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

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.

9 September 2015

Culture Before Strategy

Clark @ 8:02 am

In an insightful article, Ken Majer (full disclosure, a boss of mine many years ago) has written about the need to have the right culture before executing strategy.  And this strikes me as a valuable contribution to thinking about effective change in the transformation of L&D in the Revolution.

I have argued that you can get some benefits from the Revolution without having an optimized culture, but you’re not going to tap into the full potential. Revising formal learning to be truly effective by aligning to how we learn, adding in performance support in ways that augment our cognitive limitations, etc, are all going to offer useful outcomes. I think the optimal execution stuff will benefit, but  the ability to truly tap into the network for the continual innovation requires making it safe and meaningful to share. If it’s not safe to Show Your Work, you can’t capitalize on the benefits.

What Ken is talking about here is ensuring you have values and culture in alignment with the vision and mission.  And I’ll go further and say that in the long term, those values have to be about valuing people and the culture has to be about working and learning together effectively.  I think that’s the ultimate goal when you really want to succeed: we know that people perform best when given meaningful work and are empowered to pursue it.

It’s not easy, for sure.  You need to get explicit about your values and how those manifest in how you work. You’ll likely find that some of the implicit values are a barrier, and they’ll require conscious work to address. The change in approach on the part of management and executives and the organizational restructuring that can accompany this new way of working isn’t going to happen overnight, and change is hard.  But it is increasingly, and will be, a business necessity.

So too for the move to a new L&D. You can start working in these ways within your organization, and grow it.  And you should. It’s part of the path, the roadmap, to the revolution.  I’m working on more bits of it, trying to pull it together more concretely, but it’s clear to me that one thread (and as already indicated in the diagrams that accompany the book) is indeed a path to a more enabling culture. In the long term, it will be uplifting, and it’s worth getting started on now.

1 September 2015

Community of improvement?

Clark @ 8:02 am

In a conversation I had recently, specifically about a community focused on research, I used the term ‘community of improvement’, and was asked how that was different than a community of practice. It caused me to think through what the differences might be.  (BTW, the idea was sparked by conversations with Lucian Tarnowski from BraveNew.)

First, let me say that a community of practice could be, and should be, a community of improvement. One of the principles of practice is reflection and improvement.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  A community of practice could just be a place where people answer each other’s questions, collaborate on tasks, and help one another with issues not specifically aligned with the community.  But there should be more.

What I suggested in the conversation was that a community should also be about documenting practice, applying that practice through action or design research, and reflecting on the outcomes and the implications for practice.  The community should be looking to other fields for inspiration, and attempting experiments. It’s the community equivalent of Schön’s reflective practitioner.  And it’s more than just cooperation or collaboration, but actively engaging and working to improve.

Basically, this requires collaboration tools, not just communication tools. It requires: places to share thoughts; ways to find partners on the documentation, experimentation, and reflection; and support to track and share the resulting changes on community practices.

Yes, obviously a real community of practice should be doing this, but too often I see community tools without the collaboration tools. So I think it’s worth being explicit about what we would hope will accompany the outcomes.  So, where do we do this, and how?


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.


4 August 2015

Teasing apart cooperation and collaboration

Clark @ 8:36 am

There have been a couple of recent proposals about the relative role of cooperation and collaboration, and I’m trying to make sense of them.  Here are a couple of different approaches, and my first take at teasing them apart.

Dion Hinchcliffe of Adjuvi tweeted a diagram about different types of working together that shows his take. He has coordination as a subsidiary to cooperation and on to collaboration.  So coordination is when we know what needs to be done, but we can’t do it alone. Cooperation is when we’re doing things that need to have a contribution from each of us, and requires some integration. And collaboration is when we’re working together with a goal but not clear how we’ll get there.  I think what’s core here is how well defined the task is and how much we contribute.

In the meantime, Harold Jarche, my ITA colleague, as a different take.  He sees collaboration as working together to achieve a goal that’s for the organization, whereas cooperation goes beyond.  Cooperation is where we participate and assist one another for our own goals.  It’s contribution that’s uncoupled from any sense of requirement, and is freely given.  I see here the discussion is more about our motives; why are we engaged.

With those two different takes, I see them as different ways of carving up the activities. My initial reaction is closer to Dion’s; I’ve always seen cooperation as willingness to assist when asked, or to provide pointers. To me collaboration is higher; it’s willing to not just provide assistance in clearly defined ways such as pointers to relevant work, answering questions, etc, but to actively roll up sleeves and pitch in.  (Coordination is, to me I guess, a subset of cooperation.) With collaboration I’ve got a vested interest in the outcome, and am willing to help frame the question, do independent research, iterate, and persist to achieve the outcome.

