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

27 October 2015

Showing the World

Clark @ 8:03 am

One of the positive results of investigations into making work more effective has been the notion of transparency, which manifests as either working and learning ‘out loud‘, or in calls to Show Your Work.  In these cases, it’s so people can know what you’re doing, and either provide useful feedback or learn from you.  However, a recent chat in the L&D Revolution group on LinkedIn on Augmented Reality (AR) surfaced another idea.

We were talking about how AR could be used to show how to do things, providing information for instance on how to repair a machine. This has already been seen in examples by BMW, for instance. But I started thinking about how it could be used to support education, and took it a bit further.

So many years ago, Jim Spohrer proposed WorldBoard, a way to annotate the world. It was like the WWW, but it was location specific, so you could have specific information about a place at the place.  And it was a good idea that got some initial traction but obviously didn’t continue.

The point, however, would be to ‘expose’ the world. In particular, given my emphasis on the value of models, I’d love to have models exposed. Imagine what we could display:

  • the physiology of an animal we’re looking at to flows of energy in an ecosystem
  • the architectural or engineering features of a building or structure
  • the flows of materials through a manufacturing system
  • the operation of complex devices

The list goes on. I’ve argued before that we should expose our learning designs as a way to hand over learning control to learners, developing their meta-learning skills. I think if we could expose how things work and the thinking behind them, we’d be boosting STEM in a big way.

We could go further, annotating exhibits and performances as well.  And it could be auditory as well, so you might not need to have glasses, or you could just hold up the camera and see the annotations on the screen. You could of course turn them on or off, and choose which filters you want.

The systems exist: Layar commercially, ARIS in the open source space (with different capabilities).  The hard part is the common frameworks, agreeing what and how, etc.   However, the possibilities to really raise understanding is very much an opportunity.  Making the workings of the world visible seems to me to be a very intriguing possibility to leverage the power we now hold in our hand. Ok, so this is ‘out there’, but I hope we might see this flourishing quickly.  What am I missing?

21 October 2015

Learning by experimenting

Clark @ 8:14 am

In some recent work, an organization is looking to find a way to learn fast enough to cope with the increasing changes we’re seeing.  Or, better yet, learn ahead of the curve. And this led to some thoughts.

As a starting point, it helps to realize that adapting to change is a form of learning. So, what are the individual equivalents we might use as an analogy?  Well, in known areas we take a course. On the other hand, for self-learning, e.g. when there isn’t a source for the answer, we need to try things.  That is, we need a cycle of: do – review -refine.

In the model of a learning organization, experimentation is clearly listed as a component of concrete learning processes and practices.  And my thought was that it is therefore  clear that any business unit or community of practice that wants to be leading the way needs to be trying things out.

I’ve argued before that learning units need to be using new technologies to get their minds around the ‘affordances’ possible to support organizational performance and development.  Yet we see that far too few organizations are using  social networks for learning (< 30%), for example.

If you’re systematically tracking what’s going on, determining small experiments to trial out the implications, documenting and sharing the results, you’re going to be learning out ahead of the game. This should be the case for all business units, and I think this is yet another area that L&D could and should be facilitating.  And by facilitating, I mean: modeling (by doing it internally), evangelizing, supporting in process, publicizing, rewarding, and scaling.

I think the way to keep up with the rate of change is to be driving it.  Or, as Alan Kay put it: “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.  Yes, this requires some resources, but it’s ultimately key to organizational success, and L&D can and should be the driver of the process within the organization.

7 October 2015

AI and Learning

Clark @ 8:10 am

At the recent DevLearn, Donald Clark talked about AI in learning, and while I largely agreed with what he said, I had some thoughts and some quibbles. I discussed them with him, but I thought I’d record them here, not least as a basis for a further discussion.

Donald’s an interesting guy, very sharp and a voracious learner, and his posts are both insightful and inciteful (he doesn’t mince words ;). Having built and sold an elearning company, he’s now free to pursue what he believes and it’s currently in the power of technology to teach us.

As background, I was an AI groupie out of college, and have stayed current with most of what’s happened.  And you should know a bit of the history of the rise of Intelligent Tutoring Systems, the problems with developing expert models, and current approaches like Knewton and Smart Sparrow. I haven’t been free to follow the latest developments as much as I’d like, but Donald gave a great overview.

He pointed to systems being on the verge of auto parsing content and developing learning around it.  He showed an example, and it created questions from dropping in a page about Las Vegas.  He also showed how systems can adapt individually to the learner, and discussed how this would be able to provide individual tutoring without many limitations of teachers (cognitive bias, fatigue), and can not only personalize but self-improve and scale!

