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

3 April 2014

Egoless design

Clark @ 6:40 am

A number of years ago I wrote a series on design heuristics that emerged by looking at our cognitive limitations and practices from other field. One of the practices I covered briefly in one of the posts was egoless design, and a recent conversation reminded me of it.

The context for this is talking about how to improve our designs.  One of the things from Watts Humphrey’s work on software design was that if we don’t scrutinize our own work, we’ll have blindspots that we’re unaware of.  With regular peer review, he substantially improved code quality outcomes.  Egoless programming was all about getting our ego out of the way while we worked.

This applies to instructional design as well.  Too often we have to crank it out, and we don’t test it to see if it’s working.  Instead, if it’s finished, it is good.  How do we know?  It’s very clear that there are a lot of beliefs and practices about design that are wrong. Otherwise, we shouldn’t have this problem with elearning avoidance.  There’s too much bad elearning out there. What can we do?

One of the things we could, and should do, is design reviews. Just like code reviews, we should get other eyes looking at our work.  We should share our work at things like DemoFest, we should measure ourselves against quality criteria, and we should get expert reviews.  And, we should set performance metrics and measure against them!

Of course, that alone isn’t good enough. We have to redesign our processes once we’ve identified the flaws, to structure things so that it’s hard to do bad design, and doing good design flows naturally.  And then iterate.

If you don’t think your work is good enough to share, you’re not doing good enough work. And that needs to change.  Get started: get feedback and assistance in moving forward.  Just hearing talks about good design isn’t a bad start, but it’s not enough. You’ve got to look at what you are doing, get specifically relevant feedback, and then get assistance in redesigning your design processes.  Or you won’t know your own limitations.  It’s time to get serious about your elearning; do it as if it matters. If not, why do it at all?

2 April 2014

It’s (almost) out!

Clark @ 6:42 am

My latest tome, Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age is out.  Well, sort of.  What I mean is that it’s now available on Amazon for pre-order.  Actually, it’s been for a while, but I wanted to wait until there was some there there, and now there’s the ‘look inside’ stuff so you can see the cover, back cover (with endorsements!), table of contents, sample pages, and more.  Ok, so I’m excited!

RLnDCoverSmallWhat I’ve tried to do is make the case for dragging L&D into the 21st Century, and then provide an onramp.  As I’ve been saying, my short take is that L&D isn’t doing what it could and should be doing, and what it is doing, it is doing badly.  But I don’t believe complaining alone is particularly helpful, so I’m trying to put in place what I think will help as well.  The major components are:

  • what’s wrong (you can’t change until you admit the problem :)
  • what we know about how we think, work, and learn that we aren’t accounting for
  • what it would look like if we were doing it right
  • ways forward

By itself, it’s not the whole answer, for several reasons. First, it can’t be. I can’t know all the different situations you face, so I can’t have a roadmap forward for everyone. Instead, what I supposed you could think of is that it’s a guidebook (stretching metaphors), showing suggestions that you’ll have to sequence into your own path.  Second, we don’t know all yet. We’re still exploring many of these areas.  For example, culture change is not a recipe, it’s a process.  Third, I’m not sure any one person can know all the answers in such a big field. So, fourth, to practice what I’m preaching, there should be a community pushing this, creating the answers together.

A couple of things on that last part, the first one is a request.  The community will need to be in place by the time the book is shipping.  The question is where to host it.  I don’t intend to build a separate community for it on the book site, as there are plenty of places to do this.  Google groups, Yahoo groups, LinkedIn…the list goes on. It can’t be proprietary (e.g. you have to be a paid member to play).  Ideally it’d have collaborative tools to create resources, but I reckon that can be accommodated via links.  What do you folks think would be a good choice?

The second part of the community bit is that I’m very grateful to many people who’ve helped or contributed.  Practitioner friends and colleagues provided the five case studies I’ve the pleasure to host.  Two pioneers shared their thoughts.  The folks at ASTD have been great collaborators in both helping me with resources, and in helping me get the message out.  A number of other friends and colleagues took the time to read an early version and write endorsements.  And I’ve learned together with so many of you by attending events together, hearing you speak, reading your writings, and having you provide feedback on my thoughts via talking or writing to me after hearing me speak or commenting on my scribblings here.

