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

14 January 2016

10 years!?!?

Clark @ 8:08 am

A comment on my earliest blog post (thanks, Henrik), made me realize that this post will mark 10 years of blogging. Yes, my first post came out on January 14th, 2006.  This will be my 1,200th post (I forced one in yesterday to be the 1199th so I could say that ;), yow!  That’s 120 a year, or just under every 3rd day.  And, I am happy to add, 2,542 comments (just more than 2 per post), so thanks to you for weighing in.

It’s funny, when I started I can’t really say it was more than an experiment.  I had no idea where it would lead, or how.  It’s  had some challenges, to continue to find topics, but it’s been helpful.  It’s forced me to deliberately consider things I otherwise might not have, just to try to keep up the momentum.

I confess I originally had a goal of 5 a week (one per business day), but even then I was happy if I got 2-3. I’m gobsmacked at my colleague Harold who seems to put out a post every day.  I can’t quite do that. My goal has moderated to be 2 a week (very occasionally I live with 1 per week, but other weeks like when I’m at conferences I might have 3 if there are lots of keynotes to mind map).  Typically it’s Tuesday and Wednesday, for no good reason.

I also try to have something new to say every time. It’s hard, but forcing myself to find something to talk about has led to me thinking about lots of things and therefore ready to bring them to bear on behalf of clients.  I think out loud relatively freely (particularly with the popularity of Work and Learn Out Loud and Show Your Work).  And it’s a way to share my diagrams, another way to ‘think out loud’.  And I admit that I don’t share some things that are either proprietary (until I can anonymize them) or something I’m planning on doing something with.

And I’ve also resisted commercializing this.  Obviously I’ve avoided the offers to exchange links or blog posts that include links for SEO stuff, but I’ve even, rightly or wrongly, not allowed ads.  While it is the official Quinnovation blog, it’s been my belief that sharing my thinking is the best way to help me get interest in what I have to offer (extensive experience mapping a wide variety of concepts onto specific client contexts to yield innovative yet practical and successful solutions).  I haven’t (yet) followed a formula to drive business traffic, and only occasionally mention my upcoming events (though hopefully that’s a public service :).  There’re other places to track that.

I’m also pretty lax about looking at the metrics. I do weekly pop by Google Analytics to see what sort of traffic I get (pretty steady), but I haven’t tried to see what might improve it.  This is, largely, for me.  And for you if your interests run this way. So welcome, and here’s to another 10 years!  Who knows what there will be to talk about then…or even next week!

12 January 2016

Working wiser?

Clark @ 8:03 am

Noodling:  I’ve been thinking about Working Smarter, a topic I took up over four years ago.  And while I still think there’s too little talk about it, I wondered also about pushing it further.  I also talked in the past about an interest in wisdom, and what that would mean for learning.  So what happens when they come together?

Working smarter, of course, means recognizing how we really think, work, and learn, and aligning our processes and tools accordingly. That includes recognizing that we do use external representations, and ensuring that the ones we want in the world are there, and we also support people being able to create their own. It means tapping into the power of people, and creating ways for them to get together and support one another through both communication and collaboration.  And, of course, it means using Serious learning design.

But what, then, does working ‘wiser’ mean?  I like Sternberg’s model of wisdom, as it’s actionable (other models are not quite specific enough).  It talks about taking into account several levels of caring about others, several time scales, several levels of action, and all influenced by an awareness of values.  So how do we work that into practices and tools?

Well, pragmatically, we can provide rubrics for evaluation of ideas that include considerations of others inside and outside your circles of your acquaintances, and in short- and long-term timeframes, and the impacts on existing states of affairs, ultimately focusing on the common good. So we can have job aids that provide guidance, or bake it into our templates.  These, too, can be shown in collaboration tools, so the outputs will reflect these values.  But there’s another approach.

But, at core, it’s really about what you value, and that becomes about culture.  What values does the organization care about?  Do employees know about the organization’s ultimate goal and role?  Is it about short-term shareholder return, or some contribution to society?  I’m reminded about the old statements about whether you’re about selling candles or providing light.  And do employees know how what they do fits in?

