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

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.


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.


17 September 2014

Learning in 2024 #LRN2024

Clark @ 8:14 am

The eLearning Guild is celebrating it’s 10th year, and is using the opportunity to reflect on what learning will look like 10 years from now.  While I couldn’t participate in the twitter chat they held, I optimistically weighed in: “learning in 2024 will look like individualized personal mentoring via augmented reality, AI, and the network”.  However, I thought I would elaborate in line with a series of followup posts leveraging the #lrn2024 hashtag.  The twitter chat had a series of questions, so I’ll address them here (with a caveat that our learning really hasn’t changed, our wetware hasn’t evolved in the past decade and won’t again in the next; our support of learning is what I’m referring to here):

1. How has learning changed in the last 10 years (from the perspective of the learner)?

I reckon the learner has seen a significant move to more elearning instead of an almost complete dependence on face-to-face events.  And I reckon most learners have begun to use technology in their own ways to get answers, whether via the Google, or social networks like FaceBook and LinkedIn.  And I expect they’re seeing more media such as videos and animations, and may even be creating their own. I also expect that the elearning they’re seeing is not particularly good, nor improving, if not actually decreasing in quality.  I expect they’re seeing more info dump/knowledge test, more and more ‘click to learn more‘, more tarted-up drill-and-kill.  For which we should apologize!

2. What is the most significant change technology has made to organizational learning in the past decade?

I reckon there are two significant changes that have happened. One is rather subtle as yet, but will be profound, and that is the ability to track more activity, mine more data, and gain more insights. The ExperienceAPI coupled with analytics is a huge opportunity.  The other is the rise of social networks.  The ability to stay more tightly coupled with colleagues, sharing information and collaborating, has really become mainstream in our lives, and is going to have a big impact on our organizations.  Working ‘out loud’, showing our work, and working together is a critical inflection point in bringing learning back into the workflow in a natural way and away from the ‘event’ model.

3. What are the most significant challenges facing organizational learning today?

The most significant change is the status quo: the belief that an information oriented event model has any relationship to meaningful outcomes.  This plays out in so many ways: order-taking for courses, equating information with skills, being concerned with speed and quantity instead of quality of outcomes, not measuring the impact, the list goes on.   We’ve become self-deluded that an LMS and a rapid elearning tool means you’re doing something worthwhile, when it’s profoundly wrong.  L&D needs a revolution.

4. What technologies will have the greatest impact on learning in the next decade? Why?

The short answer is mobile.  Mobile is the catalyst for change. So many other technologies go through the hype cycle: initial over-excitement, crash, and then a gradual resurgence (c.f. virtual worlds), but mobile has been resistant for the simple reason that there’s so much value proposition.  The cognitive augmentation that digital technology provides, available whenever and wherever you are clearly has benefits, and it’s not courses!  It will naturally incorporate augmented reality with the variety of new devices we’re seeing, and be contextualized as well.  We’re seeing a richer picture of how technology can support us in being effective, and L&D can facilitate these other activities as a way to move to a more strategic and valuable role in the organization.  As above, also new tracking and analysis tools, and social networks.  I’ll add that simulations/serious games are an opportunity that is yet to really be capitalized on.  (There are reasons I wrote those books :)

5. What new skills will professionals need to develop to support learning in the future?

As I wrote (PDF), the new skills that are necessary fall into two major categories: performance consulting and interaction facilitation.  We need to not design courses until we’ve ascertained that no other approach will work, so we need to get down to the real problems. We should hope that the answer comes from the network when it can, and we should want to design performance support solutions if it can’t, and reserve courses for only when it absolutely has to be in the head. To get good outcomes from the network, it takes facilitation, and I think facilitation is a good model for promoting innovation, supporting coaching and mentoring, and helping individuals develop self-learning skills.  So the ability to get those root causes of problems, choose between solutions, and measure the impact are key for the first part, and understanding what skills are needed by the individuals (whether performers or mentors/coaches/leaders) and how to develop them are the key new additions.

6. What will learning look like in the year 2024?

Ideally, it would look like an ‘always on’ mentoring solution, so the experience is that of someone always with you to watch your performance and provide just the right guidance to help you perform in the moment and develop you over time. Learning will be layered on to your activities, and only occasionally will require some special events but mostly will be wrapped around your life in a supportive way.  Some of this will be system-delivered, and some will come from the network, but it should feel like you’re being cared for in the most efficacious way.

In closing, I note that, unfortunately,my Revolution book and the Manifesto were both driven by a sense of frustration around the lack of meaningful change in L&D. Hopefully, they’re riding or catalyzing the needed change, but in a cynical mood I might believe that things won’t change near as much as I’d hope. I also remember a talk (cleverly titled: Predict Anything but the Future :) that said that the future does tend to come as an informed basis would predict with an unexpected twist, so it’ll be interesting to discover what that twist will be.

16 September 2014

On the Road Fall 2014

Clark @ 8:05 am

Fall always seems to be a busy time, and I reckon it’s worthwhile to let you know where I’ll be in case you might be there too! Coming up are a couple of different events that you might be interested in:

September 28-30 I’ll be at the Future of Talent retreat  at the Marconi Center up the coast from San Francisco. It’s a lovely spot with a limited number of participants who will go deep on what’s coming in the Talent world. I’ll be talking up the Revolution, of course.

