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

28 August 2014

Kris Duggan #LnDMeetup Gamification Mindmap

Clark @ 8:05 am

Kris Duggan spoke on gamification at the Bay Area Learning Design & Technology MeetUp. He talked about some successes at his Badging role and then his new initiative bringing gamification more intrinsically into organizations. He proposed five Goal Science rules that resonated with other principles I’ve heard for good organizations.


27 August 2014

Vale Joe Miller

Clark @ 7:46 am

This is a name you’re not likely to know, but I can’t let his passing go without comment.  Joe was an intensely private person who had a sizable impact on the field of technology in learning, and I was privileged to know him.

I met Joe when my colleague Jim “Sky” Schuyler, who had hired for my first job out of college, subsequently dragged me back from overseas to work for him at a new company: Knowledge Universe Interactive Studios (KUIS).  I’d stayed in touch with Sky over the years, and I was looking to come back at the same time he had been hired to lead KUIS’s work to be an ISP for the KU companies, but also to create a common platform.  I was brought on board to lead the latter initiative.

To make a long story short, initially I reported to Sky, but ultimately he moved on and I began to report to the CEO, Joe, directly.  Sky had said that he liked working for people smarter than himself, and if indeed Joe was such this was quite the proposition, as Sky was not only a Northwestern PhD but a wise colleague in many ways. He’d been a mentor and friend as well as a colleague, and if Sky (reticent as he is) thought highly of Joe, this was high praise indeed.

I got to know Joe slowly. He was quite reserved not only personally but professionally, but he did share his thinking.  It quickly became clear that not only did he have the engineering chops of a true techy, he also had the strategic insight of an visionary executive.  What I learned more slowly was that he was not just a natural leader, but a man with impeccable integrity and values.

I found out that he’d been involved with Plato via his first job at Battelle, and was suitably inspired to start a company supporting Plato. He moved to the Bay Area to join Atari, and  subsequently was involved with Koala Technologies, which created  early PC (e.g. Apple) peripherals.  His trajectory subsequently covered gaming as well as core technology, eventually ending up at Sega before he convinced the KU folks to let him head up KUIS.  He seemed to know everyone.

More importantly, he had the vision to understand system and infrastructure, and barriers to same. He was excited about Plato as a new capability for learning. He supported systems at Koala for new interface devices. He worked to get Sega to recognize the new landscape.  In so many ways he worked behind the scenes to enable new experiences, but he was never at the forefront of the public explanation, preferring to make things happen at the back end (despite the fact that he was an engaging speaker: tall, resonant voice, and compelling charisma).

In my short time to get to know him, he shared his vision on a learning system that respected who learners were, and let me shape a team that could (and did) deliver on that vision.  He fought to give us the space and the resources, and asked the tough questions to make sure we were focused. We got a working version up and running before the 2001 crash.

He continued to have an impact, leading some of the major initiatives of Linden Labs as they went open source and met some challenging technical issues while negotiating cultural change to take down barriers.  He ended up at SportVision, where he was beginning to help them understand they were not about information, but insight. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much view into what was happening there, as it was proprietary and Joe was, as I said, private.

Joe served as a mentor for me.  I found him to have deep values, and under his austere exterior he exemplified values of humanity and compassion.  I was truly grateful when I could continue to meet him regularly and learn from him as he expressed true interest as well as sharing his insights.

He was taken from us too early, and too quickly.  He fought a tough battle at the end, but at least was surrounded by the love of his life and their children as they passed.  Rest in Peace.

3 July 2014

Resources before courses

Clark @ 8:18 am

In the course of answering a question in an interview, I realized a third quip to complement two recent ones. The earliest one (not including my earlier ‘Quips‘) was “curation trumps creation”, about how you shouldn’t spend the effort to create new resources if you’ve already got them.  The second one was “from the network, not your work”, about how if your network can have the answer, you should let it.  So what’s this new one?

While I’ve previously argued that good learning design shouldn’t take longer, that was assuming good design in the first place: that you did an analysis, and concept and example design and presentation, and practice, not just dumping a quiz on top of content.  However, doing real design, good or bad, should take time.  And if it’s about knowledge, not skills, a course doesn’t make sense. In short, doing courses should be reserved for when they are really needed.

Too often, we’re making courses trying to get knowledge into people’s heads, which usually isn’t a good idea, since our brains aren’t good at remembering rote information.  There are times when it’s necessary, rarely (e.g. medical vocabulary), but we resort to that solution too often as course tools are our only hammer.  And it’s wrong.

We should be trying to put information in the world, and reserve the hard work of course building when it’s proprietary skills sets we’re developing. If someone else has done it, don’t feel like you have to use your resources to do it again, use your resources to go meet other needs: more performance support, or facilitating cooperation and communication.

