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

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? ;)

21 August 2014

Rethinking Design: Curriculum

Clark @ 8:13 am

In addition to yesterday’s post about pedagogy, I also mentioned the need to get deeper on curriculum as well.  The notion is that we need to redefine curriculum as a way to get away from a content base, and start moving to an activity base.

a task-centered curriculumThe focus is on creating a curriculum that has tasks at it’s core, and these tasks are tasks like the learner will be expected to be performing in the world.  These tasks can be viewed as competencies that, if the learner possesses them, there is evidence that they are prepared to perform.

The goal is to choose tasks, with the final task likely being chosen first and working backwards (as in Understanding By Design) to determine what needs to be done.  From each chosen ‘task’ will be a suite of activities that comprise the pre-, in-, and post-class activities, but here we are focusing on the overall curriculum before we get into the individual pedagogy.

Note that the content is subsequently chosen to support successful execution of the tasks, and is not presented to the learner but is, instead, made available to them at the time of the task.  The goal is to have them process the content in service of accomplishing the task, an approach more consonant with our cognitive architecture. We’re more likely to remember information we’ve had to process rather than information we’ve just been presented with.  Information that a learner can recite is unlikely to be activated at a relevant time (“inert knowledge) unless it’s been applied, and the focus should be on the application, not the recitation.

Again, this turns out to be  very much the approach of Roger Schank of Socratic Arts as well, but emerged from my own thoughts and frustrations before I found out about the Story-Centered Curricula.  Of course, I referenced the Goal-Based Scenarios in my book on learning (game) design, but I hadn’t been aware of his curricular processes at the time of this or my Reimagining rant pointed to above.

There’re more details required to fully flesh out the process here. I reckon it’d be easier to do with an employer than faculty, but even with faculty, I reckon if you can get more than one in a room, focus on decisions, and help them understand the power of activity-focused learning, it’ll work. Fingers crossed ;).

20 August 2014

Rethinking Design: Pedagogy

Clark @ 8:01 am

In thinking through how to design courses that lead to both engaging experiences and meaningful outcomes, I’ve been working on the component activities.  As part of that, I’ve been looking at elements such as pedagogy in pre-, in-, and post-class sessions so that there are principled reasons behind the design.

Pre-, In-, & Post-Class activities So, here I’m looking at trying for guidance to align what happens in all three sections.  In this case, two major types of activities have emerged: more procedural activities, such as using equipment appropriately; and more conceptual activities such as making the right decisions of what to say and do.  These aren’t clearly discriminated, but it’s a coarse description.

Of course, there’s an introduction that both emotionally and cognitively prepares the learner for the coming learning experience.

So for conceptual tasks, what we’re looking to do is drive learning to content.  In typical approaches, you’d be presenting conceptual information (e.g. ‘click to see more‘) and maybe asking quiz questions.  Here, I’m looking to make the task of processing the information to generate something, whether a document, presentation, or whatever, and that the processing is close to the way the information will be used.  So they might create a guide for decisions (e.g. a decision tree), or a checklist, or something that requires them to use the information. (And if the information doesn’t support doing, it’s probably not necessary.)  As support, in a recent conversation I heard that interviewed organizations said that making better decisions were the keys to better job performance.

Whereas in the procedural approach, we really want to give them practice in the task. It may be scaffolded, e.g. simplified, but it’s the same practice that they’ll need to be able to perform after the learning experience. Ideally, they’ll have to explore and use content resources to figure out how to do it appropriate, in a guided exploration sense, rather than just be given the steps.

In both cases, models are key to helping them determine what needs to happen.  Also in both cases, an instructor should be reviewing their output. In the conceptual case, learners might get feedback on their output, and have a chance to revise their creation.  In the case of the practice, the experience is likely a simulation, and the learner should be getting feedback about their success.  In either case, the instructor has information about how the cohort is doing.  So…

…for in-class learning, the learners should be reflecting on their performances, and the instructor should be facilitating that at the beginning, using the information about what’s working (and not).  Then there should be additional activities that the learners engage in that require them interacting with the material, processing (conceptual) or applying (procedural) it with each other and then with facilitated reflection.

