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

12 May 2015

A new ‘turn to your neighbor’

Clark @ 7:40 am

So, I was continuing the campaign for the Revolution, and wanted to expand the audience interaction. I could’ve used the tired ‘turn to your neighbor’ technique, but I had a thought (dangerous, that).  Could it be improved upon?

As I may have mentioned, there has been a backlash against ‘brainstorming’. For example, the New York Times had an article about how it didn’t work, saying that if you bring people into a room, and then give them a problem or topic, and then get them to discuss, it won’t work. And they’re right!  Because that is a broken model of brainstorming; it’s a straw man argument.

A real model of brainstorming has the individuals thinking about the problem individually beforehand, before you bring them together. When you have them not have a chance to think independently, the first person to speak colors the thoughts of the others, but if people can come up with their own ideas first, then share and improve, it works well.  The room is smarter than the smartest person in the room, as the quote has it, but the caveat is that you have to manage the process right.

So how does this relate to the ‘turn to your neighbor’?  It occurred to me that a clear implication was that if you thought to yourself first, before sharing, you’d get a better outcome. And so that’s what I did: I had them think for themselves on the question I presented, then share, and then stop.

Now, to be fair, I didn’t have time to ask for all the output, instead I asked who had come up with ‘formal’ for a question on what supports optimal execution, and who came up with facilitating the flow of information as a solution for supporting innovation. So we have practical limits on what we can do with a large audience and a small amount of time.  However, I did ask at the end of the first one whether they thought it worthwhile. And I asked again of a subset of the audience who attended the next day workshop (“Clark Quinn’s workshop on Strategic Elearning is awesome” was a comment, <fist pump>) what they thought.

Overall the feedback was that it was an improvement. Certainly the outputs should be better.  One was “energized”. The overall take of the large audience and the smaller one was very positive.  It doesn’t take much longer, because it’s easy to do the quick thinking bit (and it’s no easier to get them to stop sharing :), but it’s a lesson and an improved technique all in one!

So, now you know that if you see anyone doing just the ‘turn to your neighbor’, they’re not up on the latest research.  Wonder if we can get this to spread?  But continue exploration is a necessary element to improvement, and innovations happen through diligent work and refinement.  Please do try it out and let me know how it goes!  And, of course, even just your thoughts.

6 May 2015

Trojan Mice?

Clark @ 1:15 pm

One of the mantras of the Learning Organization is that there should be experimentation.  This has also become, of course, a mantra of the Revolution as well.  So the question becomes, what sort of experiments should we be considering?

First, for reasons both pragmatic and principled, these are more likely to be small experiments than large.  On principled reasons, even large changes are probably better off implemented as small steps. On pragmatic reasons, small changes can be built upon or abandoned as outcomes warrant.  These small changes have colloquially been labeled ‘trojan mice‘, a cute way to capture the notion of change via small incursions.

The open question, then, is what sort of trojan mice might be helpful in advancing the revolution?  We might think of them in each of the areas of change: formal, performance support, social, culture, etc.  What are some ideas?

In formal, we might, for one, push back on taking orders.  For instance, we might start asking about measures that any initiatives will be intended to address. We could also look to implementing some of the Serious eLearning Manifesto ideas. Small steps to better learning design.

For performance support, one of the first small steps might be to even do performance support, if you aren’t already. If you are, maybe look to broadening the media you use (experiment with a video, an annotated sequence of pictures, or an ebook).  Or maybe try creating a portal that is user-focused, not business-silo structured.

In the social area, you might first have to pilot an exterior social network if there isn’t one. If there is, you might start hosting activities within it.  A ‘share your learning lunch’ might be a fun way to talk about things, and bring out meta-learning.   Certainly, you could start instituting the use within L&D.

And with culture, you might start encouraging people to share how they work; what resources they use.  Maybe film the top performers in a group giving a minute or two talk on how they do what they do.  It’d be great if you could get some of the leadership to start sharing, and maybe do a survey of what your culture actually is.

