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

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.

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?

31 July 2014

Layering on success

Clark @ 8:03 am

In a previous post, I talked about the layers around learning design.  One of the layers that’s increasingly interesting to me is the notion of the success skills, or meta-skills that are involved.  For example, the SCANS competencies are a decent suite of skills that recognize the general skills for success that cross different disciplines.

However, you really can’t focus on such skills in isolation. Like most meta-skills, they need to be applied in a domain.  As a consequence, they really need to be worked on while developing some other skills. That is, when  you’re developing a curriculum, you have opportunities to require using those skills, but they need to be explicitly included and better yet, assessed.

In the field of educational software, there have been many ‘games’ that claimed “develops problem-solving skills”. This wasn’t accurate, as most of them required problem-solving skills, but there was no development. Development would require assessing performance and providing feedback. And that’s what we want to do to develop these skills.

Competencies across curriculaSo my suggestion is to layer on these requirements across the curriculum, and assess them separately.  The skills, like organizing, problem-solving, communicating, researching, etc, are naturally part of an activity-based curriculum, but need to be deliberately inserted at reasonable rates and tracked.  It’s not hard, you choose this assignment (task/activity/practice) to include a presentation, that one to require research, another to require a design task, etc.  And you assess them across assignments.

So, you look at their repeated performance on each skill at each time they’re inserted.  You can provide support and gradually remove it (as you do for other skill-development practice).

The point is to not only develop the learner’s ability to acquire the curricular skills, but also to acquire the meta-skills.  For instance, if you are helping people acquire job skills, you are also developing their ability to hold the job, and self-improve over time.

Think of it this way.  People acquire a job by their ability to do X, but they will need to know how to work in a job context regardless of whether it’s X, Y, or Z.  Also, X will change to X+ and X++ over time, and the skills to keep up to date and move up require the meta-skills.

I think of this as one of the pillars of a successful education practice; develop the learners not only in the domain, but as learners.  Developing them as people, not only as practitioners of a competency.  I think this is a practical approach, what do you think?

29 July 2014

Recharging

Clark @ 8:03 am

For many of the past 10 years, I’ve gone walkabout with some friends into the mountains to, well, many things.  It’s fun, it’s thoughtful, it’s invigorating, and it is also hard work.  I’ll paint a picture to contextualize the picture.High Sierra Lake

With two friends (one I’ve known for 30+ years), we drove up into the hills, spent the night in a tent cabin, and the next morning parked and started hiking. We followed the trail up to May Lake, which is already a gorgeous high Sierra lake just above timberline. From there, my two friends had got adventurous.

So, we went around the lake and took off cross country up the ridge.  This was up rock, as we were above timberline, and off trail so it was where we figured we could go.

At the top of the ridge, we had the view you see in the picture, and we headed down to the left to get to the lake. We camped in some stunted trees off to the right of the lake out of the picture.  We of course had to carry our tents, stoves, water filters, sleeping bags, clothing, everything with us.

And I learned a valuable lesson. I packed in a flurry of trying to get other things done, and missed just a couple of things I should’ve brought, checked, etc. I ended up ok, but forgetting the sleep pad led to some discomfort.  I could’ve been in worse shape, though my friends would’ve helped out if I didn’t have enough fuel.  If I’d used the checklist my colleague created, I’d have been better off!

We day hiked the next day.  You can see small plumes of smoke in the background, as there was a ‘management fire’ going on at the time. We got a blast for about 20 minutes or so, but it cleared up so I didn’t have to panic. Right before nightfall, we saw some hovering against the wall of the ridge to the left (1000′ above us, and we were at 9000′+), and I feared that it might settle down overnight.

Indeed, we woke up the last morning in smoke, and hiked back out only to find out that May Lake, Tenaya Lake, and as far as we could tell all of Tuolomne Meadows was covered.  The gorgeous views were tarnished, but we feared that the fires were not those that were being managed, and indeed so we subsequently discovered.  My thoughts to those who are suffering.  Fortunately, we got out safe and sound.

The conversation we shared veered from philosophical discussions, personal details, and of course ridiculous humorous dialogs.  There were also periods of no discussion, merely contemplating and enjoying nature.  There’s something restorative about being in the wild, with vistas, wildlife, and the sounds of wind and water.  You don’t have to get out there with the level of exertion and immersion we choose, but I believe there’s something primal and necessary in getting away from the daily hustle and bustle regularly.

So, how do you recharge?

22 July 2014

Top 10 Tools for Learning

Clark @ 8:05 am

Jane Hart compiles, every year, a list of the top 10 tools for learning.  And, of course, it’s that time again, so here we go. I like what Harold Jarche did about tagging his list with the steps of his Seek-Sense-Share model for Personal Knowledge Mastery, so I’m adding that as well. In no particular order:

1. Word: I write most of my articles and books in Word.  The outline feature is critical for me (and the main reason I haven’t switched to Pages, it’s just not industrial strength) in structuring my thoughts, and writing is one of the ways I think out loud. Sense & Share.