Finally, the learners after class should be getting given elaborative activities.  In the case of the conceptual task, coming up with an elaborated version or some additional element that helps cement the learning would be valuable.  The practice or activity should get fleshed out to the point where the learner will be capable of appropriately acting after the learning experience, owing to sufficient practice and appropriate decontextualization. The goal is for retention over time and transfer to all appropriate situations.

Am I making sense here?

12 August 2014

Deeper activities

Clark @ 8:04 am

A while ago, I argued for an activity-based curriculum.  The point was to rebel against the usual content-based curriculum, and push us to more meaningful learning. And, of late, I’ve had a chance to reexamine both the curriculum ideas, and the pedagogical implications.

So I’ve been in a situation where I’ve been handed a curriculum already developed, and the content is already being fleshed out. In trying to move beyond good, albeit traditional, elearning, I’ve been working hard on the notion of what a meaningful activity (read: practice, task, etc) would be.  As context, we’re working here within a pre-class, in-class, and post-class model.

As a consequence, I’m pushing an alternative to what would be content presentation pre-class, practice and group discussion in-class, and simulation and summary assessment  as post-class.  While this is not too far from traditional blended learning, I’m also trying to get better alignment with what learners will be doing after the learning experience with sufficient practice.

So for each module, I’m looking for a meaningful practice.  For even a knowledge based task, I’m asking learners to develop something that requires them to integrate the knowledge, not just present and test.  And revisit the knowledge several times.  So, for example, if learners are looking at types of hacking attacks, I ask them to create a defense plan as a pre-class task.  They’ll get a chance to self-evaluate, and instructor feedback, before generating a second attempt.  In many ways, it doesn’t matter what they create as long as they’re making a suitably sincere effort, it’s the processing that matters.

A colleague asked whether this meant that they’d always generate a product of learning, and my preliminary answer was yes, and then I realized that there was another way to view it. It could also be the trace of the learner in a simulation, but in some sense that’s a product as well.  The important point is to have learners perform and create an output of that performance as a manifestation of their thinking.  It’s not taking knowledge tests (if it absolutely has to be known cold ‘in the head’, you’ve got the excuse for a tarted-up drill-and-kill, but make sure it absolutely does), but processing information in meaningful ways.

In-class, they’ll still be doing practice and reflection, but they should be processing and/or practicing. For example, discussing and comparing the guides, and maybe then an activity that refreshes their knowledge of the attacks.  The team came up with a game that has one side giving hints about an attack, and the other side trying to guess it.

After class, it’s more elaborated practice. For instance,  they might be implementing their defenses in a sim, or refining their attacks, or…  The activities need to reinforce and build, reactivating and reapplying the knowledge in ways that mimic how it will be used in the performance context so that practice is both meaningful and spaced.

I’m still working within the existing paradigm, but the work I’m inspired by is the work of Roger Schank and his team at Socratic Arts, where they’re rethinking the curriculum more comprehensively, where they get the subject matter experts (SMEs) to sit down and come up with a series of activities that are the curriculum. This is what I intended, but at this point I’m still working within an already underway curriculum. Even this small change will be better learning, and we will get to the curriculum as well ;).

5 August 2014

Learning Experience (LX) Drinking Game

Clark @ 8:07 am

Having found a fun site of bad UX design, someone else followed me who had the UX Drinking Game site.  And it made me think maybe we need an LX Drinking Game.  So I started tweeting out some drinking game rules. I encourage you to join in with the hashtag #LXDrinkingGame.

So, my first list of ‘drink’ cues is:

if they ask for a pre-test/post-test design

if the alternatives to the right answer are so silly or obvious that you don’t need to know anything

if the course objectives are ‘know’ or ‘understand’

if someone says ‘use a click to see more’

if someone says, use an avatar because people like it

if someone comes in and says “we need a course for this”

if someone dumps PDFs and/or PPTs on you and expects a course in a few days

if all they’re measuring is cost/time/seat

So, what other rules do we need?  Tweets (again, #LXDrinkingGame) or comments welcome ;).

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?

16 July 2014

Models for learning

Clark @ 8:10 am

In a previous post, I suggested that we should not do the ‘click to learn more’, as it was just about presenting content.  But we do need to present content, so what content makes sense?  Obviously, examples are one thing, but let me make the case that the ‘how to’, the concept, should be in the form of a model.

