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

25 May 2016

A richer suite of support

Clark @ 8:08 am

While it’s easy to talk about how we need to support the transition from novice to expert, it might help to be a little more detailed.  While it’s easy to say that the role of formal learning wanes, and the role of informal learning ramps up, what are the types of support we might look to?

I expanded a core diagram I’ve been using for quite a while, based upon earlier diagrams from others.  It’s also been used by others, and the core of the diagram is clear, but I wanted to elaborate it. The underlying point is that as individuals gather expertise the value of formal learning drops, and the value of informal learning increases.  Ok, but what does that mean?

InFormalSpaces It means that courses make sense for novices, who don’t know what they need nor why it’s important. As they start performing however, their needs change. They start knowing what they need, and why it’s important, and they start just needing those resources.  They can be designed or curated, but they are either performance support in the moment or learning resources that develop understanding or abilities.  For the former, we’re talking about how-to videos, checklists, lookup tables, etc.  For the latter, we might be talking documents, documentaries, diagrams, or more interactive elements such as simulations.

At this stage we also need coaching and/or mentoring, and chances to communicate with our colleagues.  It’s the social work that will play a role in the development of the learner through interactions. Obviously, you can be doing communication in courses as well, and reflecting and collaborating at the practitioner stage as well, these are continua, not boxes as portrayed here.  The point, however, is that the nature of the necessary support and the activities change.

And, of course, once an individual advances far enough, there’s little anyone can be providing for them, instead they need the ‘creative friction’ of interactions with other experts and ideas to generate the new understandings that will advance the individual and the organization.  Reflecting together, solving problems to gather, and more, are all part of the activities that individuals undertake.

These activities don’t always happen well, and can be facilitated in many ways.  There are cultural factors as well.  There is a clear need for someone to be undertaking ensuring that these activities are happening in optimal ways in a conducive environment. It doesn’t have to be L&D, and it won’t be if all they do is focus on training and courses, but it should be someone who understands a bit about how we think, work, and learn.  And I don’t know another group that is better placed.  Can you?

18 May 2016

The Human-Centered Organization

Clark @ 8:04 am

As I talk about aligning work with how we brains think, work, and learn, I realize I’m talking about something bigger.  While I want L&D to lead the way (as those are the folks I know), it’s really about leading the way to an organization that’s aligned with us, with people.  And I think that’s something bigger, and definitely better.

The point being, as we reorganize work to tap into the best of us, we’re creating organizations that are humane in a very specific, and hopefully deep, sense.  Humane for all employees, and further.

The industrial era organization, quite simply, wasn’t. The mechanization of human work, the drive for more efficiency at whatever cost, the top-down imposition of rules, and more, are all contrary to what brings out the best in people. It’s demeaning and unhealthy, but even from a business perspective it’s rigid and inflexible.

Instead, when we talk about having work with purpose, and socially aware organizations, with tighter coupling to the market, and greater empowerment of employees, we’re talking about our finer human elements.  And, the evidence seems to be that such organizations are more successful.

Interestingly, I searched the term “Human Centered Organization”, and came across this proposal. (And, in fact, it’s now an ISO standard, 27500:2016, not that I’ve made it past the paywall to view the whole thing.) I found the principles from the summary to be a a good starting point:

  • capitalize on individual differences as an organizational strength
  • make usability and accessibility strategic business objectives
  • adopt a total system approach
  • ensure health, safety, and well-being are business priorities
  • value employees and create a meaningful work environment
  • be open and trustworthy
  • act in socially responsible ways

All of these reflect different areas I’ve either touted or am aware of specific work (and workers) in the area. I’d add that this should not be just internally-facing; this should reflect work with partners and customers as well.

Frankly, many companies I interact with seem driven to confuse me to the point that I make decisions that favor them. I don’t like that, and try to avoid them. A few organizations, instead, offer simple services with clear benefits.  Interestingly, when I engage with the people in the straightforward organizations, they seem to like their employment circumstances.  When I can engage one of the others to speak to me honestly, or I know them through other channels than a business relationship, they admit they don’t like what they have to do.

OK, so I can be an idealist (and am a native Californian :), but it seems to me that organizations that move to a more humane approach are going to be the ones that will last.  There are known concrete steps to get there, but the path will vary by organization. I suggest that you start thinking about your strategy. Are you ready to get human?

11 May 2016

Moving forward

Clark @ 8:14 am

I’ve argued before that there’s a pretty clear path forward for organizations.  The necessity to become agile means that the old ‘command and control’ approach won’t cut it any longer. What’s required is tapping into the ability of people to work together.  The new structure is focused on teams (stayed tuned for my review of Amy Edmondson’s Teaming) that are given the tasks to solve problems, trouble shoot, design new products and services, and generally continue to adapt.  In short, to learn. And I want to talk about the L&D role here, at least the potential one.

