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

30 September 2015

Connie Yowell #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 4:58 pm

Connie Yowell gave a passionate and informing presentation on the driving forces behind digital badges.

2 September 2015


Clark @ 8:18 am

So, I found an interesting inconsistency.  I had to submit my deck for my DevLearn workshop on Cognitive Science for Learning Design last week, but oddly, for every thing I was recommending I had a diagram, except for the notion of using models.  This is ironic, since diagrams can be used to convey models.  It bugged me, so I pondered.

And then I remembered that I gave a presentation years ago specifically on diagrams.  Moreover, in that presentation I had a diagram for a process for creating a diagram (Department of Redundancy Department).  So, I finally got around to trying to apply my own process to my lack of a model.  And voilà:

ModelReasoningThe process is to identify the elements, and the relationships, and then additional dimensions.  Then you represent each, place them (elements first, relationships second, dimensions last), and tune.

Here the notion is that you have a mental model of a concept, capturing elements and causal relationships.  When you see a situation, you select a model where you can map the elements in the model to elements in the context.  Then you can use the model to predict what will happen or explain what happened. Which gives you a basis for making decisions, and adapting decisions to different contexts in principled ways.

Models are a powerful concept I’ve harped on before, but now I’ve an associated diagram.  And I like diagrams. I find mapping the conceptual dimensions to spatial dimensions both helps me get concrete about the models and then gives a framework to share with others.  Does this make sense to you, both the concept behind it, and the diagram to represent it?

I’ll be presenting this in the workshop, amongst many other implications from how our brains work (and learn) to the design of learning experiences.  Would love to see you there.

19 August 2015

Concrete and Contextual

Clark @ 8:38 am

I’m working on the learning science workshop I’m going to present at DevLearn next month, and in thinking about how to represent the implications of designing to account for how we work better when the learning context is concrete and sufficient contexts are used, I came up with this, which I wanted to share.

Concrete deliverables and multiple contextsThe empirical data is that we learn better when our learning practice is contextualized.  And if we want transfer, we should have practice in a spread of contexts that will facilitate abstraction and application to all appropriate settings, not just the ones seen in the learning experience.  If the space between our learning applications is too narrow, so too will our transfer be. So our activities need to be spread about in a variety of contexts (and we should be having sufficient practice).

Then, for each activity, we should have a concrete outcome we’re looking for. Ideally, the learner is given a concrete deliverable as an outcome that they must produce (that mimics the type of outcome we’re expecting them to be able to create as an outcome of the learning, whether decision, work product, or..).  Ideally we’re in a social situation and they’re working as a team (or not) and the work can be circulated for peer review.  Regardless, then there should be expert oversight on feedback.

With a focus on sufficient and meaningful practice, we’re more likely to design learning that will actually have an impact.  The goal is to have practice that is aligned with how our learning works (my current theme: aligning with how we think, work, and learn). Make sense?

12 August 2015

Designing Learning Like Professionals

Clark @ 8:31 am

I’m increasingly realizing that the ways we design and develop content are part of the reason why we’re not getting the respect we deserve.  Our brains are arguably the most complex things in the known universe, yet we don’t treat our discipline as the science it is.  We need to start combining experience design with learning engineering to really start delivering solutions.

To truly design learning, we need to understand learning science.  And this does not mean paying attention to so-called ‘brain science’. There is legitimate brain science (c.f. Medina, Willingham), and then there’s a lot of smoke.

For instance, there’re sound cognitive reasons why information dump and knowledge test won’t lead to learning.  Information that’s not applied doesn’t stick, and application that’s not sufficient doesn’t stick. And it won’t transfer well if you don’t have appropriate contexts across examples and practice.  The list goes on.

What it takes is understanding our brains: the different components, the processes, how learning proceeds, and what interferes.  And we need to look at the right levels; lots of neuroscience is not relevant at the higher level where our thinking happens.  And much about that is still under debate (just google ‘consciousness‘ :).

What we do have are robust theories about learning that pretty comprehensively integrate the empirical data.  More importantly, we have lots of ‘take home’ lessons about what does, and doesn’t work.  But just following a template isn’t sufficient.  There are gaps where have to use our best inferences based upon models to fill in.

The point I’m trying to make is that we have to stop treating designing learning as something anyone can do.  The notion that we can have tools that make it so anyone can design learning has to be squelched. We need to go back to taking pride in our work, and designing learning that matches how our brains work. Otherwise, we are guilty of malpractice. So please, please, start designing in coherence with what we know about how people learn.

If you’re interested in learning more, I’ll be running a learning science for design workshop at DevLearn, and would love to see you there.

6 August 2015

Meta-learn what?

Clark @ 8:05 am

If, indeed, learning is the new business imperative, what does that mean we need to learn?  What are the skills that we want to have, or need to develop?  I reckon they fall into two categories; those we do for our own learning, and those for learning with and through others.