There’s a problem in that Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) don’t have access to the what they do,but they have access to what they know, so it’s real easy to get a knowledge dump. And it’s hard work to make sense of it, sometimes, and it’s easier to just recite it. For example, expertise in many areas requires careful distinctions (e.g. such as in instructional design between the elements of learning).  However, it’s hard for learners to acquire all those careful distinctions without the underlying rationale of how they differ.

Similarly, most procedures to do something are guided not by arbitrary reasons, but instead are sequenced because of inherent constraints.  These constraints guide the proper procedures.  There’s a reason you do X before Y, and then a causal relationship that explains what you look for before deciding to do W instead of Z.

Too often, I see someone presenting learners with an arbitrary list of different things, when there are conceptual reasons why they differ. Similarly, I’ll see steps presented without a rationale for why. And in both cases, learners will remember better, and perform more robustly (particularly in environments with changes), if they have the model that explains what to do as well as the information.  While this might seem like more information, it’s really not, as the model minimizes the amount of arbitrary information you present. And it leads to better outcomes, so it would be worth it anyways.

Models give us a couple of useful things; they help us explain what has happened, and predict what will happen (e.g. if we do A, we’ll see B).  Which makes us more flexible in our actions, a useful trait.  As an aside, models also can draw upon metaphors to facilitate developing a useful understanding. Whether it’s flows, transformations, whatever, finding a concrete equivalent in the world can help recollection and application.

The problem, of course, is getting the model. It’s not always there, nor even easily inferable.  Which doesn’t mean you can ignore it.  The designer must be willing to work until they can understand it.  But it’s doable, and valuable.

So, please, model your learning design on the model of good learning with models. (Ok, I went too far there :)

15 July 2014

Click to learn less

Clark @ 8:06 am

All too often, when I review content, I see a recurrent interaction. And I really can’t figure out why, except a thorough lack of understanding of learning, and a determination to put interaction in regardless. Click here to learn more.

It’s not just the next button I’m railing about here, but instead that, on a screen, there’ll be n things, tabs, boxes, something, with the instructions to ‘click to learn more’. The point being that information is available but not directly. It appears that the designer has a lot of content to present, and yet just presenting lots of content is obviously wrong, so we’ll make it more interactive by chunking it up and then showing it iteratively with clicks. That’s more interactive, yes?  Yes, and it’s bad. Two problems: the content, and the interactions.

First, if you’ve got so much content to present, it’s a strong indicator that something’s wrong. People aren’t good at remembering large bits of information. They retain gist, not details. If you’re presenting a lot of content, you’re undoubtedly presenting too many details. Put the detail in the world if it has to be accessible. And my guess is that lots of it is ‘nice to have’, not ‘must have’. If it really has to go in the head, you are really going to have to do a lot more than just have them read it, you’ll need drill and kill. Instead, find the core model that predicts the right actions, and have them learn the model. Then give them practice in applying it, which leads to the second problem.  Reading once just isn’t going to have much impact.

Learners should be having meaningful interaction. The learner should be using the content to do something. Which isn’t a click each, it’s a click the right one. It’s making a choice, taking an action, applying the knowledge in context to make a decision. What will make a difference to the organization is not the ability to recite knowledge (leave that to videos, documents, chatbots, what have you), but instead the ability to make better decisions.

You can do the ‘reveal’ in certain circumstances, such as to present an example: present the initial situation, then reveal to show the complication, then reveal to show the solution, and the results. (Here’s the story: click here to see the problem that arose, click here to see the alternatives considered, click here to see the decision made, click here to see the consequences). So, it might be a somewhat engaging way to present an example, but good writing would trump that. Or you might have alternative actions and click to see the consequences of that action. Which wouldn’t make sense if there were a right answer, or you should immediately be getting them to first commit to a choice and then provide feedback.

Where does this come from? I think it comes from the fact that Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) don’t have access to most of what they actually do, but they do have access to all they know, so they tend to put out information. There are processes to get around this, but designers have to have the gumption to stand up to knowledge dump on the part of the SMEs and fight to find out how that information is used. It’s not necessarily easy (though it gets easier with practice), but it is necessary.

So, please, avoid the ‘click here to learn more’ and instead look for ‘click here to choose an action to take’.