Certain elements are required.  The teams need a number of things to be effective.  They have to be given meaningful tasks, to have the freedom to pursue them, to have the ability to experiment (and fail) as necessary, and to be accountable.  To collaborate successfully to accomplish their goals, they need certain features internally: they need to have diverse representation, be open to new ideas, have time for reflection, and it has to be safe to contribute.

This takes a new approach from the organization. It takes leadership to make such a culture, and the culture itself has to make it possible for these to occur and to get people to be motivated to contribute. Two elements really contribute: contribution, and transparency.  People need to know what each other is doing, and be willing to chip in and assist.  This happens both within teams and beyond.

So what is L&D’s role?  First, to model the desired behavior. L&D should be practicing what it preaches in experimenting and continually improving. There should be teams assigned to tasks, and the practitioners should be acting as members of their communities.   They should be evangelizing, piloting, and sharing their successes with this approach, while continually learning more.

Then, L&D should be working with others as teams to meet their client needs.  They should be working to innovate around the solutions.  They should be promoting and executing on pilots that get fleshed out.  And they should be gradually raising awareness about the processes and the culture.

Done well, this movement reduces turnover, increases engagement, and produces better outcomes.  It’s not trivial; there are nuances and challenges that will have to be addresses.  On the other hand, evidence is converging that this is the future of business. So are you preparing for it, or waiting to be blind-sided?  If you’re looking for guidance in getting going, I’m easy to find.

 

10 May 2016

Two separate systems?

Clark @ 8:05 am

I frequently say that L&D needs to move from just ensuring optimal execution to also supporting continual innovation.  Can these co-exist, or are they fundamentally different?  I really don’t know, but it’s worth pondering.

Kotter (the change management guru), has begun to advocate for a dual-operating system approach, where companies jointly support an operational hierarchy and an innovation network that are coupled.  I haven’t read his book on the topic, but it seems to be a bit extrinsic, a way of bolting on innovation instead of making it intrinsic to the operation.

On the other hand, there is quite a bit of expression for more flexible systems, a more podular approach. Teaming or small nodes are increasingly appearing as not just for innovation, but ongoing operation. However, it’s not clear how the various different areas are coordinated, so how marketing across pods maintains coherent.

CoherentOrgExpandedThis is what led to our Coherent Organization model.  The notion is that the teams are coming in from, and reporting back up through, their communities. And their communities are communicating both within, and outside of, the organization.

It’s not clear to me whether the team approach can scale to a global organization, or whether you need the hybrid model.  I can see that the hybrid model would appeal to existing business folks who would be concerned about optimization in execution.  I can see that the new model would at least require fundamental changes in mechanisms, and perhaps a willingness to tradeoff absolute perfection in execution to maintain continuing innovation and customer-responsiveness.

While intuitively the more biologically inspired approach sounds like the longer-term solution, it’s non-trivial in terms of creating cultures that are appropriately conducive.  I think that organizational operations may be at an inflection point, and there does seem to be data that supports more radical flexibility.   I think a performance ecosystem coupled with a learning organization environment is likely going to be the way to move.  How you get there is part of the revolution that’s needed. Start small, scale out, etc. And I hope L&D can help lead the way.

4 May 2016

Learning in Context

Clark @ 8:09 am

In a recent guest post, I wrote about the importance of context in learning. And for a featured session at the upcoming FocusOn Learning event, I’ll be talking about performance support in context.  But there was a recent question about how you’d do it in a particular environment, and that got me thinking about the the necessary requirements.

As context (ahem), there are already context-sensitive systems. I helped lead the design of one where a complex device was instrumented and consequently there were many indicators about the current status of the device. This trend is increasing.  And there are tools to build context-sensitive helps systems around enterprise software, whether purchased or home-grown. And there are also context-sensitive systems that track your location on mobile and allow you to use that to trigger a variety of actions.

Now, to be clear, these are already in use for performance support, but how do we take advantage of them for learning. Moreover, can we go beyond ‘location’ specific learning?  I think we can, if we rethink.

So first, we obviously can use those same systems to deliver specific learning. We can have a rich model of learning around a system, so a detailed competency map, and then with a rich profile of the learner we can know what they know and don’t, and then when they’re at a point where there’s a gap between their knowledge and the desired, we can trigger some additional information. It’s in context, at a ‘teachable moment’, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be assessed.

This would be on top of performance support, typically, as they’re still learning so we don’t want to risk a mistake. Or we could have a little chance to try it out and get it wrong that doesn’t actually get executed, and then give them feedback and the right answer to perform.  We’d have to be clear, however, about why learning is needed in addition to the right answer: is this something that really needs to be learned?