I see the issue of motivation or goal as a different thing. I can cooperate in a company-directed manner, as expected, but I also can (and do) cooperate in a broader sense; when people ask for help (my principles are simple: talk ideas for free; help someone personally for dinner/drinks; if someone’s making a quid  I get a cut), I will try to assist (with the Least Assistance Principle in mind).  I can also collaborate on mutual goals (whether ITA projects or client work), but then I can also collaborate on things that have no immediate outcome except to improve the industry as a whole (*cough* Serious eLearning Manifesto *cough*).

So I see two independent dimensions: one on the effort invested, just responding to need or actively contributing; and the other on the motivation, whether for a structured goal or for the greater good.

Now I have no belief that either of them will necessarily agree with my take, but I’d like to reconcile these interpretations for the overall understanding (or at least my own!).  That’s my first take, feedback welcome!

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?).


28 July 2015

The New Business Imperative

Clark @ 8:27 am

Learning is the new business imperativeIt is now an indisputable business reality: companies must become more nimble and agile. As things move faster, new processes arise, and the time to copy a new business approach drops, it becomes clear that continual innovation is the only way to not just survive, but thrive.  And this doesn’t, can’t, come from the status quo.

And if the answer isn’t known, as is inherent in situations like problem-solving, trouble-shooting, new product/service creation, and more, then this, too, is a form of learning. But not the type addressed by training rooms or eLearning courses. They serve a role, but not this new one, this needed approach,  We need something new.

What we need are two things: effective collaboration and meta-learning. Innovation comes, we know, from collaboration.  Collaboration is the new learning, where we bring complementary strengths to bear on a problem in a process structured to be optimally aligned with how our brains work.  And we need to create a culture and set of skills around continually learning, which means understanding learning to learn, aka meta-learning.

Accelerating the development of these capabilities means doing things different and new. It means sowing the seeds by instigating a learning process that develops not only some specific needed capabilities, but also the meta-learning and collaboration skills.  It means understanding, valuing, and explicitly developing the ability of people to learn alone and together. It means making it safe to share, to ‘work out loud’. And finally it means scaling up from small success to organizational transformation.

This is a doable, albeit challenging move, but it is critical to organizations that will excel. Learning is no longer a ‘nice to have’, or even an imperative, it is the only sustainable differentiator.  The question is: are you ready?  Are you making the new learning a strategic priority?

23 July 2015

A Nurturing Culture #blimage

Clark @ 8:34 am

My colleague Jane Hart dobbed me (and several other colleagues) in for the #blimage challenge.  I usually resent when someone publicly asks me to do something, but fortunately this is easy and, well, it is Jane ;). She presented the following image and our task is to blog about it:

So my take is how things grow in a nurturing environment.  Here plants are flourishing under the energy of the sun.  This to me is a metaphor for the benefits of creating a culture in which learning can flourish.  I’ve earlier detailed what the research says about the elements of a learning organization, and it’s clear that you  need a culture with several elements.

First, learning independently has to be enabled. The resources to learn need to be there, as does the time for learning. Further, the ability to learn on one’s own shouldn’t be taken for granted; identify, model, evangelize, and develop these abilities.

In addition, learning is social.  The possibilities to learn together need to be facilitated.  There need to be ways to find individuals with complementary skills to learn together. This in particular means collaboration: learning while innovating on solving new problems, devising new solutions, and more.  It also means being willing to share. It has to be safe to ‘show your work’!  Again, don’t assume skills for learning together, but scaffold the development of these abilities.

It is really important that leadership reinforces learning, both by supporting and more importantly by practicing visibly! There’s evidence that when leadership doesn’t share, others won’t truly believe it’s valued.

So there’s my blog on the image.  Two colleagues also were challenged with this image and have replied; you can see what they came up with:

Jane Bozarth

Charles Jennings

Rather than dob in anyone in particular, I will simply recommend that you take your own stab, and here’s a proposed image:


I hope to hear what you come up with; drop a link in the comments if you do!


22 July 2015

Trust and betrayal

Clark @ 7:59 am

I’ve been part of several online communities for some years now, and one just blew up. From the reasons why, I think that there are lessons to be had that go beyond personal to implications for L&D.