It’s pretty clear that the values implicit in steps to make workplaces more effective are really about making workplaces more humane, that is: respecting our inherent nature.  And movements like this, that provide real meaning, ongoing support, freedom of approach, and time for reflection, are to me about working not just smarter but also wiser.

We can work smarter with tools and practices, but I think we can work better, wiser, with an enlightened approach to who we are working with and how we work to deliver real value to not only customers but to society.  And, moreover, I think that doing so would yield better organizational outcomes.

Ok, so have I gone off the edge of the hazy cosmic jive?  I am a native Californian, after all, but I’m thinking that this makes real business sense.  I think we can do this, and that the outputs will be better too, in all respects.  No one says it’d be easy, but my suspicion is it’d be worthwhile.

6 January 2016

Model power!

Clark @ 8:10 am

So, last night I was talking with my lass, and happened to show her one of my diagrams. I keep a batch of  them around, and it happened to resonate. And (to use a horrible social media ploy): you’ll never believe what happened next!

So, we were talking about her school things, and among the topics was the strategy for studying.  She’s seen a friend who basically studies the night before an exam, and does well.  Of course, she’s forgotten it all within a week. Whereas my lass works hard, doesn’t do quite as well on the test (she has a wee bit of test anxiety, but not much), but will remember it later.  She’s (fortunately) interested in learning for intrinsic interest, rather than to meet the hurdles (but capable and willing to do those too).

Which, as I explained to her, is exactly predicted by the research. Spacing out studying means you don’t have it quite as accessible right afterward, but it’s there much later.  It’s a known phenomena of our cognitive architecture (and not neuroscience, citing my colleague Will who pointed me to the original research).  So, if you want to do well on the test, massed practice is just fine. If you want people to retain it, well, space it out!

Now, I have argued the power of models before, and that’s why I keep a suite of diagrams (essentially a quiver of models) on my devices (the qPhone and the qPad).  I can share them at relevant times as a tool for explanation or prediction, and together we can figure out what it means. And that’s what I was doing, connecting her experience to frameworks that make sense.

What I heard today is that she’s gone and mapped out her study schedule for her finals, spacing it out to get the best results. She’s applying the model to her own life!  So she’s comprehended the model and the implications. And I’m not touting this to show off my daughter (yes, I’m proud of her, but that’s between me and her), but to show how models serve as the guidance for making important decisions.

Models are powerful guides to making decisions. So are you baking models into your learning, personally and for others?


5 January 2016

Meta-Learning Manifestations

Clark @ 8:01 am

I recently mentioned that one of my reflections on the past year was that learning to learn, aka meta-learning, is emerging.  And this has come about in several ways recently, and I think it’s a relatively ‘meta’ thing to do ;) to look at the principles across these areas.

So, yesterday I was talking with a colleague about libraries. And one of the things that I noted was that in talking about the future of libraries, I hadn’t discussed a particular role they could and should play.  The reflection was that even in the future role, librarians are more than just the conduits to the information (or people or equipment), but also demonstrating how they served that role. That is, don’t just show me the results of the search, show me how you thought about the search, and why you chose the search tool you used, and how you created your query, and…

And he assured me that indeed librarians were being taught this. Moreover, at San Francisco Public Libraries they actually had dual monitors where the staff member could look, but the patron could also view the activity, and the staff member could work ‘out loud‘.

And this is important.  Because until our schools start doing a better job of this, we’re not going to be able to assume that our employees and citizens are actually good at learning.  You can only teach meta-learning on top of real goals, and we (should) have those in schools, so it’s the ideal place and arguably the best contribution schools can provide in this rapidly changing environment.

And it’s not like the investments in learning technology are addressing this either.  As I mentioned when I talked about AI for learning, we’re not really seeing the extra layer that will address that (though it’s doable).  As it is, we’re creating adaptive systems that replicate the existing curricula, which would be ok if our curricula were defensible (hint: it isn’t). Advanced pedagogy can be great, but it is wasted on the existing curricula.

