.

Ideally, L&D should own it.  They (should) understand people, and be able to work with IT in a product relationship to develop a full performance ecosystem that integrates learning, performance support, and social into a coherent whole.  Where the environment is optimized for an organization to not just survive, but thrive. This comes from the people, but it requires knowing how to help people perform and deliver.

It requires new skill sets for sure, including working with IT, culture and change, facilitating innovation, performance consulting, and more (organizations like ATD & LPI are updating their competency definitions in these directions).  It requires getting strategic about metrics, impact, and business goals.  The vision of L&D being the critical core to organizational success through delivery of optimal execution and facilitation of continual innovation is what the Revolution is trying to achieve. This is a chance for L&D to move from the periphery to the center.  It’s worthwhile, but there isn’t infinite time; organizations need solutions, and they’ll get them wherever anyone can seize the opportunity to make a productive improvement. L&D has the opportunity, and here’s to hoping they don’t squander it.

30 June 2015

SME Brains

Clark @ 8:10 am

As I push for better learning design, I’m regularly reminded that working with subject matter experts (SMEs) is critical, and problematic.   What makes SMEs has implications that are challenging but also offers a uniquely valuable perspective.  I want to review some of those challenges and opportunities in one go.

One of the artifacts about how our brain works is that we compile knowledge away.  We start off with conscious awareness of what we’re supposed to be doing, and apply it in context.  As we practice, however, our expertise becomes chunked up, and increasingly automatic. As it does so, some of the elements that are compiled away are awarenesses that are not available to conscious inspection. As Richard Clark of the Cognitive Technology Lab at USC lets us know, about 70% of what SMEs do isn’t available to their conscious mind.  Or, to put it another way, they literally can’t tell us what they do!

On the other hand, they have pretty good access to what they know. They can cite all the knowledge they have to hand. They can talk about the facts and the concepts, but not the decisions.  And, to be fair, many of them aren’t really good at the concepts, at least not from the perspective of being able to articulate a model that is of use in the learning process.

The problem then becomes a combination of both finding a good SME, and working with them in a useful way to get meaningful objectives, to start. And while there are quite rigorous ways (e.g. Cognitive Task Analysis), in general we need more heuristic approaches.

My recommendation, grounded in Sid Meier’s statement that “good games are a series of interesting decisions” and the recognition that making better decisions are likely to be the most valuable outcome of learning, is to focus rabidly on decisions.  When SMEs start talking about “they need to know X” and “they need to know Y” is to ask leading questions like “what decisions do they need to be able to make that they don’t make know” and “how does X or Y actually lead them to make better decisions”.

Your end goal here is to winnow the knowledge away and get to the models that will make a difference to the learner’s ability to act.  And when you’re pressed by a certification body that you need to represent what the SME tells you, you may need to push back.  I even advocate anticipating what the models and decisions are likely to be, and getting the SME to criticize and improve, rather than let them start with a blank slate. This does require some smarts on the part of the designer, but when it works, it leverages the fact that it’s easier to critique than generate.

They also are potentially valuable in the ways that they recognize where learners go wrong, particularly if they train.  Most of the time, mistakes aren’t random, but are based upon some inappropriate models.  Ideally, you have access to these reliable mistakes, and the reason why they’re made. Your SMEs should be able to help here. They should know ways in which non-experts fail.  It may be the case that some SMEs aren’t as good as others here, so again, as in ones that have access to the models, you need to be selective.

This is related to one of the two ways SMEs are your ally.  Ideally, you’re equipped with stories, great failures and great successes. These form the basis of your examples, and ideally come in the form of a story. A SME should have some examples of both that they can spin and you can use to build up an example. This may well be part of your process to get the concepts and practice down, but you need to get these case studies.

