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

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.

23 June 2015

The Learning Styles Zombie

Clark @ 7:37 am

It’s June, and June is Learning Styles month for the Debunker’s Club.  Now, I’ve gone off on Learning Styles before (here, here, here, and here), but  it’s been a while, and they refuse to die. They’re like zombies, coming to eat your brain!

Let’s be clear, it’s patently obvious learners differ.  They differ in how they work, what they pay attention to, how they like to interact, and more. Surely, it make sense to adapt the learning to their style, so that we’re optimizing their outcome, right?

Er, no.  There is no consistent evidence that adapting to learning styles works.  Hal Pashler and colleagues, on a study commissioned by Science in the Public Interest (read: a non-partisan, unbiased, truly independent work) found (PDF) that there was no evidence that adapting to learning styles worked. They did a meta-analysis of the research out there, and concluded this with statistical rigor.  That is, some studies showed positive effects, and some showed negative, but across the body of studies suitably rigorous to be worth evaluating, there was no evidence that trying to adapt learning to learner characteristics had a definitive impact.

At least part of the problem is that the instruments people use to characterize learning styles are flawed.  Surely, if learners differ, we can identify how?  Not with psychometric validity (that means tests that stand up to statistical analysis). A commissioned study in the UK (like the one above, independent, etc) led by Coffield evaluated a representative sample of instruments (including the ubiquitous MBTI, Kolb, and more), and found (PDF) only one that met all four standards of psychometric validity. And that one was a simple one of one dimensions.

So, what’s a learning designer to do?  Several things: first, design for what is being learned. Use the best learning design to accomplish the goal. Then, if the learner has trouble with that approach, provide help.  Second, do use a variety of ways of supporting comprehension.  The variety is good, even if the evidence to do so based upon learning style isn’t.  (So, for example, 4MAT isn’t bad, it’s just not based upon sound science, and why you’d want to pay to use a heuristic approach when you can do that for free is beyond me.)

Learners do differ, and we want them to succeed. The best way to do that is good learning experience design. We do have evidence that problem-based and emotionally aware learning design helps.  We know we need to start with meaningful objectives, create deep practice, ground in good models, and support with rich examples, while addressing motivation, confidence, and anxiety.  And using different media maintains attention and increases the likelihood of comprehension.  Do good learning design, and please don’t feed the zombie.


17 June 2015

Embrace Plan B

Clark @ 7:56 am

The past two weeks, I’ve been on the road (hence the paucity of posts).  And they’ve been great opportunities to engage around interesting topics, but also have provided some learning opportunities (ahem).  The title of this post, by the way, came from m’lady, who was quoting what a senior Girl Scout said was the biggest lesson she learned from her leader, “to embrace Plan B” ;).

So two weeks ago I was visiting a client working on upping their learning game. This is a challenge in a production environment, but as I discussed many times in posts over the second half of 2014 and some this year, I think there are some serious actions that can be taken.  What is needed are better ways to work with SMEs, better constraints around what makes useful content, and perhaps most importantly what makes meaningful interaction and practice.  I firmly believe that there are practical ways to get serious elearning going without radical change, though some initial hiccups will be experienced.

This past week I spoke twice. First on a broad spectrum of learning directions to a group that was doing distance learning and wanted to take a step back and review what they’d been doing and look for improvement opportunities. I covered deeper learning, social learning, meta-learning, and more. Then I went beyond and talked about 70:20:10, measurement, games and simulations, mlearning, the performance ecosystem, and more.  I then moved on to a separate (and delightful) event in Vancouver to promote the Revolution.

It was the transition between the two events last week that threw me. So, Plan A was to fly back home on Tuesday, and then fly on to Vancouver on Wed morning.   But, well, life happened.  All my flights were delayed (thanks, American) on my flight there and back to the first engagement, and both of the first flights such that I missed the connection. On the way out I just got in later than I expected (leading to 4.5 hours sleep before the long and detailed presentation).  But on the way back, I missed the last connecting flight home.  And this had several consequences.

So, instead of spending Tuesday night in my own bed, and repacking for the next day, I spent the night in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport.  Since they blamed it on weather (tho’ if the incoming flight had been on time, it might’ve gotten out in time to avoid the storm), they didn’t have any obligation to provide accommodation, but there were cots and blankets available. I tried to pull into a dark and quiet place, but most of the good ones were taken already. I found a boarding gate that was out of the way, but it was bright and loud.  I gave up after an hour or so and headed off to another area, where I found a lounge where I could pull together a couple of armchairs and managed to doze for 2.5 or so hours, before getting up and on the hunt for some breakfast.  Lesson: if something’s not working, change!

I caught a flight back home in just enough time to catch the next one up to Vancouver. The problem was, I wasn’t able to swap out my clothes, so I was desperately in need of some laundry.  Upon arriving, I threw one of the shirts, socks, etc into a sink and gave them a wash and hung them up. (I also took a shower, which was not only a necessity after a rough night but a great way to gather myself and feel a bit more human).  The next morning, as I went to put on the shirt, I found a stain!  I couldn’t get up in front of all those people with a stained shirt. Plan B was out the door. Also, the other shirt had acquired one too!  Plan C on the dust heap. Now what?  Fortunately, my presentation was in the afternoon, but I needed to do something.