So, there’re are opportunities for learning to learn (which have real benefits) to be enabled across organizational work, library work, schools, and systems.  And we’re really not seeing anywhere near the uptake that would benefit our efforts.

However, we are seeing more discussion. And I’m imploring you to start thinking about it, talking about it, and beginning to do it! It’s doable, and arguably the best investment we could and should be making.  Are you ready?

31 December 2015

2015 Reflections

Clark @ 8:02 am

It’s the end of the year, and given that I’m an advocate for the benefits of reflection, I suppose I better practice what I preach. So what am I thinking I learned as a consequence of this past year?  Several things come to mind (and I reserve the right for more things to percolate out, but those will be my 2016 posts, right? :):

  1. The Revolution is real: the evidence mounts that there is a need for change in L&D, and when those steps are taken, good things happen. The latest Towards Maturity report shows that the steps taken by their top-performing organizations are very much about aligning with business, focusing on performance, and more.  Similarly, Chief Learning Officer‘s Learning Elite Survey similarly point out to making links across the organization and measuring outcomes.  The data supports the principled observation.
  2. The barriers are real: there is continuing resistance to the most obvious changes. 70:20:10, for instance, continues to get challenged on nonsensical issues like the exactness of the numbers!?!?  The fact that a Learning Management System is not a strategy still doesn’t seem to have penetrated.  And so we’re similarly seeing that other business units are taking on the needs for performance support, social media, and ongoing learning. Which is bad news for L&D, I reckon.
  3. Learning design is rocket science: (or should be). The perpetration of so much bad elearning continues to be demonstrated at exhibition halls around the globe.  It’s demonstrably true that tarted up information presentation and knowledge test isn’t going to lead to meaningful behavior change, but we still are thrusting people into positions without background and giving them tools that are oriented at content presentation.  Somehow we need to do better. Still pushing the Serious eLearning Manifesto.
  4. Mobile is well on it’s way: we’re seeing mobile becoming mainstream, and this is a good thing. While we still hear the drum beating to put courses on a phone, we’re also seeing that call being ignored. We’re instead seeing real needs being met, and new opportunities being explored.  There’s still a ways to go, but here’s to a continuing awareness of good mobile design.
  5. Gamification is still being confounded: people aren’t really making clear conceptual differences around games. We’re still seeing linear scenarios confounded with branching, we’re seeing gamification confounded with serious games, and more.  Some of these are because the concepts are complex, and some because of vested interests.
  6. Games  seem to be reemerging: while the interest in games became mainstream circa 2010 or so, there hasn’t been a real sea change in their use.  However, it’s quietly feeling like folks are beginning to get their minds around Immersive Learning Simulations, aka Serious Games.   There’s still ways to go in really understanding the critical design elements, but the tools are getting better and making them more accessible in at least some formats.
  7. Design is becoming a ‘thing’: all the hype around Design Thinking is leading to a greater concern about design, and this is a good thing. Unfortunately there will probably be some hype and clarity to be discerned, but at least the overall awareness raising is a good step.
  8. Learning to learn seems to have emerged: years ago the late great Jay Cross and I and some colleagues put together the Meta-Learning Lab, and it was way too early (like so much I touch :p). However, his passing has raised the term again, and there’s much more resonance. I don’t think it’s necessarily a thing yet, but it’s far greater resonance than we had at the time.
  9. Systems are coming: I’ve been arguing for the underpinnings, e.g. content systems.  And I’m (finally) beginning to see more interest in that, and other components are advancing as well: data (e.g. the great work Ellen Wagner and team have been doing on Predictive Analytics), algorithms (all the new adaptive learning systems), etc. I’m keen to think what tags are necessary to support the ability to leverage open educational resources as part of such systems.
  10. Greater inputs into learning: we’ve seen learning folks get interested in behavior change, habits, and more.  I’m thinking we’re going to go further. Areas I’m interested in include myth and ritual, powerful shapers of culture and behavior. And we’re drawing on greater inputs into the processes as well (see 7, above).  I hope this continues, as part of learning to learn is to look to related areas and models.