There’s one other way that SMEs can help. The fact that they are experts is based upon the fact that they somehow find the topic fascinating or rewarding enough to spend the requisite time to acquire expertise. You can, and should, tap into that. Find out what makes this particular field interesting, and use that as a way to communicate the intrinsic interest to learners. Are they playing detective, problem-solver, or protector? What’s the appeal, and then build that into the practice stories you ask learners to engage in.

Working with SMEs isn’t easy, but it is critical. Understanding what they can do, and where they intrinsic barriers, gives you a better handle on being able to get what you need to assist learners in being able to perform.  Here are some of my tips, what have you found that works?

18 June 2015

Why Work Out Loud? (for #wolweek)

Clark @ 8:06 am

Why should one work out loud (aka Show Your Work)?  Certainly, there are risks involved.  You could be wrong.  You could have to share a mistake. Others might steal your ideas.  So why would anyone want to be Working Out Loud?  Because the risks are trumped by the benefits.

Working out loud is all about being transparent about what you’re doing.  The benefits of these are multiple. First, others know what you’re doing, and can help. They can provide pointers to useful information, they can provide tips about what worked, and didn’t, for them, and they’re better prepared for what will be forthcoming.

Those risks? If you’re wrong, you can find out before it’s too late.  If you share a mistake, others don’t have to make the same one.  If you put your ideas out there, they’re on record if someone tries to steal them.  And if someone else uses your good work, it’s to the general benefit.

Now, there are times when this can be bad. If you’re in a Miranda organization, where anything you say can be held against you, it may not be safe to share.  If your employer will take what you know and then let you go (without realizing, of course, there’s more there), it’s not safe.  Not all organizations are ready for sharing you work.

Organizations, however, should be interested in creating an environment where working out loud is safe.  When folks share their work, the organization benefits.  People know what others are working on. They can help one another.  The organization learns faster.  Make it safe to share mistakes, not for the sake of the mistake, but for the lesson learned; so no one else has to make the same mistake!

It’s not quite enough to just show your work, however, you really want to ‘narrate’ your work. So working out loud is not just about what you’re doing, but also explaining why.  Letting others see why you’re doing what you’re doing helps them either improve your thinking or learn from it.  So not just your work output improves, but your continuing ability to work gets better too!

You can blog your thoughts, microblog what you’re looking at, make your interim representations available as collaborative documents, there are many ways to make your work transparent. This blog, Learnlets, is just for that purpose of thinking out loud: so I can get feedback and input or others can benefit.  Yeah, there are risks (I have seen my blog purloined without attribution), but the benefits outweigh the risks.  That’s as an independent, but imagine if an organization made it safe to share; the whole organization learns faster. And that’s the key to the continual innovation that will be the only sustainable differentiator.

Organizations that work together effectively are organizations that will thrive.  So there are personal benefits and organizational benefits.  And I personally think this is a role for L&D (this is part of the goal of the Revolution). So, work out loud about your efforts to work out loud!

#itashare

26 May 2015

Evolutionary versus revolutionary prototyping

Clark @ 8:14 am

At a recent meeting, one of my colleagues mentioned that increasingly people weren’t throwing away prototypes.  Which prompted reflection, since I have been a staunch advocate for revolutionary prototyping (and here I’m not talking about “the” Revolution ;).

When I used to teach user-centered design, the tools for creating interfaces were complex. The mantras were test early, test often, and I advocated Double Double P’s (Postpone Programming, Prefer Paper; an idea I first grabbed from Rob Phillips then at Curtin).  The reason was that if you started building too early in the design phase, you’d have too much invested to throw things away if they weren’t working.

These days, with agile programming, we see sprints producing working code, which then gets elaborated in subsequent sprints.  And the tools make it fairly easy to work at a high level, so it doesn’t take too much effort to produce something. So maybe we can make things that we can throw out if they’re wrong.