When we learn on our own, we need to address what information we want coming in and how we process it.  This falls under Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowlege Mastery of Seek – Sense – Share. To me there are two main components: what you actively seek, and what comes to you.

What you actively seek really is your searching abilities.  Several things come into play. One is knowing where to look. When do you google, when do you do an internal search, when do you check out a book?  And how to look is also a component. Do you know how to make a good search string?  Do you know how to evaluate the quality of the responses you get?  I see too often that people aren’t critical enough in looking at purveyed information.

Then, you also want to set up a stream of information that comes to you. Who to follow on social media?  What streams of information?  How do you find what sources others use?  How do you track what’s happening in your areas of interest and responsibility without getting overwhelmed?  This is personal information management, and it requires active management, as sources change.  And there are different strategies for different media, as well.

Note that this crosses over into social, but people don’t necessarily know you’re following them.  While there may be a notification, they don’t know how much attention  you’re paying.  I’ve talked about ‘stealth mentoring’, where you can follow someone’s tweets and blog posts, and they can serve as a mentor for you without even knowing it!

There’s some processing of that information, too. What do you do with it? How do you make sense of it? If you hear X over here, and Y over there, you should try to actively reconcile it (e.g. as I did here with collaboration and cooperation).  Do you diagram, write, make a video, ?

Of course, if you do process it, do you share it? Now we’re crossing over into the social space more proactively.   There’re good reasons to ‘show your work’; in terms of helping others understand where you’re at in your process and for them to offer help.  And sharing  your thinking can help others.   Your thoughts, even interim, can help you and others sort out your thinking.  There are some skills involved in figuring out how to systematically share, and of course some diligence and effort is required too, at least before it becomes a habit.

And, of course, there is explicitly asking for help. There are ways to ask for help that aren’t effective!  Similarly, there are ways to offer help that won’t necessarily be taken up.  So there are skills involved in communicating.

Similarly, collaboration shouldn’t be taken for granted. Do you know different ways to collaborate on documents, presentations, and spreadsheets?  Hint: there are better ways than emailing around files!    How do you manage a collaboration process so that it maximizes the outcome? For instance, there are nuances to brainstorming.

There are lots of skills involved, and not only should you develop your own, but you should consider the benefits to the organization to developing them systematically and systemically.  So, what did I miss?  Wondering if I should try to diagram this…


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?

22 July 2015

Trust and betrayal

Clark @ 7:59 am

I’ve been part of several online communities for some years now, and one just blew up. From the reasons why, I think that there are lessons to be had that go beyond personal to implications for L&D.

The thing that was critical to the success of the group was trust; you could trust it was safe to share opinions, seek out others’ help, etc.  People ‘let it all hang out’, and that was a good thing. While it was risky, it worked because everyone was open and honest. Or so we thought.

Then something happened that broke the trust. What had been safe no longer was.  And that undermined the very basis upon which the group had been valuable. If what was said wasn’t safe, the group couldn’t be used to share and learn from.

The bigger implication, of course, is that trust is a critical part of a learning culture, one where the best outcomes come from. And trust is a fragile thing.  It only takes one violation to make it hard to rebuild.  And if you can’t share, you can’t benefit from working out loud, showing your work, and more.  It’s back to the Miranda organization, where anything you say can and will be held against you.

The take-home here is that it’s hard to build a learning culture, and easy to undermine.  It takes committed leadership. The upside is of considerable value, but you have to get buy-in, and walk the walk. It’s doable, and even recoverable in many instances, but it won’t happen without work.  I’ll suggest that it’s worth it; what say you?

14 July 2015

Being Deliberate

Clark @ 8:29 am

This past week, I took off a few days to get into the wilderness with some colleagues.  Five of us got dirty, smelly, and sweaty while hiking in the backcountry.  These are smart, successful, interesting, and funny folks, so the conversation was not PC™, but wise and witty.  And, of course, we got to places like this.1of10LakesSmall  But, in addition to beauty and wisdom, there was a lesson for me, too.

The first day out in the wilderness, the sky was threatening, and close to dinner time it suddenly turned worse. I was rushing to finish pumping water, couldn’t find the bag for the outflow (to keep it separate from the inflow) and didn’t quite make it back to the tent before the skies opened up.  I got a bit damp, and worse when the zipper on the fly wouldn’t close. Every time I reached out to try again, I’d get even more drenched. The worry, of course, is that you get your down sleeping bag wet, and it will lose all insulation capability!

Well, the bag stayed dry, and the next morning we dried everything out, and were fine for the rest of the trip.  The interesting opportunity for me, however, was how I proceeded from then on.

The next time I had to pump water, I took my time.  I very deliberately found a good place to sit, and took special care to work with setting up the inflow and then the outflow.  I did so similarly with firing up the stove and boiling water for dinner and breakfast. There was a pleasure in taking time to do it carefully and right.  Now, there are certain things I naturally do the deliberate way, and other things I rush through.   My realization is that there’s value in thinking more carefully about which things to do deliberately, and there’s an inherent pleasure in doing the things right that matter to you.