2. WordPress: the other way I write out loud is on my blog (like this), and my blog is powered by WordPress. Share.

3. OmniGraffle: diagramming is the other way I think out loud, and I’m regularly getting my mind around things by diagramming. Sense.

4. Google: the core tool in my searching for answers for things.  Seek.

5. Twitter: a major source of input, pointing to things of interest.  Seek.

6. Facebook: also a source of insight. Seek.

7. Skype: continues to be the way I stay in touch with my ITA colleagues (Seek, Sense, & Share)

8. Mail: email is still a major tool for getting pointers, staying in touch, asking questions, etc. (Seek, Share)

9. Keynote: creating presentations is another way I organize my thoughts to share. Sense & Share.

10. OmniOutliner: another way of organizing my thoughts.  A different tool for the same purpose.  Sense.

What tools do you use?

7 July 2014

Quinnovating for Jobs

Clark @ 9:24 am

It’s now official, so I figure it’s time to update you all.  I’ve taken on a role of Chief Learning Architect (a slightly better title than the one originally considered) for the Wadhwani Foundation. It’s an initial 6 month contract, so Quinnovation isn’t going to cease to exist, just have (much) more  limited availability.  I’m still passionate about the Serious eLearning Manifesto, and the Revolution message, and I’ll still be thinking out loud here and on Twitter.

The Foundation’s mission is to create jobs and prepare people to take them.  They’ve started with Entrepreneurship programs to create new businesses, and are supplementing with job training to prepare people to staff them.  A third leg will be innovation grants.  It’s a noble mission, the vision of the founder.

My role is to refine the learning design to increase success.  Partnerships and content development are already underway, so it’ll be a challenge to influence processes, but it’s a chance to have a real impact on something that matters.  I start today, and fingers crossed.  We’ll see if I can practice what I preach, eh?

21 May 2014

Getting contextual

Clark @ 8:07 am

For the current ADL webinar series on mobile, I gave a presentation on contextualizing mobile in the larger picture of L&D (a natural extension of my most recent books).  And a question came up about whether I thought wearables constituted mobile.  Naturally my answer was yes, but I realized there’s a larger issue, one that gets meta as well as mobile.

So, I’ve argued that we should be looking at models for guiding our behavior.  That we should be creating them by abstracting from successful practices, we should be conceptualizing them, or adopting them from other areas.  A good model, with rich conceptual relationships, provides a basis for explaining what has happened, and predicting what will happen, giving us a basis for making decisions.  Which means they need to be as context-independent as possible.

WorkOppsSo, for instance, when I developed the mobile models I use, e.g. the 4C’s and the applications of learning (see figure), I deliberately tried to create an understanding that would transcend the rapid changes that are characterizing mobile, and make them appropriately recontextualizable.

In the case of mobile, one of the unique opportunities is contextualization.  That means using information about where you are, when you are, which way you’re looking, temperature or barometric pressure, or even your own state: blood pressure, blood sugar, galvanic skin response, or whatever else skin sensors can detect.

To put that into context (see what I did there): with desktop learning, augmenting formal could be emails that provide new examples or practice that spread out over time. With a smartphone you can do the same, but you could also have a localized information so that because of where you were you might get information related to a learning goal. With a wearable, you might get some information because of what you’re looking at (e.g. a translation or a connection to something else you know), or due to your state (too anxious, stop and wait ’til you calm down).

Similarly for performance support: with a smartphone you could take what comes through the camera and add it onto what shows on the screen; with glasses you could lay it on the visual field.  With a watch or a ring, you might have an audio narration.  And we’ve already seen how the accelerometers in fit bracelets can track your activity and put it in context for you.

Social can not only connect you to who you need to know, regardless of device or channel, but also signal you that someone’s near, detecting their face or voice, and clue you in that you’ve met this person before.  Or find someone that you should meet because you’re nearby.

All of the above are using contextual information to augment the other tasks you’re doing.  The point is that you map the technology to the need, and infer the possibilities.  Models are a better basis for elearning, too so that you teach transferable understandings (made concrete in practice) rather than specifics that can get outdated.  This is one of the elements we placed in the Serious eLearning Manifesto, of course.  They’re also useful for coaching & mentoring as well, as for problem-solving, innovating, and more.

Models are powerful tools for thinking, and good ones will support the broadest possible uses.  And that’s why I collect them, think in terms of them, create them, and most importantly, use them in my work.   I encourage you to ensure that you’re using models appropriately to guide you to new opportunities, solutions, and success.