So, for both principled and pragmatic reasons, you should be looking to resources as a solution before you turn to courses. On principle, they meet different needs, and you shouldn’t use the course when (most) needs can be met with resources. Pragmatically, it’s a more effective use of your resources: staff, time, and money.


25 June 2014

Karen McGrane #mLearnCon Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:54 am

Karen McGrane evangelized good content architecture (a topic near to my heart), in a witty and clear keynote. With amusing examples and quotes, she brought out just how key it is to move beyond hard wired, designed content and start working on rule-driven combinations from structured chunks. Great stuff!


24 June 2014

Larry Irving #mLearnCon Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 10:03 am

Larry Irving kicked off the mLearnCon with an inspiring talk about the ways in which technology can disrupt education. His ideas about VOOCs and nanodegrees were intriguing, and wish he’d talked more about adaptive learning. A great kickoff to the event.


23 June 2014

THE Social Learning Handbook

Clark @ 8:10 am

I’ve been a fan of Jane Hart since I met her through Jay Cross and we joined together in the ITA (along with colleagues Harold Jarche and Charles Jennings). And I’d looked at the previous edition of her Social Learning Handbook, so it was on faith that I endorsed the new edition. So I took a deeper look recently, and my faith is justified; this is a great resource!

Jane has an admirable ability to cut through complex concepts and make them clear. She cites the best work out there when it is available, and comes with her own characterizations when necessary. The concepts are clear, illustrated, and comprehensible.

This isn’t a theoretical treatment, however. Jane has pragmatic checklists littered throughout as well as great suggestions. Jane is focused on having you succeed. Practical guidance underpins all the frameworks.

I’m all the more glad I recommended this valuable compendium. If you want to tap into the power of social learning, there is no better guide.

19 June 2014

From the network, not your work

Clark @ 8:18 am

Too often, Learning & Development (L&D) is looking to provide all the answers.  They work to get the information from SMEs, and create courses around it.  They may also create performance support resources as well. And yet there are principled and pragmatic reasons why this doesn’t make sense.  Here’s what I’m thinking.

On principle, the people working closest to the task are likely to be the most knowledgeable about it.  The traditional role of information from the SME has been to support producing quality outputs, but increasingly there are tools that let the users create their own resources easily.  The answer can come in the moment from people connected by networks, not having to go through an explicit process.  And, as things are becoming more ambiguous and unique, this makes the accuracy to the context more likely as workers share their contexts and get targeted responses.

This doesn’t happen without facilitation. It takes a culture where sharing is valued, where people are connected, and have the skills to work well together.  Those are roles L&D can, and should, play.  Don’t assume that the network will be viable to begin with, or that people know how to work and play well together. Also don’t assume that they know how to find information on their own. The evidence is that these are skills that need to be developed.

The pragmatic reasons are those about how L&D has to meet more needs without resources.  If people can self-help, L&D can invest resources elsewhere. I suggest that curation trumps creation, in that finding the answer is better than creating it, if possible.

When I talk about these possibilities, one of the reliable responses is “but what if they say the wrong thing?”  And my response is that the network becomes self-correcting.  Sure, networks require nurturing until they reach that stage, but again it’s a role for L&D.  Initially, someone may need to be scrutinizing what comes through, and extolling experts to keep it correct, but eventually the network, with the right culture, support, and infrastructure, becomes a self-correcting and sustaining resource.

Work so that performers get their answers from the network, not from your work.  When possible, of course.

18 June 2014

Curation trumps creation

Clark @ 8:36 am

In the past, it has been the role of L&D to ascertain the resources necessary to supporting performance in the organization.  Finding the information, creating the resources, and making them available has often been a task that either results in training, or complements it. I want to suggest, however, that the time has changed and a new strategy may be more effective, at least in many instances.

Creating resources is hard.  We’ve seen the need to revisit the principles of learning design because despite the pleas that “we know this stuff already”, there are still too many bad elearning courses out there. Similarly with job aids, there are skills involved in doing it right.  Assuming those skills is a mistake.

There’s also the situation that creating resources is time consuming. The time spent doing this may be better spent in other approaches.  There are plenty of needs that need to be addressed without finding more work.

On the flip side, there are now so many resources out there about so many things, that it’s not hard to find an answer.  Finding good answers, of course, is certainly more problematic than just finding an answer, but there are likely answers out there.

The integration here is to start curating resources, not creating them.  They might come internally, from the employees, or from external resources, but regardless of provenance, if it’s out there, it saves your resources for other endeavors.

The new mantra is Personal Knowledge Mastery, and while that’s for the individual, there’s a role for L&D here too: practicing ‘representative knowledge mastery’,  as well as fostering PKM for the workforce.  You should be monitoring feeds relevant to your role and those you’re responsible for facilitating.  You need to practice it to be able to preach it, and you should be preaching it.