So I went downstairs and found a souvenir shop in the hotel, but the shirts were all a wee bit too loud.  I didn’t really want to pander to the crowd quite so egregiously. I asked at the hotel desk if there was a place I could buy a shirt within walking distance, and indeed there was.  I was well and truly on Plan D by this time. So I hiked on out to a store and fortunately found another shirt I could throw on.  Lesson: keep changing!

I actually made the story part of my presentation.  I made the point that just like in my case, organizations need not only optimal execution of the plans, but then also the ability to innovate if the plan isn’t working.  And L&D can (and should) play a role in this.  So, help your people be prepared to create and embrace Plan B (and C and…however many adaptations they need to have).

And one other lesson for me: be better prepared for tight connections to go awry!

2 June 2015

Model responses

Clark @ 8:12 am

I was thinking about how to make meaningful practice, and I had a thought that was tied to some previous work that I may not have shared here.  So allow me to do that now.

Ideally, our practice has us performing in ways that are like the ways we perform in the real world.  While it is possible to make alternatives available that represent different decisions, sometimes there are nuances that require us to respond in richer ways. I’m talking about things like writing up an RFP, or a response letter, or creating a presentation, or responding to a live query. And while these are desirable things, they’re hard to evaluate.

The problem is that our technology to evaluate freeform text is difficult, let alone anything more complex.  While there are tools like latent semantic analysis that can be developed to read text, it’s complex to develop and  it won’t work on spoken responses , let alone spreadsheets or slide decks (common forms of business communication).  Ideally, people would evaluate them, but that’s not a very scalable solution if you’re talking about mentors, and even peer review can be challenging for asynchronous learning.

An alternative is to have the learner evaluate themselves.  We did this in a course on speaking, where learners ultimately dialed into an answering machine, listened to a question, and then spoke their responses.  What they then could do was listen to a model response as well as their response.  Further, we could provide a guide, an evaluation rubric, to guide the learner in evaluating their response in respect to the model response (e.g. “did you remember to include a statement and examples”?).

This would work with more complex items, too.  “Here’s a model spreadsheet (or slide deck, or document); how does it compare to yours?”  This is very similar to the types of social processing you’d get in a group, where you see how someone else responded to the assignment, and then evaluate.

This isn’t something you’d likely do straight off; you’d probably scaffold the learning with simple tasks first.  For instance, in the example I’m talking about we first had them recognize well- and poorly-structured responses, then create them from components, and finally create them in text before having them call into the answering machine. Even then, they first responded to questions they knew they were going to get before tasks where they didn’t know the questions.  But this approach serves as an enriching practice on the way to live performance.

There is another benefit besides allowing the learner to practice in richer ways and still get feedback. In the process of evaluating the model response and using an evaluation rubric, the learner internalizes the criteria and the process of evaluation, becoming a self-evaluator and consequently a self-improving learner.  That is, they use a rubric to evaluate their response and the model response. As they go forward, that rubric can serve to continue to guide as they move out into a performance situation.

There are times where this may be problematic, but increasingly we can and should mix media and use technology to help us close the gap between the learning practice and the performance context. We can prompt, record learner answers, and then play back theirs and the model response with an evaluation guide.  Or we can give them a document template and criteria, take their response, and ask them to evaluate theirs and another, again with a rubric.  This is richer practice and helps shift the learning burden to the learner, helping them become self-learners.   I reckon it’s a good thing. I’ll suggest that you consider this as another tool in your repertoire of ways to create meaningful practice. What do you think?

27 May 2015

Attention to connections

Clark @ 8:16 am

A colleague was describing his journey, and attributed much of his success (rightly) to his core skills: including his creativity. I was resonating with his list until I got to ‘attention to detail’, and it got me to thinking.

Attention to detail is good, right?  We want people to sweat the nuances, and I certainly am inspired by folks who do that. But there are times when I don’t want to be responsible for the details. To be sure, these are times when it doesn’t make sense to have me do the details. For example, once I’ve helped a client work out a strategy, the implementation really largely should be on them, and I might take some spot reviews (far better than just helping them start and abandoning them).

So I wondered about what the alternative would be. Now the obvious thought is lack of attention to detail, which might initially be negative, but could there be a positive connotation?  What came to me was attention to connections. That is, seeing how what’s being considered might map to a particular conceptual model, or a related field. Seeing how it’s contextualized, and bringing together solutions.    Seeing the forest, not the trees.

I’m inclined to think that there are benefits to those who see connections, just as there is a need for those who can plug away at the details.  And it’s probably contextual; some folks will be one in one area and another in another.  For example, there are times I’m too detail oriented (e.g. fighting for conceptual clarity), and times where I’m missing connections (particularly in reading the politics of a situation).  And vice-versa, times when I’m not detail-0riented enough, and very good at seeing connections.

They’re probably not ends of a spectrum, either, as I’ve gone away from that in practical matters (hmm, wonder what that implies about the Big 5?). Take introvert and extrovert, from a learning perspective it’s about how well you learn on your own versus how well you learn with others, and you could be good or bad at each or both.  Similarly here, you could be able to do both (as in my colleague, he’s one of the smartest folks I know who is demonstrably innovative and connecting as well as being able to sweat the details whether writing code or composing music).

Or maybe this is all a post-hoc justification for wanting to play out at the conceptual frontier, but I’m not going to apologize for that.  It seems to work…

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.

Next Page »

Powered by WordPress