One of my short-term problems was that the questions auto-generated were about knowledge, not skills. While I do agree that knowledge is needed (ala VanMerriënboer’s 4CID) as well as applying it, I think focusing on the latter first is the way to go.

This goes along with what Donald has rightly criticized as problems with multiple-choice questions. He points out how they’re largely used as knowledge test, and I agree that’s wrong, but while there are better practice situations (read: simulations/scenarios/serious games), you can write multiple choice as mini-scenarios and get good practice.  However, it’s as yet an interesting research problem, to me, to try to get good scenario questions out of auto-parsing content.

I naturally argued for a hybrid system, where we divvy up roles between computer and human based upon what we each do well, and he said that is what he is seeing in the companies he tracks (and funds, at least in some cases).  A great principle.

The last bit that interested me was whether and how such systems could develop not only learning skills, but meta-learning or learning to learn skills. Real teachers can develop this and modify it (while admittedly rare), and yet it’s likely to be the best investment. In my activity-based learning, I suggested that gradually learners should take over choosing their activities, to develop their ability to become self-learners.  I’ve also suggested how it could be layered on top of regular learning experiences. I think this will be an interesting area for developing learning experiences that are scalable but truly develop learners for the coming times.

There’s more: pedagogical rules, content models, learner models, etc, but we’re finally getting close to be able to build these sorts of systems, and we should be  aware of what the possibilities are, understanding what’s required, and on the lookout for both the good and bad on tap.  So, what say you?

30 September 2015

Connie Yowell #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 4:58 pm

Connie Yowell gave a passionate and informing presentation on the driving forces behind digital badges.

David Pogue #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 10:41 am

David Pogue addressed the DevLearn audience on Learning Disruption. In a very funny and insightful presentation, he ranged from the Internet of Things, thru disintermediation and wearables, pointing out disruptive trends. He concluded by talking about the new generation and the need to keep trying new things. 

24 September 2015

Looking forward on content

Clark @ 8:04 am

At DevLearn next week, I’ll be talking about content systems in session 109.  The point is that instead of monolithic content, we want to start getting more granular for more flexible delivery. And while there I’ll be talking about some of the options on how, here I want to make the case about why, in a simplified way.

As an experiment (gotta keep pushing the envelope in a myriad of ways), I’ve created a video, and I want to see if I can embed it.  Fingers crossed.  Your feedback welcome, as always.


22 September 2015

Biz tech

Clark @ 8:28 am

One of my arguments for the L&D revolution is the role that L&D could be playing.  I believe that if L&D were truly enabling optimal execution as well as facilitating continual innovation (read: learning), then they’d be as critical to the organization as IT. And that made me think about how this role would differ.

To be sure, IT is critical.  In today’s business, we track our business, do our modeling, run operations, and more with IT.  There is plenty of vertical-specific software, from product design to transaction tracking, and of course more general business software such as document generation, financials, etc.  So how does L&D be as ubiquitous as other software?  Several ways.

First, formal learning software is really enterprise-wide.  Whether it’s simulations/scenarios/serious games, spaced learning delivered via mobile, or user-generated content (note: I’m deliberately avoiding the LMS and courses ;), these things should play a role in preparing the audience to optimally execute and being accessed by a large proportion of the audience.  And that’s not including our tools to develop same.

Similarly, our performance support solutions – portals housing job aids and context-sensitive support – should be broadly distributed.  Yes, IT may own the portals, but in most cases they are not to be trusted to do a user- and usage-centered solution.  L&D should be involved in ensuring that the solutions both articulate with and reflect the formal learning, and are organized by user need not business silo.

And of course the social network software – profiles and locators as well as communication and collaboration tools – should be under the purview of L&D. Again, IT may own them or maintain them, but the facilitation of their use, the understanding of the different roles and ensuring they’re being used efficiently, is a role for L&D.

My point here is that there is an enterprise-wide category of software, supporting learning in the big sense (including problem-solving, research, design, innovation), that should be under the oversight of L&D.  And this is the way in which L&D becomes more critical to the enterprise.  That it’s not just about taking people away from work and doing things to them before sending them back, but facilitating productive engagement and interaction throughout the workflow.  At least at the places where they’re stepping outside of the known solutions, and that is increasingly going to be the case.