The thing that was critical to the success of the group was trust; you could trust it was safe to share opinions, seek out others’ help, etc.  People ‘let it all hang out’, and that was a good thing. While it was risky, it worked because everyone was open and honest. Or so we thought.

Then something happened that broke the trust. What had been safe no longer was.  And that undermined the very basis upon which the group had been valuable. If what was said wasn’t safe, the group couldn’t be used to share and learn from.

The bigger implication, of course, is that trust is a critical part of a learning culture, one where the best outcomes come from. And trust is a fragile thing.  It only takes one violation to make it hard to rebuild.  And if you can’t share, you can’t benefit from working out loud, showing your work, and more.  It’s back to the Miranda organization, where anything you say can and will be held against you.

The take-home here is that it’s hard to build a learning culture, and easy to undermine.  It takes committed leadership. The upside is of considerable value, but you have to get buy-in, and walk the walk. It’s doable, and even recoverable in many instances, but it won’t happen without work.  I’ll suggest that it’s worth it; what say you?

1 July 2015

Social Media Policy?

Clark @ 8:08 am

So what’s your social media policy?  It’s not something you should do lightly, or haphazardly, it seems to me. In fact, such a policy really is part of your personal knowledge mastery.  While your systems may vary, your results should be sources for you to find information, present yourself in your various communities, and to share your thoughts.  Let’s do this by platform.

Facebook, is for me, the place I be me. Clark Quinn, not Quinnovation.  The people I connect to there are a relatively small group that I know through various phases of my life: there are people I’ve known since kindergarten through college, neighbors and friends through various of my various residences, and some professional associations that have also become friends.  And a few others that are hard to categorize other than that they interest me. Largely, it’s people I trust enough to let me be me. If I don’t connect to you there, it’s not a reflection of you, it’s that I just don’t know you well enough to connect.  I can see a B2C company using Facebook, but that’s not me, so it’s not a biz place.

Oddly, I used to connect to almost anyone related to elearning on Facebook, but I realized that was a mistake.  I determined that LinkedIn was where I should harbor professional connections, so I trimmed my Facebook connections down and offer most anyone connected to elearning to connect to me on LinkedIn.  I even choose to connect to people I don’t know (rightly or wrongly).  On the other hand, I also get connection requests from bankers, real estate people, and others that I see no connection with. Typically I’ll ask why they want to connect, and when I do get responses, it’s typically a scam (you know, “dying and want to give you my millions”; yeah. right). They get the appropriate treatment. And a caveat, if there’s biz dev or sales in the title even if it is elearning, I sign but also respond that if the first thing they do is pitch me their services, I’ll disconnect. And do.

Twitter, of course, is where I follow folks of interest professionally, personally, or even politically. It’s a place to get pointers to new things and of course to reciprocate.  It’s timely, short, and often fun. And there’re the various chats that I participate in around learning (e.g. #lrnchat, which I was recruited to be one of the original moderators, though I’ve finally stepped away, and a few others I join when I can), as another learning channel.  During those times I’ll generate and share a fair bit of tweets, otherwise it’s more opportunistic.

And, of course, this is my blog, for deeper reflections. Like this.  I believe that if you find someone interesting, and follow both their blogs and their tweets, you can see what they’re tracking and then their reflections, and use them as a mentor.  A stealth mentor, as I like to call it ;).  And I follow a number of my colleagues who I think have demonstrated the ability to regularly contribute independent thoughts (not just rehashing others) and are tied into sources of real value (not just hype).

I confess I’m not yet on Pinterest, Instagram, and others. With finite time, I have to find things that offer real value. And I have my own blinders, just like others.   I’m not facile with video (I also don’t have the attention to watch long things, I think I’m coming to grips with a touch of ADD, with all the good and bad that comes with it).

Other social media tools I use for specific things include Yammer, Skype, and of course dedicated tools like Google Docs of various sorts, Doodle, and more.  And I use IFTTT to send blog announcements to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I’m not a big user of Google Plus, but if IFTTT did have that as a recipe, I would post there too.

Others have other strategies. Some are more closed on LinkedIn, I have friends and colleagues, don’t use Facebook, etc.  The point is to be conscious in your use, and understand the tradeoffs (e.g. the filter bubble).  I want to have a place to share with folks I’m not proximal with, but not professionally. And a place to connect with my professional colleagues. I need a place to follow pointers, and a place to reflect.  This is my social media learning strategy.  What’s yours?

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