9 July 2014

Benign role-playing

Clark @ 8:06 am

In #lrnchat a couple of weeks ago on anxiety in learning, Shannon Tipton suggested that role plays are the worst.  Now, I know Shannon and respect her (we’re in synch, her Learning Rebels movement very much resonates with my Revolutionary tendencies), so this somewhat surprised me.  We debated it a bit on twitter, and we thought maybe we should make the argument more extended, so here’s my take.

Her concern, as I understood it, was role plays where a subset get up and play roles in front of the room are uncomfortable.  That is, there’re roles and goals, and they’re set up to illustrate a point.  And I can see that type of role play might create a problem for a non-assertive person, particularly in an uncomfortable environment.  (She mentions it here, and see the extended explanation in the comment.)

Now, a favorite model of mine is Ann Brown and Anne-Marie Palincsar’s reciprocal teaching.  In this model (generalized from the original focus on reading), everyone takes  a turn performing (including instructor) and others critique the performance.  Of course, there have to be ground rules, such as talking about the performance not the person, making it safe to share, small enough steps between tasks, etc.  However, the benefits are that you internalize the monitoring, becoming self-monitoring and self-improving.

As another data point, I think of the Online Role Playing as characterized by Sandra Wills, Elyssabeth Leigh, and Albert Ip. Here, learners take roles and goals and explore virtually over time.  The original one they reference was done by John Shepherd and Andrew Vincent and explored the mideast crisis. Learners got engaged in the roles, and the whole process really illuminated the tensions underlying the topic.

When I put these together, I see a powerful tool for learning.  You should design the roles and goals to explore a topic, and unpack an issue.  You should prep learners to help them do a fair job of the role. And, most of all, you have to make it safe.  The instructor should be willing to take on the challenging role, and similarly be seen to fail, or maybe everyone does it in groups so no one group is in front, then you facilitate a discussion.  I’ve done this in my game design workshop, where everyone pairs up and alternates being a SME and being an ID.

I understand that performing is an area of fear for many, but I think that role playing can be a powerful learning experience without anxiety when you manage the process right.  Bad design is bad design, after all (PowerPoint doesn’t kill people…).  What say you?

8 July 2014

Align, deepen, and space

Clark @ 8:12 am

I was asked about, in regards to the Serious eLearning Manifesto, about how people could begin to realize the potential of eLearning.  I riffed about this once before, but I want to spin it a different way.  The key is making meaningful practice.  And there are three components: align it, deepen it, and space it.

First, align it. What do I mean here?  I mean make sure that your learning objective, what they’re learning, is aligned to a real change in the business. Something you know that, if they improve, it will have an impact on a measurable business outcome.  This means two things, underneath. First, it has to be something that, if people do differently and better, it will solve a problem in what the organization is trying to do.  Second, it has to be something learning benefits from.  If it’s not a case where it’s a cognitive skill shift, it should be about using a tool, or replaced with using a tool. Only use a course when a course makes sense, and make sure that course is addressing a real need.

Second, deepen it.  Abstract practice, and knowledge test are both less effective than practice that puts the learner in a context like they’ll be facing in the workplace, and having them make the same decisions they’ll need to be making after the learning experience.  Contextualize it, and exaggerate the context (in appropriate ways) to raise the level of interest and importance to be closer to the level of engagement that will be involved in live performance.  Make sure that the challenge is sufficient, too, by having alternatives that are seductive unless you really understand. Reliable misconceptions are great distractors, by the way.  And have sufficient practice that leads from their beginning ability to the final ability they need to have, and so that they can’t get it wrong (not just until they get it right; that’s amateur hour).

Here’s where the third, space it, can come in.  Will Thalheimer has written a superb document (PDF) explaining the need for spacing. You can space out the complexity of development, and sufficient practice, but we need to practice, rest (read: sleep), and then practice some more. Any meaningful learning really can’t be done in one go, but has to be spread.  How much? As Will explains, that depends on how complex the task is, and how often the task will be performed and the gaps in between, but it’s a fair bit. Which is why I say learning should be expensive.

After these three steps, you’ll want to only include the resources that will lead to success, provide models and examples that will support success, etc, but I believe that, regardless, learners with good practice are likely to get more out of the learning experience than any other action you can take. So start with good practice, please!

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