Obviously, these are things I care about.  I’m fortunate to be able to work in a field that I enjoy and believe has real potential to contribute.  And just fair warning, I’m working on a few areas in several ways.  You’ll see more about learning design and the future of work sometime in the near future. And rather than generally agitate, I’m putting together two specific programs – one on (e)learning quality and one on L&D strategy – that are intended to be comprehensive approaches.  Stay tuned.

That’s my short list, I’m sure more will emerge.  In the meantime, I hope you had a great 2015, and that your 2016 is your best year yet.

8 December 2015

Confounding generations?

Clark @ 8:05 am

At the recent Online Educa Berlin, Laura Overton of Towards Maturity presented some stats in our joint session.  While she mentioned that she really had to look for results where there were differences by age, she of course found some. (Which already is a problem; 5% of results are likely to be significant by random chance!). However, in at least one case I think the results is explained by another factor than generations (not that she was making the claim). In those statistics was an interesting result that I want to look at from two different perspectives.

So, this result, one of the most striking, was that 64% of those 21-30 were motivated to learn to obtain certification, while only 22% of those over 50 were so motivated.  That really seems like to might fit the generational differences story, where over 50s, the baby boomers, differ from the millennials.  Here, the millennials are worried that the world is not a safe place, and want accreditation to help preserve their access (my rough story based upon millennial descriptions). And the baby boomers are more positive and trusting, so consequently feel less drive for certification. Or create your own explanation for the divergence based upon the differences between the generations.

Ok, what struck me is that there’s a totally different explanation: those in the 21-30 range are young and new. They want certifications to support their advancements, as they don’t have a lot of experience.  Those who are older have real experience to point to, and have less need for external validation of their learning.  Here what we’re seeing is that this is not related to generations, but by age.  And that’s very different explanation for the same phenomena.

The core point is that if the generational explanation would be true, this would stay true as these generations aged. The millennials, at age 50, would still care more about certifications.   If it’s more a ‘stage of life’ thing, as they aged they’d care less, but those folks who were growing into that younger range would also demonstrate the differences.

The problem is that there are confounding explanations for the same data.   So what else do we look at?  Interestingly, in my research about what the data says, I’ve found several studies that show that when you ask folks what they value in the workplace, there is no significant difference by generation.  That is, generations as defined by societal circumstances at the time of growing up doesn’t have an impact on workplaces.

Now, there have been a few exceptions, including the above (and I’ll reiterate, Laura wasn’t make a generational claim for this), but the question then becomes whether there are other explanations for the differences, such as age, not context.  Could other factors, such as natural age differences, create a perception of generational differences that truly isn’t persistent?

Ok, I’ll buy that WWII was a global event and the impacts were clear and measured.  But other than that, sure there were landmark popular culture elements and zeitgeists, but I think most of the other defining characteristics are nowhere near as clearly delineated in impact (I’ve heard claims of divorce, latchkey kids, etc being generational factors), and I doubt that they’re sufficiently delineated to create the defining characteristics that are proposed.

My take home?  Be suspicious of someone pushing a particular viewpoint without scrutiny of alternate hypotheses (including mine).  There may be a better explanation than the one someone has a vested interest in pushing.  Is there a real millennial difference?  Certainly the so-called ‘digital native’ myth has been debunked (e.g. no better at search queries or evaluating results of same than any others), so maybe we want to be wary of other claims.  I’m willing to be wrong on this, but my research says that the data seems to point to other explanations than defining generations.  What say you?

2 December 2015

Useful cognitive overhead

Clark @ 8:02 am

As I’ve reported before, I started mind mapping keynotes not as a function of filling the blog, but for listening better.  That is, without the extra processing requirement of processing the talk into a structure, my mind was (too) free to go wandering. I only posted it because I thought I should do something with it!  And I’ve realized there’s another way I leverage cognitive overhead.