Ok, confession time, I have to say that I don’t quite see how this maps to elearning.  We have sprints, but how do you have a workable learning experience and then elaborate it?  On the other hand, I know Michael Allen’s doing it with SAM and Megan Torrance just had an article on it, but I’m not clear whether they’re talking storyboard, and then coded prototype, or…

Now that I think about it, I think it’d be good to document the core practice mechanic, and perhaps the core animation, and maybe the spread of examples.  I’m big on interim representations, and perhaps we’re talking the same thing. And if not, well, please educate me!

I guess the point is that I’m still keen on being willing to change course if we’ve somehow gotten it wrong.  Small representations is good, and increasing fidelity is fine, and so I suppose it’s okay if we don’t throw out prototypes often as long as we do when we need to.  Am I making sense, or what am I missing?

20 May 2015

Symbiosis

Clark @ 8:12 am

One of the themes I’ve been strumming in presentations is one where we complement what we do well with tools that do well the things we don’t. A colleague reminded me that JCR Licklider wrote of this decades ago (and I’ve similarly followed the premise from the writings of Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart, and Don Norman, among others).

We’re already seeing this.   Chess has changed from people playing people, thru people playing computers and computers playing computers, to computer-human pairs playing other computer-human pairs. The best competitors aren’t the best chess players or the best programs, but the best pairs, that is the player and computer that best know how to work together.

The implications are to stop trying to put everything in the head, and start designing systems that complement us in ways that assure that the combination is the optimized solution to the problem being confronted. Working backwards [], we should decide what portion should be handled by the computer, and what by the person (or team), and then design the resources and then training the humans to use the resources in context to achieve the goals.

Of course, this is only in the case of known problems, the ‘optimal execution’ phase of organizational learning. We similarly want to have the right complements to support the ‘continual innovation’ phase as well. What that means is that we have to be providing tools for people to communicate, collaborate, create representations, access and analyze data, and more. We need to support ways for people to draw upon and contribute to their communities of practice from their work teams. We need to facilitate the formation of work teams, and make sure that this process of interaction is provided with just the right amount of friction.

Just like a tire, interaction requires friction. Too little and you go skidding out of control. Too much, and you impede progress. People need to interact constructively to get the best outcomes. Much is known about productive interaction, though little enough seems to make it’s way into practice.

Our design approaches need to cover the complete ecosystem, everything from courses and resources to tools and playgrounds. And it starts by looking at distributed cognition, recognizing that thinking isn’t done just in the head, but in the world, across people and tools. Let’s get out and start playing instead of staying in old trenches.

19 May 2015

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Clark @ 9:44 am

Is there an appetite for change in L&D? That was the conversation I’ve had with colleagues lately. And I have to say that that the answer is mixed, at best.

The consensus is that most of L&D is comfortably numb. That L&D folks are barely coping with getting courses out on a rapid schedule and running training events because that’s what’s expected and known. There really isn’t any burning desire for change, or willingness to move even if there is.

This is a problem. As one commented: “When I work with others (managers etc) they realise they don’t actually need L&D any more”. And that’s increasingly true: with tools to do narrated slides, screencasts, and videos in the hands of everyone, there’s little need to have the same old ordinary courses coming from L&D. People can create or access portals to share created and curated resources, and social networks to interact with one another. L&D will become just a part of HR, addressing the requirements – onboarding and compliance – everything else will be self-serve.

The sad part of this is the promise of what L&D could be doing. If L&D started facilitating learning, not controlling it, things could go better. If L&D realized it was about supporting the broad spectrum of learning, including self-learning, and social learning, and research and problem-solving and trouble-shooting and design and all the other situations where you don’t know the answer when you start, the possibilities are huge. L&D could be responsible for optimizing execution of the things they know people need to do, but with a broader perspective that includes putting knowledge into the world when possible. And L&D could be also optimizing the ability of the organization to continually innovate.

It is this possibility that keeps me going. There’s the brilliant world where the people who understand learning combine with the people who know technology and work together to enable organizations to flourish. That’s the world I want to live in, and as Alan Kay famously said: “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Can we, please?

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