I want to go a wee bit further, though; can we build it around what the learner is doing?  How could we know?  Besides increasingly complex sensor logic, we can use when they are.  What’s on their calendar?  If it’s tagged appropriately, we can know at least what they’re supposed to be doing.  And we can develop not only specific system skills, but more general business skills: negotiation, running meetings, problem-solving/trouble-shooting, design, and more.

The point is that our learners are in contexts all the time.  Rather than take them away to learn, can we develop learning that wraps around what they’re doing? Increasingly we can, and in richer and richer ways. We can tap into the situational motivation to accomplish the task in the moment, and the existing parameters, to make ordinary tasks into learning opportunities. And that more ubiquitous, continuous development is more naturally matched to how we learn.

3 May 2016

Showing my age, er, experience

Clark @ 8:05 am

I’ve been reading What the Dormouse Said (How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry), and it’s bringing back some memories.  Ok, so most of this stuff is older than I am, but there are a few connections, so it’s reminiscing time.  I’ve said some of this before, I believe, so feel free to wander on.  This is me just thinking aloud.

I was taking some computer science classes because I’d found out that biology was rote memorization and cut-throat medical (which I did not want to do; I was hoping for marine bio), and a buddy was doing it.  Given that I was at UCSD at the time, I naturally learned UCSD Pascal (as well as Fortran, which I fortunately forgot almost immediately, and Mixal likewise). I enjoyed algorithms, however, and could solve problems. I also was enchanted with AI (despite my first prof).  And I was  tutoring for some extra pocket money, math and science (even classes I hadn’t taken yet!).

Then I got a job doing the computer support for the office that did the tutoring (literally carrying decks of cards in Algol to run through the computer center). And a light went off; computers for learning!  There was no major then at my school, but there was a program to design my own major, and I found a couple of professors willing to serve as my advisors (thank you, Hugh Mehan and Jim Levin). They even let me work on a project with them (email for classroom discussion, circa 1978; we had ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet).  It eventually even got published as a journal article.

I called all over the country, trying to find someone who needed a person interested in computer learning.  I even interviewed at Xerox PARC with John Seely Brown, courtesy of Tom Malone (I didn’t get the job; they wanted something I’d done but I didn’t know their term for it!).  After a small job doing some statistical work for a research project, I managed to get a job designing and programming educational computer games for DesignWare (you can still play some of  the products here, the magic of  the internet).  We went from Basic to Forth (for speed and small size), though I later moved away from coding with the demise of HyperCard ;).

And the main connection to the cool stuff, besides the interview at PARC, was visiting the West Coast Computer Faire.  It was cool in and of itself, but there I met David Suess, who along with Bill Bowman was starting Spinnaker, a company to do home educational software.  DesignWare had been doing games to go along with publisher offerings, and I was pushing the home market.  After a conversation, I introduced David to my boss Jim Schuyler (Sky) and off we went. As a reward, I got to do FaceMaker. Eventually, DesignWare started doing it’s own titles, and I also did Spellicopter and Creature Creator before I realized I wanted to go back to grad school.

Along the way I also read Byte magazine and tracked efforts like SmallTalk and folks like Alan Kay.  I’ve subsequently had the pleasure to meet him, as well as Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson, so I’ve somewhat closed the loop on those heady days.  There’s much more between then and now, but that’s enough for one post. And most of my counterculture experiences were behind me by that time, so I didn’t really get a chance to see those connections, but it was an exciting time, and a great exposure to the possibilities.

27 April 2016

Moving forward

Clark @ 8:14 am

A few weeks ago, I posted about laying out activities in a space dividing the execution side from the innovation side, and in the head from in the world.  None of you took the bait about talking what it meant (I’m so disappointed), but it continued to ponder it myself. And at least one idea came to mind.

LearningSpaceImplicationsSo what I’m thinking is that the point is to not be using our heads to be doing simple execution. Machines (read: robots or computation agents) are very good at doing what they’re told. Reliably, and repeatably.  They may need oversight, but in many ways we’re seeing this play out.

What we should be doing is trying to automate execution. We aren’t good at doing rote things, and having us do them is silly.  Ideally you automate them, or outsource them in some way.  Let’s save our minds for doing important work.

Of course, many times the situations we’re increasingly seeing are not matters of simply executing. As things get more ambiguous, more novel, more chaotic, we’re really discovering we need to have people handle those situations in innovative ways. So they’re really being moved over regardless.

And, of course, we want that innovation to be fueled by data, information in the world being made available to support making these decisions. Big analytics, or even little analytics are good basis, as are models and support tools to facilitate the processes.  And, of course, this doesn’t have to be all in one head, but drawing upon teams, communities, and networks to get solution.

The real point is to let machines do what they can do well, and leave to us what we do well. And, what we want to be responsible for.  As I see it, the role of technology is to augment us, not replace us.  It’s up to us to make the choices, but we have the opportunity to work in ways that align with how our brains really think, work, and learn.  I reckon that choice is a no-brainer ;).