18 August 2015

Where in the world is…

Clark @ 8:09 am

It’s time for another game of Where’s Clark?  As usual, I’ll be somewhat peripatetic this fall, but more broadly scoped than usual:

  • First I’ll be hitting Shenzhen, China at the end of August to talk advanced mlearning for a private event.
  • Then I’ll be hitting the always excellent DevLearn in Las Vegas at the end of September to run a workshop on learning science for design (you should want to attend!) and give a session on content engineering.
  • At the beginning of November I’ll be at LearnTech Asia in Singapore, with an impressive lineup of fellow speakers to again sing the praises of reforming L&D.

Yes, it’s quite the whirl, but with this itinerary I should be somewhere near you almost anywhere you are in the world. (Or engage me to show up at your locale!) I hope to see you at one event or another before the year is out.


11 August 2015

Content engineering

Clark @ 8:09 am

We’ve heard about learning engineering and while the focus is on experience design, the pragmatics include designing content to create the context, resources, and motivation for the activity.  And it’s time we step beyond just hardwiring this content together, and start treating it as professionals.

Look at business websites these days. You can customize the content you’re searching for with filters.  The content reacts to the device you’re on and displays appropriately.  There can even be content that is specific to your particular trace of action through the site and previous visits.  Just look at Amazon or Netflix recommendations!

This doesn’t happen by hardwired sites anymore.  If you look at the conferences around content, you’ll find that they’re talking industrial strength solutions.  They use content management systems, carefully articulated with tight definitions and associated tags, and rules that pull together those content elements by definition into the resulting site.  This is content engineering, and it’s a direction we need to go.

What’s involved is tighter templates around content roles, metadata describing the content, and management of the content. You write into the system, describe it, and pull it out by description, not by hard link. This allows flexibility and rules that can pull differentially by different contexts: different people, different role, different need, and different device. We also separate out what it says from how it looks, using tags to support rendering appropriately on different devices rather than hard-coding the appearance as well as the content and the assembly.

This is additional work, but the reasons are several.  First, being tighter around content definitions provides a greater opportunity to be scientific about the role the content plays. We’re too lax in our content, so that beyond a good objective, we don’t specify what makes a good example, etc.   Second, by using a system to maintain that content, we can get more rigorous in content management.  I regularly ask audiences whether they have outdated legacy content hanging around, and pretty much everyone agrees. This isn’t effective content governance, and content should have regular cycles of review and expiry dates.

By this tighter process, we not only provide better content design, delivery, and management, but we set the stage for the future.  Personalization and customization, contextualization, are hampered when you have to hand-configure every option you will support. It’s much easier to write a new set of rules and then your content can serve new purposes, new business models, and more.

If you want to know more about this, I hope to see you at my session on content at DevLearn!

29 July 2015

The future of libraries?

Clark @ 8:30 am

I had lunch recently with Paul Signorelli, who’s active in helping libraries with digital literacy, and during the conversation he talked about his vision of the future of the library. What I heard was a vision of libraries moving beyond content to be about learning, and this had several facets I found thought-provoking.

Now, as context, I’ve always been a fan of libraries and library science (and librarians). They were some of the first to deal with the issues involved in content organization, leading to information science, and their insight into tagging and finding is still influencing content architecture and engineering.  But here we’re talking about the ongoing societal role of libraries.

First, to be about learning, it has to be about experience, not content. This is the crux of a message I’ve tried to present to publishers, when they were still wrestling with the transition from book to content!  In this case, it’s an interesting proposition about how libraries would wrap their content to create learning experiences.

Interestingly, Paul also suggested that he was thinking broader, about how libraries could also point to people who could help. This is a really intriguing idea, about libraries becoming a local broker between expertise and needs.  Not all the necessary resources are books or even print, and as libraries are now providing video and audio as well as print, and on to computer access to resources beyond the library’s collection, so too can it be about people.

This is a significant shift, but it parallels the oft-told story of marketing myopia, e.g. about how railroads aren’t about trains but instead are about transportation.  What is the role of the library in the era of the internet, of self-help.

One role, of course, is to be the repository of research skills, about digital literacy (which is where this conversation had started).  However, this notion of being a center of supporting learning, not just a center of content, moves those literacy skills to include learning as well!  But it goes further.

This notion turns the role of a library into a solution: whether you  need to get something done, learn something, or more, e.g. more than just learning but also performance support and social, becoming the local hub for helping people succeed.  He aptly pointed out how this is a natural way to use the fact that libraries tend to exist on public money; to become an even richer part of supporting the community.

It’s also, of course, an interesting way to think about how the locus of supporting people shifts from L&D and library to a joint initiative.  Whether there’s still a corporate library is an open question, but it may be a natural partner to start thinking about a broader perspective for L&D in the organization. I’m still pondering the ways in which libraries could facilitate learning (just as trainers should become learning facilitators, so too should librarians?).


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