October 28-31 I’ll be at the eLearning Guild’s DevLearn in Las Vegas (always a great event; if you’re into elearning you should be there).  I’ll be running a Revolution workshop (I believe there are still a few spots), part of  a mobile panel, and talking about how we are going about addressing the challenges of learning design at the Wadhwani Foundation.

November 12-13 I’ll be part of the mLearnNow event in New Orleans (well, that’s what I call it, they call it LearnNow mobile blah blah blah ;).  Again, there are some slots still available.  I’m honored to be co-presenting with Sarah Gilbert and Nick Floro (with Justin Brusino pulling strings in the background), and we’re working hard to make sure it should be a really great deep dive into mlearning.  (And, New Orleans!)

There may be one more opportunity, so if anyone in Sydney wants to talk, consider Nov 21.

Hope to cross paths with you at one or more of these places!

27 August 2014

Vale Joe Miller

Clark @ 7:46 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: there’s a memorial site for Joe, http://www.josephbmilleriii.com where you can leave thoughts, view pictures, and more.  RIP.

26 August 2014

Aspiration trumps trepidation

Clark @ 7:43 am

Last week’s #lrnchat (a twitter chat on learning that runs Thurs evenings for an hour 5:30 PT/8:30 ET) was on the topic of fear-mongering in Organizational Learning.  The point is that often fear-mongering happens (by definition always wrongly), but what are the reasons, impacts, and ways to avoid.  And among my responses are one that I like as a quip.

I was, in particular, flashing back on the book Story Wars, that talked about how advertising has changed. This was in the context of fear-mongering as an approach to motivating behavior. In that book, they cited how advertisements in older days were designed to target your concerns. In essence, they made you worry about shortcomings as a motivation to buy remedies, whether to address your personal hygiene or appearance of success.

What’s changed is that they’ve now moved on to finding out that what is more motivating is tapping into your goals.  What are you trying to achieve? Who are you and what reflects your passions?  Then they provide products that can align with your self-image.  Of course, their ability to target your market segment is much more advanced, so they know more about who you are and have more specific means of reaching you.

In learning, however, this is also true. It’s far better to tap into your aspirations to motivate your learning than drumming on your fears. The latter will work some, if you’ve got legitimate concerns (e.g. losing your job), but far better is to help you understand how this will help you.

So, when it comes to motivation, I’ll argue that targeting aspiration trumps targeting  trepidations. Help people understand why this is valuable or important, not fear of the consequences of failure to comply. It’s part of a better culture, and a better workplace.  And that’s something you aspire to, right? ;)

7 August 2014

Degrees of Difference

Clark @ 8:03 am

I’ll shortly be on the road going both near and far.  And it occurred to me that the distance isn’t the issue so much (aside from the time zone) as is the adaptations you face.  I’ll suggest it’s the change that you must adapt to as much as the time.

Sure, first of all, there’re the time differences.  On short jaunts, the direction matters too. I (selfishly) don’t have a lot of sympathy for East Coast US folks who have to come here to the West Coast.  I find it easier to stay up later and get up later (well, I don’t really get up later, I’m a bad sleeper, brother got all the good sleeper genes) than to try to go to bed earlier (as if) or get up earlier.  (I’ve gotten my doctor to assist with the ‘going to bed earlier!).  Of course, at the end Easterners will have to go back, but that brings up a second issue.

I think it’s much easier to adapt when you’re in a familiar context.  It’s easier for me to get back to schedule at home than to adjust to a different time zone in an unfamiliar environment.  There’re the regular rhythms of life at home that give you many more cues than just the clock about what’s happening.  Kid’s schedules, meals, etc.  Which makes one of my strategies for travel to give myself food cues.

And that difference magnifies. I find it more exhausting overall to deal with new contexts, and that diminishes your available resources for other coping. So it’s harder to cope somewhere else than at home, and in a more similar culture than a more unfamiliar one.  I would find it easier, for example, to go to Germany (where my Mother was born) or the UK than somewhere a similar distance away (maybe Spain or France) but more foreign to my experience.  And Europe is easier than the MidEast, which in general is more different. Saudi Arabia, for instance, though a fascinating place, was quite challenging to figure out how to cope.   And despite being quite far, Australia is easy for me because I lived there for a number of years (and the culture isn’t that different regardless).

Business makes it a bit easier, too.  As a somewhat common culture, you can moderate the differences in expectation. Dress and hours won’t vary too much, but there are subtle differences in discussions and negotiations.  Hofstede’s dimensions help illustrate how countries can differ.  Though even organizations can have different cultures that may need to be navigated.

And this all affects some more than others.  Some people are naturally relaxed and confident, and if it’s coupled with being good sleepers, they’ll be fine. Others of us fret more about having things go trouble free (and I find as I get older that this is becoming more frequently the case :).  And, of course, the importance of the outcome can influence the degree of confidence and comfort or not.  So I invest effort in trying to get things right (and recently relearned the lesson from being too relaxed about it).

So food cues, striking the balance between bringing the right stuff and traveling light, getting outside, and caffeine have been my tricks. Also reading up on new places to have some advance notice.  Books and movies too, for the travel time itself (again, not a good sleeper).  Does this make sense to you?  How do you cope?

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