The point is to not be recreating resources that can be found, conserving your energy for those things that are business critical.  One organization has suggested that they only create resources for internal culture, everything else is curated.  Certainly only proprietary material should be the focus.

So, curate over create. Create when you have to, but only then. Finding good answers is more efficient than generating them.

17 June 2014

General or specific change

Clark @ 8:22 am

I was reflecting on the two books I recently wrote about, Scaling Up and Changing the Gameversus the cultural approach of the Learning Organization I wrote about years ago (and refer to regularly).  The thing is that both of the new books are about choosing either a very specific needed change, whether determined by fiat or based upon something already working well, whereas the earlier work identified general characteristics that make sense. And my thought was when does each make sense?  More importantly, what is the role of Learning & Development (L&D; which really should be P&D or Performance & Development) in each?

If an organization is in need of a shakeup, so that a particular unit is underperforming, or a significant shift in the game has been signaled by new competition or a technology/policy/social change, the targeted change makes sense. As I suggested, some of the required elements from the more general approach are implicit or explicit, such as facilitating communication.  The  role here for L&D, then, is to support the training required for executives leading the shift in terms of communicating and behaving, as well as ongoing coaching.  Similarly for the behaviors of employees, and watching for signs of resistance, in general facilitating the shift.  However, the locus of responsibility is the executive team in charge of the needed change.

On the other hand, if the organization is being moderately successful, but isn’t optimized in terms of learning, there’s a case for a more general shift.  If the culture doesn’t have the elements of a real learning organization – safe to share, valuing diversity, openness to new ideas, time for reflection – then there’s a case to be made for L&D to lead the charge on the change. Let’s be clear, it cannot be done without executive buy-in and leadership, but L&D can be the instigator in this case.  L&D here sells the benefits of the change, supports leadership in execution both by training if necessary and coaching, and again coaches the change.

Regardless, L&D should be instigating this change within their own unit.  It’s going to lead to a more effective L&D unit, and there’re the benefits of walking the walk as a predecessor to talking the talk.

Ultimately, L&D needs to understand effective culture and the mechanisms to culture change, as well as facilitating social learning, performance consulting, information architecture, resource design, and of course formal learning design.  There’re new roles and new skillsets to be mastered on the path to being an effective and strategic contributor to the organization, but the alternative is extinction, eh?

13 June 2014

Changing Culture: Changing the Game

Clark @ 7:56 am

I previously wrote about Sutton & Rao’s Scaling up Excellence, and have now finished a quick read of Connors & Smith’s Change the Culture, Change the Game.  Both books cover roughly the same area, but in very different ways.  Sutton & Rao’s was very descriptive of the changes they observed and the emergent lessons.  Connors & Smith, on the other hand, are very prescriptive. Yet both are telling similar stories with considerable overlap.

Let’s be clear, Connors & Smith have a model they want to sell you.  You get the model up front, and then implementation tools in the second half. Of course, you  aren’t supposed to actually try this without having their help.  As long as you’re clear on this aspect of the book, you can take the lessons learned and decide whether you’d apply them yourself or use their support.

They have a relatively clear model, that talks about the results you want, the actions people will have to take to get to the results,  the beliefs that are needed to guide those actions, and the experiences that will support those beliefs. They aptly point out that many change initiatives stop at the second step, and don’t get the necessity of the subsequent two steps. It’s a plausible story and model, where the actions, beliefs, and experiences are the elements that create the culture that achieves the results.

Like Kirkpatrick’s levels, the notion is that you start with the results you need, and work backward.  Further, everything has to be aligned: you have to determine what actions will achieve the new results, and then what new beliefs can  guide those new actions, and ultimately what  experiences are needed to foster those new beliefs.  You work rigorously to only focus on the ones that will make a difference, recognizing that too much will impact the outcome.

The second half talks about tools to foster these steps. There are management tools,  leadership skills, and integration steps.  There’s necessary training associated with these, and then coaching (this is the sales bit).   It’s very formulaic, and makes it sound like close adherence to these approaches will lead to success.  That said, there is a clear recognition that you need to continually check on how it’s going, and be active in making things happen.

And this is where there’s overlap with Sutton & Rao: it’s about ongoing effort, it requires accountability (being willing to take ownership of outcomes), people must be engaged and involved, etc.  Both are different approaches to dealing with the same issue: working systematically to make necessary changes in an organization. And in both cases, the arguments are pretty compelling that it takes transparency and commitment by the leadership to walk the talk.  It’s up to the executives to choose the needed change, but the empowerment to find ways to make that happens is diffused downward.

Whether you like the more organic approach of Sutton & Rao or the more formulaic model of Connors & Smith, you will find insight into the elements that facilitate change.  For me, the synergy was nice to see.  Now we’ll see if these are still old-school by comparison to Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, that has received strong support from some colleagues I have learned to trust.


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