15 May 2014

Peeling the onion

Clark @ 8:42 am

I’ve been talking a bit recently about deepening formal design, specifically to achieve learning that’s flexible, persistent, and develops the learner’s abilities to become self-sustaining in work and life.  That is, not just for a course, but for a curriculum.  And it’s more than just what we talked about in the Serious eLearning Manifesto, though of course it starts there.    So, to begin with, it needs to start with meaningful objectives, provide related practice, and be trialed and developed, but there’s more, there are layers of development that wrap around the core.

One element I want to suggest is important is also in the Manifesto, but I want to push a bit deeper here.  I worked to put in that the elements behind, say, a procedure or a task, that you apply to problems, are models or concepts.  That is, a connected body of conceptual relationships that tie together your beliefs about why it should be done this way.  For example, if you’ve a procedure or process you want people to follow, there is (or should be) a  rationale behind it.

And you should help learners discover and see the relationships between the model and the steps, through examples and the feedback they get on practice.  If they can internalize the understanding behind steps, they are better prepared for the inevitable changes to the tools they use, the materials they work on, or the process changes what will come from innovation.  Training them on X, when X will ultimately shift to Y, isn’t as helpful unless you help them understand the principles that led to performance on X and will transfer to Y.

Another element is that the output of the activities should create scrutable deliverables and also annotate the thoughts behind the result.  These provide evidence of the thinking both implicit and explicit, a basis for mentors/instructors to understand what’s good, and what still may need to be addressed, tin the learner’s thinking.  There’s also the creation of a portfolio of work which belongs to the learner and can represent what they are capable of.

Of course, the choices of activities for the learner initially, and the design of them to make them engaging, by being meaningful to the learner in important ways, is another layer of sophistication in the design.  It can’t just be that you give the traditional boring problems, but instead the challenges need to be contextualized. More than that (which is already in the Manifesto), you want to use exaggeration and story to really make the challenges compelling.  Learning should  be hard fun.

Another layer is that of 21st Century skills (for examples, the SCANS competencies).  These can’t be taught separately, they really need to manifest across whatever domain learnings you are doing. So you need learners to not just learn concepts, but apply those concepts to specific problems. And, in the requirements of the problem, you build in opportunities to problem-solve, communicate, collaborate, e.g. all the foundational and workplace skills. They need to reappear again and again and be assessed (and developed) separately.

Ultimately, you want the learner to be taking on responsibility themselves.  Later assignments should include the learner being given parameters and choosing appropriate deliverables and formats for communication.  And this requires and additional layer, a layer of annotation on the learning design. The learners need to be seeing why the learning was so designed, so that they can internalize the principles of good design and so become self-improving learners. You, for example, in reading this far, have chosen to do this as part of your own learning, and hopefully it’s a worthwhile investment.  That’s the point; you want learners to continue to seek out challenges, and resources to succeed, as part of their ongoing self-development, and that comes by having seen learning design and been handed the keys at some point on the journey, with support that’s gradually faded.

The nuances of this are not trivial, but I want to suggest that they are doable.  It’s a subtle interweaving, to be sure, but once you’ve got your mind around it (with scaffolded practice :), my claim is that it can be done, reliably and repeatedly.   And it should.  To do less is to miss some of the necessary elements for successful support of an individual to become the capable and continually self-improving learner that we need.

I touched on most of this when I was talking about Activity-Based Learning, but it’s worthwhile to revisit it (at least for me :).

1 May 2014

Learning Quotient?

Clark @ 7:35 am

I had the good fortune to be invited to the Future of Work event that was held here in Silicon Valley two weeks ago, and there were four breakouts, one of which was on learning and knowledge management.  You can guess which one I was on (though tempted by the leadership and culture one; there was overlap).

Within that breakout the activity was to pick four topics and further break out.  The issue was meeting workplace needs given the changing nature of work, and I suggested that perhaps the biggest need was to focus on skills that held true across domain, so called meta-cognitive skills, and learning to learn (a total surprise, right?).  That was one that people were interested in, so that’s what we discussed.

We broke down learning into some component elements.  We talked about how your beliefs about learning (your epistemological stance) mattered, as well as your intention to learn, and how effective you were at learning alone and with others.  It also matters how well you use tools and external representations, as well as your persistence.

What emerged was that learning skills shouldn’t be taken for granted.  And consequently, one of the attendees suggested that perhaps along with IQ and EQ, we should be looking at people’s LQ or learning quotient.  I just saw an advertisement that said EQ (they called it EI Emotional Intelligence, probably to avoid trademark infringement) was better than IQ because you can improve your EQ scores. However, the evidence suggests you can improve your LQ scores too.

A decade ago now, Jay Cross and I were pushing the meta-learning lab, and I still think Jay was right claiming that meta-learning might be your best investment.  So, are you aware of how you learn? Have you improved how you learn?  Can you help others learn more effectively?  I believe the answer is yes, and we not only can, but should.

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