The list goes on: in tech you might try some microlearning, a mobile experiment, or considering a content model (ok, not actually build one, that’s a big step ;).  In strategy, you might start gathering data about what the overall organization goals are, or what initiatives in infrastructure have been taken elsewhere in the org or are being contemplated.

The point is to start taking some small steps.  So, I’m curious, what small steps have you tried, or what ones might you think of and suggest?

30 April 2015

Activities for Integrating Learning

Clark @ 8:11 am

I’ve been working on a learning design that integrates developing social media skills with developing specific competencies, aligned with real work.  It’s an interesting integration, and I drafted a pedagogy that I believe accomplishes the task.  It draws heavily on the notion of activity-based learning.  For your consideration.

Activity ModelThe learning process is broken up into a series of activities. Each activity starts with giving the learning teams a deliverable they have to create, with a deadline an appropriate distance out.  There are criteria they have to meet, and the challenge is chosen such that it’s within their reach, but out of their grasp.  That is, they’ll have to learn some things to accomplish it.

As they work on the deliverable, they’re supported. They may have resources available to review, ideally curated (and, across the curricula, their responsibility for curating their own resources is developed as part of handing off the responsibility for learning to learn).  There may be people available for questions, and they’re also being actively watched and coached (less as they go on).

Now, ideally the goal would be a real deliverable that would achieve an impact on the organization.  That, however, takes a fair bit of support to make it a worthwhile investment. Depending on the ability of the learners, you may start with challenges that are like but not necessarily real challenges, such as evaluating a case study or working on a simulation.  The costs of mentoring go up as the consequences of the action, but so do the benefits, so it’s likely that the curriculum will similarly get closer to live tasks as it progresses.

At the deadline, the deliverables are shared for peer review, presumably with other teams. In this instance, there is a deliberate intention to have more than one team, as part of the development of the social capabilities. Reviewing others’ work, initially with evaluation heuristics, is part of internalizing the monitoring criteria, on the path to becoming a self-monitoring and self-improving learner. Similarly, the freedom to share work for evaluation is a valuable move on the path to a learning culture.  Expert review will follow, to finalize the learning outcomes.

The intent is also that the conversations and collaborations be happening in a social media platform. This is part of helping the teams (and the organization) acquire social media competencies.  Sharing, working together, accessing resources, etc. are being used in the platform just as they are used for work. At the end, at least, they are being used for work!

This has emerged as a design that develops both specific work competencies and social competencies in an integrated way.  Of course, the proof is when there’s a chance to run it, but in the spirit of working out loud…your thoughts welcome.

23 April 2015

Personal Mobile Mastery

Clark @ 8:29 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

21 April 2015

Why models matter

Clark @ 7:52 am

In the industrial age, you really didn’t need to understand why you were doing what you were doing, you were just supposed to do it.  At the management level, you supervised behavior, but you didn’t really set strategy. It was only at the top level where you used the basic principles of business to run your organization.  That was then, this is now.

Things are moving faster, competitors are able to counter your advances in months, there’s more information, and this isn’t decreasing.  You really need to be more agile to deal with uncertainty, and you need to continually innovate.   And I want to suggest that this advantage comes from having a conceptual understanding, a model of what’s happening.

There are responses we can train, specific ways of acting in context.  These aren’t what are most valuable any more.  Experts, with vast experience responding in different situations, abstract models that guide what they do, consciously or unconsciously (this latter is a problem, as it makes it harder to get at; experts can’t tell you 70% of what they actually do!).  Most people, however, are in the novice to practitioner range, and they’re not necessarily ready to adapt to changes, unless we prepare them.

What gives us the ability to react are having models that explain the underlying causal relations as we best understand them, and then support in applying those models in different contexts.  If we have models, and see how those models guide performance in context A, then B, and then we practice applying it in context C and D (with model-based feedback), we gradually develop a more flexible ability to respond. It’s not subconscious, like experts, but we can figure it out.