As background, I diagram.  It’s one of the methods I use to reflect.  A famous cognitive science article talked about how diagrams are representations that map conceptual relationships to spatial ones, to use the power of our visual system to facilitate comprehension. And that’s what I do, take something I’m trying to understand, some new thoughts I have, and get concrete about them.  If I can map them out, I feel like I’ve got my mind around them.

I use them to communicate, too. You’ve seen them here in my blog (or will if you browse around a bit), and in my presentations.  Naturally, they’re a large part of my workshops too, and even reports and papers.  As I believe models composed of concepts are powerful tools for understanding the world, I naturally want to convey them to support people in applying them themselves.

Now, what I realized (as I was diagramming) is that the way I diagram actually leverages cognitive overhead in a productive way. I use a diagramming tool (Omnigraffle if you must know, expensive but works well for me) to create them, and there’s some overhead in getting the diagram components sized, and located, and connected, and colored, and…  And in so doing, I’m allowing time for my thoughts to coalesce.

It doesn’t work with paper, because it’s hard to edit, and what comes out isn’t usually right at first.  I move things around, break them up, rethink the elements.  I can use a whiteboard, but usually to communicate a diagram already conceived.  Sometimes I can capture new thinking, but it’s easy to edit a whiteboard. Flip charts are consequently more problematic.

So I was unconsciously leveraging the affordances of the tool to help allow my thinking to ferment/percolate/incubate (pick your metaphor).  Another similar approach is to seed a question you want to answer or a thought you want to ponder before some activity like driving, showering, jogging, or the like.  Our unconscious brain works powerfully in the background, given the right fodder.  So hopefully this gives you some mental fodder too.

23 November 2015

When (and not) to crowdsource?

Clark @ 8:14 am

Will Thalheimer commented on my ‘reconciliation‘ post, and pointed out that there are times when you would be better off going to an expert. His apt observation is that there are times when it makes sense to crowdsource and when not to, but it wasn’t clear to him or me when each was. Naturally that led to some reflection, and this is where I ended up.

As a framework, I thought of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin model.  Here, we break situations into one of four types: simple or obvious, where there are known answers; complicated, where it requires known expertise to solve; complex, where we’re dealing in new areas; and chaotic, where things are unstable.

With this model, it’s clear that we’ll know what to do in the simple cases, and we should bring in experts to deal with the complicated. For chaotic systems, the proposal is just to do something, to try to move it to one of the other three quadrants!  It’s the other where we might want to consider social approaches.

The interesting place is the complex.  Here, I suggest, is where innovation is needed. This is the domain of trouble-shooting unexpected problems, coming up with new products or services, researching new opportunities, etc.  Here is where you determine experiments to try, and formulate plans to test.  While when the stakes are low you might do it individually, when the stakes are high you bring together a group.  It may be more than one expert, but here’s where you want to use good processes such as brainstorming (done right), etc.

Here is where the elements of the learning organization come in.  Here is where you want to value diversity, be open to new ideas, make it safe to contribute, and provide time for reflection. Here is where you want to tap into collaboration and cooperation. Here is where you want to find ways to get people to work together effectively.

Will was insightful in pointing out that you don’t always want to tap into the wisdom of the crowd, not least for pragmatics, so we want to be clear about when you do.  My point is that we want to be able to when it makes sense, and facilitate this as part of the new role for L&D in the revolution. So, as this is new to me, let me tap into the power of the crowd here: does this  make sense to you?

18 November 2015

Facilitating Knowledge Work #wolweek

Clark @ 8:22 am

In the course of some work with a social business agency, was wondering how to represent the notion of facilitating continual innovation.  This representation emerged from my cogitations, and while it’s not quite right, I thought I’d share it as part of Work Out Loud week.