19 April 2016

Revolution Reading List

Clark @ 8:13 am

I’m still a book guy (whether print or ebook), and have been reading a number of tomes of late. And, more and more, we’re seeing books that talk about the revolution itself or relevant components.  Here’re a few that have come to my awareness of late, and I have perused in some depth, relative to my own Revolutionize Learning & Development:

Jane Hart’s Modern Workplace Learning is an excellent complement to my book, with detailed descriptions of a rich suite of practices that foster a learning workplace.

Another ITA colleague, Harold Jarche, has his Perpetual Beta book series, which is a curated collection of his posts about the changing nature of work that make the case for the revolution and and covering personal knowledge mastery skills that are a necessary accompaniment.

And Charles Jennings, along with Tulser colleagues Jos Arets and Vivian Heijnen, have 70:20:10: Towards 100% Performance which is a (very) detailed set of processes to address performance needs from go to whoa but working backwards from the ongoing support, not forward from the course.

Jane Bozarth’s Show Your Work is a valuable (and beautifully designed) book that talks about the why and how of showing your work (an important component of the Revolution), peppered with examples.

Nigel Paine has penned The Learning Challenge, a book that takes a similar stance as my own Revolution book, but with some changes in emphasis.  A slightly different way to look at the changes.

Bill Bruck has published his own tome, Speed to Proficiency, which similarly covers some of the problems and recommendations as the Revolution book.

We should not forget some classics, e.g. Jay Cross’s game-changing book on Informal Learning, which really altered the way we think about workplace learning.

A classic on the social side, Tony Bingham & Marcia Conner’s The New Social Learning is in it’s second edition.

Of course, Marc Rosenberg’s early Beyond eLearning was a landmark in going beyond the course to a performance ecosystem.

BTW, I’ve requested read Amy Edmondson’s Teaming, so that may  joined the list.

Which reminds me, I’ve previously talked about 3 books on team structures, and 2 on changing culture (here and here), also relevant.

I don’t agree with all that appears in all the books, but they all help illuminate the ways we need to be thinking. And if you want help implementing, you know who to contact.  So, what’s on your wall?

 

13 April 2016

Work Experiment

Clark @ 8:08 am

At a point some days ago, I got the idea to map out different activities by their role as executing versus innovating, and whether it’s in the head or in the world. And I’ve been playing with it since.  I’m mapping some ways of getting work done, at least the mental aspects, across those dimensions.

LearningSpace

I’m not sure I’ve got things in the right places.  I’m not even sure what it really means. I’ve some ideas, but I think I’m going to try something new, and ask you what you think it means.  So, what’s interesting and/or important here?

5 April 2016

L&D Value

Clark @ 8:12 am

This past week, my colleague Jane Hart has been asking the question: “What would happen if there were no Training/L&D department?”  (And I recommend you send her your answer. ;) I suspect, of course, that she’s looking at lateral ways to think different about L&D, but it’s an intriguing prospect.  As an interesting contrast, Noel Hurst quotes me from the Learning Solution conference as saying “L&D has the opportunity to be the most valuable part of your business.” Are these ideas incommensurate?  Or is there a reconciliation?

So, Jane states that the responses from her question fall into two categories: (1) orgs can’t do without L&D (2) orgs w/o L&D do things differently. And she admits that she’s interested in the latter.  What would orgs do differently if they didn’t have the existing baggage of L&D?  This interests me from a perspective of what would orgs eventually figure they might want to invest in across the enterprise to facilitate improving their ability to execute and innovate.  What I suggested as a response to her question was that individuals and communities would take over responsibility for learning, and work to create environments to support a richer variety of learning. Eventually, orgs would look to do that more efficiently across the communities.  And that’s my starting point.

This is what I meant when I made the claim that Noel noted. My perspective is that the role of L&D could (and should) be about improving performance and facilitating development. If, instead of just providing courses, P&D were focused on making sure people could do their jobs, using performance consulting and developing the appropriate solutions – whether job aids, contextual support, coaching, or what have you – they’d be contributing to optimal execution. If they went further, and were also facilitating the ability for the organization to continually innovate – fostering communication and collaboration via tools, practices, and culture – they’d be key to getting people to provide their best. And this is increasingly important.

The old adage that people are an organization’s most important access is increasingly becoming true.  The ability to execute optimally is being increasingly outsourced, as my colleague Harold Jarche aptly points out, and the only real value in the organization is going to come from the knowledge work, the important decisions, that will come from people. Together.  The main element of success for organizations, going forward, will come from developing their people and having them co-create and deliver the ongoing nature of the business. And P&D should be the ones who understand how people think, work, and learn, and support that.  That’s the opportunity on the table. Successful organizations will find ways to make this happen, with or without L&D.  I just think that it’s an opportunity L&D should grab. So, are you making the move?

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