So, for instance, if we have the rationale behind a sales process, how it connects to the customer’s mental needs and the current status, we can adapt it to different customers.  If we understand the mechanisms of medical contamination, we can adapt to new vectors.  If we understand the structure of a cyber system, we can anticipate security threats. The point is that making inferences on models is a more powerful basis than trying to adapt a rote procedure without knowing the basis.

I recognize that I talk a lot in concepts, e.g. these blog posts and diagrams, but there’s a principled reason: I’m trying to give you a flexible basis, models, to apply to your own situation.  That’s what I do in my own thinking, and it’s what I apply in my consulting.  I am a collector of models, so that I have more tools to apply to solving my own or other’s problems.   (BTW, I use concept and model relatively interchangeably, if that helps clarify anything.)

It’s also a sound basis for innovation.  Two related models (ahem) of creativity say that new ideas are either the combination of two different models or an evolution of an existing one.  Our brains are pattern matchers, and the more we observe a pattern, the more likely it will remind us of something, a model. The more models we have to match, the more likely we are to find one that maps. Or one that activates another.

Consequently, it’s also one  of the things I push as a key improvement to learning design. In addition to meaningful practice, give the concept behind it, the why, in the form of a model. I encourage you to look for the models behind what you do, the models in what your presented, and the models in what your learners are asked to do.

It’s a good basis for design, for problem-solving, and for learning.  That, to me, is a big opportunity.

18 November 2014

L&D and working out loud #wolweek

Clark @ 6:15 am

This week is Working Out Loud week, and I can’t but come out in support of a principle that I think is going to be key to organizational success. And, I think, L&D has a key role to play.

The benefits from working out loud are many. Personally, documenting what you’re doing serves as a reminder to yourself and awareness for others. The real power comes, however, from taking that next level: documenting not just what you’re doing, but why. This helps you in reflecting on your own work, and being clear in your thinking. Moreover, sharing your thinking gives you a second benefit in getting others’ input which can really improve the outcome.

In addition, it gives others a couple of benefits. They get to know what you’re up to, so it’s easier to align, but if your thinking is any good, it gives them the chance to learn from how you think.

So what is the role of L&D here? I’ll suggest there are two major roles: facilitating the skills and enabling the culture.

First, don’t assume folks know what working out loud means. And even if they do, they may not be good at it in terms of knowing how to indicate the underlying thinking. And they likely will want feedback and encouragement. First, L&D needs to model it, practicing what they preach. They need to make sure the tools are easily available and awareness is shared. Execs need to be shown the benefit and encouraged to model the behavior too. And L&D will have to trumpet the benefits, accomplishments, and encourage the behavior.

None of this is really likely to succeed if you don’t have a supportive culture. In a Miranda organization, no one is going to share. Instead, you need the elements of a learning organization: the environment has to value diversity, be open to new ideas, provide time for reflection, and most of all be safe. And L&D has to understand the benefits and continue to promote them, identify problems, and work to resolve them.

Note that this is not something you manage or control. The attitude here has to be one of nourishing aka (seed, feed, and weed). You may track it, and you want to be looking for things to support or behaviors to improve, but the goal is to develop a vibrant community of sharing, not squelching anything that violates the hierarchy.

Working out loud benefits the individual and the organization in a healthy environment. Getting the environment right, and facilitating the practice, are valuable contributions, and ones that L&D can, and should, contribute to.

#itashare

11 November 2014

Learning Problem-solving

Clark @ 8:33 am

While I loved his presentation, his advocacy for science, and his style, I had a problem with one thing Neil deGrasse Tyson said during his talk. Now, he’s working on getting deeper into learning, but this wasn’t off the cuff, this was his presentation (and he says he doesn’t say things publicly until he’s ready). So while it may be that he skipped the details, I can’t. (He’s an astrophysicist, I’m the cognitive engineer ;)

His statement, as I recall and mapped,  said that math wires brains to solve problems. And yes, with two caveats.  There’s an old canard that they used to teach Latin because it taught you how to think, and it actually didn’t work that way. The ability to learn Latin taught you Latin, but not how to think or learn, unless something else happened.   Having Latin isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not obviously a part of a modern curriculum.