There are the arguments that the internet is making us stupider, and value in doing things the hard way. I think that the important thing is to choose for yourself which things to ‘outsource’ or do just good enough, and those which to take on and do a personally good job on.  For example, I used to work on my cars myself (I could rebuild a carburetor, gap a distributor, etc; skills that are irrelevant now :), but as things have changed it’s not a worthwhile role for me anymore.  So the lesson for me was to pay more attention to which things I’m doing carefully and which I will choose to decide quick enough is good enough (and which to have others or apps do).



8 July 2015

Emergent experience?

Clark @ 8:23 am

So I was reading something that talked about designed versus emergent experiences.  Certainly we have familiarity with designed experiences: courses/training, film, theater, amusement parks. Yet emergent experiences seem like they’d have some unique outcomes and consequently could be more valuable and memorable.  So I wondered how an emergent experience might play out to reliably generate a good experience, regardless.

The issue is that designed experiences, e.g. a Disney ride, are predictable.  You can repeat them and notice new things, yet the experience is largely the same.  And there can be brilliant minds behind them, and great outcomes including learning.  But could and should we shoot higher?

What emergent experiences do we know?  Emergent means having to interact with something unpredictable and perhaps even reactive. It could be interacting with systems, or it could be interpersonal interaction.  So, what we see in clouds, and experiences we have with games, and certainly interpersonal experiences can be emergent.  Can they repeatedly have desired outcomes as well as unpredictable ones?

I think the answer is yes if you allow for the role of some ‘interference’.  That is, someone playing a role in controlling the outcomes.  This is what happens in Dungeons and Dragons games where there is a Dungeon Master, or in Alternate Reality Game where there’s a Puppet Master, or in social learning where an instructor is structuring group assignments.

I’m interested in the latter, and the blend between.  I propose that our desired learning experiences should go beyond fixed designs, as our limitations as designers and SMEs will constrain what outcomes we achieve.  They may be good, but what can happen when people interact with each other, and rich systems, allows for more self discovery and ownership.  An alternative to social interaction would be practice set in a simulation that’s richer and with some randomness that mimics the variations seen in the real world that go beyond our specific designs.

By creating this richness through interpersonal interaction via dialogue and different viewpoints, or through simulations, we create experiences that go beyond our limitations in specific design.  It certainly may go beyond our resources: branching scenarios and asynchronous independent learning are understandably more pragmatic, but when we can, and when the learning outcomes we need are richer than we can suitably address in a direct fashion, say when we need flexible adaptation to circumstances, we should consider designing emergent experiences.  And I’m inclined to think that social learning is the cheaper way to go than a complex system-generated experience.

I’m just thinking out loud here, a tangent sparked by a juxtaposition, part of my ongoing efforts to make sense of the world and apply that to creating more resilient and successful organizations. Based upon the above, I think emergent experiences can create more adaptable and flexible learning, and I think that’s increasingly needed. I welcome your thoughts, reflections, pointers, disagreements, and more.


7 July 2015

2015 top 10 tools for learning

Clark @ 7:39 am

Jane Hart has been widely and wisely known for her top 100 Tools for Learning (you too can register your vote).  As a public service announcement, I list my top 10 tools for learning as well:

  1. Google search: I regularly look up things I hear of and don’t know.  It often leads me to Wikipedia (my preferred source, teachers take note), but regularly (e.g. 99.99% of the time) provides me with links that give me the answer i need.
  2. Twitter: I am pointed to many amazing and interesting things via Twitter.
  3. Skype: the Internet Time Alliance maintains a Skype channel where we regularly discuss issues, and ask and answer each other’s questions.
  4. Facebook: there’s another group that I use like the Skype channel, and of course just what comes in from friends postings is a great source of lateral input.
  5. WordPress: my blogging tool, that provides regular reflection opportunities for me in generating them, and from the feedback others provide via comments.
  6. Microsoft Word: My writing tool for longer posts, articles, and of course books, and writing is a powerful force for organizing my thoughts, and a great way to share them and get feedback.
  7. Omnigraffle: the diagramming tool I use, and diagramming is a great way for me to make sense of things.
  8. Keynote: creating presentations is another way to think through things, and of course a way to share my thoughts and get feedback.
  9. LinkedIn: I share thoughts there and track a few of the groups (not as thoroughly as I wish, of course).
  10. Mail: Apple’s email program, and email is another way I can ask questions or get help.

Not making the top 10 but useful tools include Google Maps for directions, Yelp for eating,  Good Reader as a way to read and annotate PDFs, and Safari, where I’ve bookmarked a number of sites I read every day like news (ABC and Google News), information on technology, and more.

So that’s my list, what’s yours?  I note, after the fact, that many are social media. Which isn’t a surprise, but reinforces just how social learning is!

Share with Jane in one of the methods she provides, and it’s always interesting to see what emerges.

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