The book isn’t perfect, because I have thought of a number of ways it could be improved since I provided the manuscript, but I have stuck to the mantra that at some point it’s better out than still being polished. This book came from frustration that we can be doing so much better, and we’re not. I didn’t grow up thinking “I’m going to be a revolutionary”, but I can’t not see what I see and not say something.  We can be doing so much better than we are. And so I had to be willing to just get the word out, imperfect.  It wasn’t (isn’t) clear that I’m the best person to call this out, but someone needs to!

That said, I have worked really hard to have the right pieces in place.  I’ve collected and integrated what I think are the necessary frameworks, provided case studies and a workplace scenario, and some tools to work forward.   I have done my best to provide a short and cogent kickstart to moving forward.  

Just to let you know that I’m starting my push.  I’ll be presenting on the book at ASTD’s ICE conference, and doing some webinars. Bryan Austin of GameOn Learning interviewed me on my thoughts in this direction.  I do believe in the message, and that it at least needs to be heard.  I think it’s really the necessary message for L&D (in it, you’ll find out why I’m suggesting we need to shift to P&D!).  Forewarned!  I look forward to your feedback.

12 March 2014

Aligning with us

Clark @ 7:06 am

The main complaint I think I have about the things L&D does isn’t so much that it’s still mired in the industrial age of plan, prepare, and execute, but that it’s just not aligned with how we think, learn, and perform, certainly not for information age organizations.  There are very interesting rethinks in all these areas, and our practices are not aligned.

So, for example, the evidence is that our thinking is not the formal logical thinking that underpins our assumptions of support.  Recent work paints a very different picture of how we think.  We abstract meaning but don’t handle concrete details well, have trouble doing complex thinking and focusing attention, and our thinking is very much influenced by context and the tools we use.

This suggests that we should be looking much more at contextual performance support and providing models, saving formal learning for cases when we really need a significant shift in our understanding and how that plays out in practice.

Similarly, we learn better when we’re emotionally engaged, when we’re equipped with explanatory and predictive models, and when we practice in rich contexts.  We learn better when our misunderstandings are understood, when our practice adjusts for how we are performing, and feedback is individual and richly tied to conceptual models.  We also learn better together, and when our learning to learn skills are also well honed.

Consequently, our learning similarly needs support in attention, rich models, emotional engagement, and deeply contextualized practice with specific feedback.  Our learning isn’t a result of a knowledge dump and a test, and yet that’s most of what see.

And not only do we learn better together, we work better together.  The creative side of our work is enhanced significantly when we are paired with diverse others in a culture of support, and we can make experiments.  And it helps if we understand how our work contributes, and we’re empowered to pursue our goals.

This isn’t a hierarchical management model, it’s about leadership, and culture, and infrastructure.  We need bottom-up contributions and support, not top-down imposition of policies and rigid definitions.

Overall, the way organizations need to work requires aligning all the elements to work with us the way our minds operate.  If we want to optimize outcomes, we need to align both performance and innovation.  Shall we?

3 March 2014

Conference advice

Clark @ 8:31 am

David Kelly of the eLearning Guild has a series of interviews going on about attending conferences.  The point is to help attendees get some good strategies about how to prepare beforehand and take advantage after the fact, as well as what to bring and how to get the most out of it.

Today’s interview is me, and you’re welcome to have a look at my thoughts on conferences.   Feedback welcome!

19 February 2014

Explain versus describe?

Clark @ 6:45 am

I’ve been watching the Olympics, at least select bits (tho’ I’m an Olympics widower; the full panoply is being watched in the house). And I enjoy seeing some of the things that I can relate to, but I realize that the commentators make a big difference.

The distinction seems to come down to a fundamental difference (aside from the ones that drill into uncomfortable zones with a zeal that seems to be a wee bit inhuman): the ones who describe what’s happening versus those who explain.  Let me explain.