Similarly, doing math problems isn’t necessarily going to teach you how to do more general problem-solving.  Particularly doing the type of abstract math problems that are the basis of No Child Left Untested, er Behind.  What you’ll learn is how to do abstract math problems, which isn’t part of most job descriptions these days.  Now, if you want to learn to solve meaningful math problems, you have to be given meaningful math problems, as the late David Jonassen told us.  And the feedback has to include the problem-solving process, not just the math!

Moreover, if you want to generalize to other problem-solving, like science or engineering, you need explicit scaffolding to reflect on the process and the generality across domains.  So you  need some problem-solving in other domains to abstract and generalize across.  Otherwise, you’ll get good at solving real world math problems, which is necessary but not sufficient.  I remember my child’s 2nd grade teacher who was talking about the process they emphasized for writing – draft, get feedback, review, refine – and I pointed out that was good for other domains as well: math, drawing, etc.  I saw the light go on.  And that’s the point, generalizing is valuable  in learning, and facilitating that generalization is valuable in teaching.

I laud the efforts to help folks understand why math and science are important, but you can’t let people go away thinking that doing abstract math problems is a valuable activity.  Let’s get the details right, and really accelerate our outcomes.

6 November 2014

Taking note

Clark @ 8:08 am

A colleague pointed me to this article that posited the benefits of digital note-taking.  While I agree, I want to take it further.  There are some non-0bvious factors in note taking.

As the article points out, there are numerous benefits possible by taking notes digitally.  They can be saved and reviewed, have text and/or sketches and/or images (even video too), be shared, revised, elaborated with audio both to add to notes and to read back the prose, and more.  Auto-correct is also valuable.  And I absolutely believe all this is valuable.  But there’s more.

One thing the article touched on is the value of structure.  Whether outlining, where indents capture relationships, or networks similarly, capturing that structure means valuable processing by the note-taker. Interestingly, graphical frameworks can support cycles or cross references in the structure better than outlines can (I once was called out that there was no additional value to mindmaps over outlines, and this is one area where they are superior).

However, as the article noted, research has shown that taking verbatim notes doesn’t help. You have to actively reprocess the information, extracting structure through outlines or networks, and paraphrasing what you hear instead of parroting it. This is the real value of note taking.  You need to be actively engaged.

Note-taking also helps keep that engagement. The mindmaps that I frequently post started as a way for me to listen better.   My brain can be somewhat lateral (an understatement; a benefit for Quinnovating, but a problem for listening to presentations), and if someone says something interesting, by the time I’ve explored the thought and returned, I’ve lost the plot. Mindmapping was a way to occupy enough extra cognitive overhead to keep my mind from sparking off.  It just so happens that when I posted one, it drew significant interest (read: hits), and so I’ve continued it for me, the audience, and the events.

Interestingly, the benefit of the note taking can persist even if the notes aren’t reviewed; the act of note-taking with the extra processing in paraphrasing is valuable in itself.  I once asked an audience how many took notes, and many hands went up. I then asked how many read the notes afterwards, and the result was significantly less.  Yet that’s not a bad thing!

So, take notes that reprocess the information presented.  Then, review them if useful.  But give yourself the benefit of the processing, if nothing else.

5 November 2014

#DevLearn 14 Reflections

Clark @ 9:57 am

This past week I was at the always great DevLearn conference, the biggest and arguably best yet.  There were some hiccups in my attendance, as several blocks of time were taken up with various commitments both work and personal, so for instance I didn’t really get a chance to peruse the expo at all.  Yet I attended keynotes and sessions, as well as presenting, and hobnobbed with folks both familiar and new.