5RsThe core is the 5 R’s: Researching the opportunities, processing your explorations by either Representing them or putting them into practice (Reify) and Reflecting on those, and then Releasing them.  And of course it’s recursive: this is a release of my representation of some ideas I’ve been researching, right?  This is very much based on Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share model for Personal Knowledge Mastery (PKM). I’m trying to be concrete about different types of activities you might do in the Sense section as I think representations such as diagrams are valuable but very different than active application via prototyping and testing.  (And yes, I’m really stretching to keep the alliteration of the R’s.  I may have to abandon that. ;)

What was interesting to me was to think of the ways in which we can facilitate around those activities.  We shouldn’t assume good research skills, and assist individuals in doing understanding what qualifies as good searches for input and evaluating the hits, as well as establishing and filtering existing information streams.

We can and should also facilitate the representations of interpretations, whether informing properties of good diagrams,  prose, or other representation forms.  We can help make the processes of representation clear as well. Similarly, we can develop understanding of useful experimentation approaches, and how to evaluate the results.

Finally, we can communicate the outcomes of our reflections, and collaborate on all these activities whether research, representation, reification (that R is a real stretch), and reflection.  As I’m doing here, soliciting feedback.

I do believe there’s a role for L&D to look at these activities as well, and ‘training’ isn’t the solution. Here the role is very much facilitation.   It’s a different skill set, yet a fundamental contribution to the success of the organization. If you believe, like I do, that the increasing rate of change means innovation is the only sustainable differentiator for success, then this role is crucial and it’s one I think L&D has the opportunity to take on.  Ok, those are my thoughts, what are yours?

7 November 2015

Vale Jay Cross

Clark @ 1:10 am

It’s too soon, so it’s hard to write this. My friend and colleague, Jay Cross, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He’s had a big impact on the field of elearning, and his insight and enthusiasm were a great contribution.

Version 2I had the pleasure to meet him at a lunch arranged by a colleague to introduce learning tech colleagues in the SF East Bay area.  Several of us discovered we shared an interest in meta-learning, or learning to learn, and we decided to campaign together on it, forming the Meta-Learning Lab. While not a successful endeavor in impact, Jay and I discovered a shared enjoyment in good food and drink, travel, and learning. We hobnobbed in the usual places, and he got me invited to some exotic locales including Abu Dhabi, Berlin, and India.

Jay was great to travel with; he’d read up on wherever it was and would then be a veritable tour guide. It amazed me how he could remember all that information and point out things as we walked.  He had a phenomenal memory; he read more than anyone I know, and synthesized the information to create an impressive intellect.

After Princeton he’d gone on for an MBA at Harvard, and amongst his subsequent endeavors included creating the first MBA for the University of Phoenix.  He was great to listen to doing business, and served as a role model; I often tapped into my ‘inner Jay’ when dealing with clients.  He always found ways to add more value to whatever was being discussed.

He was influential. While others may have quibbled about whether he created the term ‘elearning’, he definitely had strong opinions about what should be happening, and was typically right.  His book Informal Learning had a major impact on the field.

He was also a raconteur, with great stories and a love of humor. He had little tolerance for stupidity, and could eviscerate silly arguments with a clear insight and incisive wit. As such, he could be a bit of a rogue.  He ruffled some feathers here and there, and some could be put off by his energy and enthusiasm, but his intentions were always in the right place.

Overall, he was a really good person. He happily shared with others his enthusiasm and energy.  He mentored many, including me, and was always working to make things better for individuals, organizations, the field, and society as a whole. He had a great heart to match his great intellect, and was happiest in the midst of exuberant exploration.

He will be missed. Rest in peace.

Some other recollections of Jay:

Harold Jarche

Jane Hart

Charles Jennings

Kevin Wheeler

Laura Overton

Inge de Waard

Alan Levine

Curt Bonk

David Kelly

Brent Schlenker

Dave Ferguson

George Siemens

Mark Oehlert

Gina Minks

John Sener

Sahana Chattopadhyay

Christy Tucker

Adam Salkeld

Learning Solutions from the eLearning Guild

CLO Magazine

A twitter collection (courtesy of Jane Hart)

Bio from his graduating class.


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