The keynotes were arguably even better than before, and a high bar had already been set.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was eloquent and passionate about the need for science and the lack of match between school and life.    I had a quibble about his statement that doing math teaches problem-solving, as it takes the right type of problems (and Common Core is a step in the right direction) and it takes explicit scaffolding.  Still, his message was powerful and well-communicated. He also made an unexpected connection between Women’s Liberation and the decline of school quality that I hadn’t considered.

Beau Lotto also spoke, linking how our past experience alters our perception to necessary changes in learning.  While I was familiar with the beginning point of perception (a fundamental part of cognitive science, my doctoral field), he took it in very interesting and useful direction in an engaging and inspiring way.  His take-home message: teach not how to see but how to look, was succinct and apt.

Finally, Belinda Parmar took on the challenge of women in technology, and documented how small changes can make a big difference. Given the madness of #gamergate, the discussion was a useful reminder of inequity in many fields and for many.  She left lots of time to have a meaningful discussion about the issues, a nice touch.

Owing to the commitments both personal and speaking, I didn’t get to see many sessions. I had the usual situation of  good ones, and a not-so-good one (though I admit my criteria is kind of high).  I like that the Guild balances known speakers and topics with taking some chances on both.  I also note that most of the known speakers are those folks I respect that continue to think ahead and bring new perspectives, even if in a track representing their work.  As a consequence, the overall quality is always very high.

And the associated events continue to improve.  The DemoFest was almost too big this year, so many examples that it’s hard to start looking at them as you want to be fair and see all but it’s just too monumental. Of course, the Guild had a guide that grouped them, so you could drill down into the ones you wanted to see.  The expo reception was a success as well, and the various snack breaks suited the opportunity to mingle.  I kept missing the ice cream, but perhaps that’s for the best.

I was pleased to have the biggest turnout yet for a workshop, and take the interest in elearning strategy as an indicator that the revolution is taking hold.  The attendees were faced with the breadth of things to consider across advanced ID, performance support, eCommunity, backend integration, decoupled delivery, and then were led through the process of identifying elements and steps in the strategy.  The informal feedback was that, while daunted by the scope, they were excited by the potential and recognizing the need to begin.  The fact that the Guild is holding the Learning Ecosystem conference and their release of a new and quite good white paper by Marc Rosenberg and Steve Foreman are further evidence that awareness is growing.   Marc and Steve carve up the world a little differently than I do, but we say similar things about what’s important.

I am also pleased that Mobile interest continues to grow, as evidenced by the large audience at our mobile panel, where I was joined by other mLearnCon advisory board members Robert Gadd, Sarah Gilbert, and Chad Udell.  They provide nicely differing viewpoints, with Sarah representing the irreverent designer, Robert the pragmatic systems perspective, and Chad the advanced technology view, to complement my more conceptual approach.  We largely agree, but represent different ways of communicating and thinking about the topic. (Sarah and I will be joined by Nick Floro for ATD’s mLearnNow event in New Orleans next week).

I also talked about trying to change the pedagogy of elearning in the Wadhwani Foundation, the approach we’re taking and the challenges we face.  The goal I’m involved in is job skilling, and consequently there’s a real need and a real opportunity.  What I’m fighting for is to make meaningful practice as a way to achieve real outcomes.  We have some positive steps and some missteps, but I think we have the chance to have a real impact. It’s a work in progress, and fingers crossed.

So what did I learn?  The good news is that the audience is getting smarter, wanting more depth in their approaches and breadth in what they address. The bad news appears to be that the view of ‘information dump & knowledge test = learning’ is still all too prevalent. We’re making progress, but too slowly (ok, so perhaps patience isn’t my strong suit ;).  If you haven’t, please do check out the Serious eLearning Manifesto to get some guidance about what I’m talking about (with my colleagues Michael Allen, Julie Dirksen, and Will Thalheimer).  And now there’s an app for that!

If you want to get your mind around the forefront of learning technology, at least in the organizational space, DevLearn is the place to be.

 

30 October 2014

Beau Lotto #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:54 am

Beau Lotto gave a very interesting keynote that built from perceptual phenomena to a lovely message on learning.

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