Description isn’t a bad thing, so when I watch (American) football, a guilty pleasure, the play-by-play commentator tends to describe the action, helping to ascertain what’s happened in case it’s confounded by intervening people, bad camera angles, interruptions, what have you.  Similarly, I’ve been listening to Olympic commentators describe the action in case I have missed it. And that’s helpful.

But in football, the color commentator (often a player or coach), interprets or explains what happened, and interprets it.  Similarly, the good commentary on Olympics has someone explain not just what happened (X just made a spectacular run), but why (Y was absorbing the forces better, minimizing the elements that would detract from speed). And this is really important.

I have a former mentor, colleague, and friend who is now part of an organization that enhances sports broadcasts with additional information; it’s a form of augmented reality showing things that started with first down lines in football but now includes things like wind and tracking information in the America’s cup.  Similarly, I have loved the overlays of one person’s performance against another.  The point is providing insight into the context, and more importantly the thinking behind the performance.

The relevance I’m seeing is that showing the underlying concepts help inform the exceptional performance, help educate about the nuances, and help support comprehension. This relates so much to what we need to be doing in business.  Working and learning out loud is so important to transfer skills across the organization. Showing the thinking helps spread the understanding. Whether it’s breaking from the pack in snow cross, or closing deals, having the thinking annotated is essential for spreading learning.

Whether it’s a retrospective by the performer or expert commentary, explaining, not just describing, is important. Does my explanation make sense? :)

18 February 2014

Flip the office?

Clark @ 6:22 am

In talking with my ITA colleagues yesterday, we were discussing the necessity of  going into the office, or not.  And it seemed that there were times it made sense, and times it didn’t.

What doesn’t make sense is trying to do work in an office.  If you need to think, having random conversations and interruptions happen gets in the way.  Yes,  you need colleagues and resources ‘to hand’, but that’s available digitally and distally.

Being together makes sense, it seemed to us, when you either are meeting for the first time (e.g. with clients), or want creative friction.  You can interact virtually for planned work, but it helps to interact F2F when getting to know one another, and when you’re looking for serendipitous interactions.  Jay Cross, in his landmark Informal Learning book, talked about how offices were being designed to have the mail room and coffee in the same place, to facilitate those interactions.  If conversations are the engine of business, having the opportunity for their occurrence is useful.

This seems the opposite of most visions of work: work away from the office, interact in the office, instead of the reverse.  So, is this the flipped office?


4 February 2014

Jill Bolte Taylor Training 14 #trg14 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 3:18 pm

Jill Bolte Taylor gave a rapid fire overview of our cognitive anatomy and insights about how we act and why. Most importantly, she gave us a powerful message about how we can choose who and how we can be.


3 February 2014

Shawn Achor Training 14 #Trg14 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 10:35 am

Shawn Achor gave a rapidfire, amusing, and engaging presentation about the benefits of happiness and ways to cultivate it.


28 January 2014

Starting trouble

Clark @ 7:04 am

This seems to be my year of making trouble, and one of the ways is talking about what L&D is and isn’t doing. As a consequence of the forthcoming book (no cover comps yet nor ability to preorder), I’ve had to put my thoughts together, and I’m giving the preliminary version next Thurs, February 6, at 11AM PT, 2PM ET as a webinar for ASTD.

The gist is that there are a number of changes L&D is not accommodating: changes in how business should be run, changes in understanding how we think and perform, and even our understanding of learning has advanced (at least beyond the point that most of our corporate approaches seem to recognize).  Most L&D really seems stuck in the industrial age, and yet we’re in the information age.

And this just doesn’t make sense!  We should be the most eager adopters of technology, staying on top of new developments and looking for their potential to support our organizations.  We should be leading the charge in being learning organizations: following the business precepts of experimenting regularly, failing fast, and reflecting on the outcomes.  Yet that doesn’t reflect what the we’re seeing.

To move forward, we need to do more. To address business needs, we need to consider performance support and social networks. In fact, I argue that these should be our first line of defense, and courses should only be used when a significant skill shift is required.  We should be leveraging technology more effectively, looking at semantics and content architectures as well as mobile and contextual opportunities.  And we need to be getting strategic about how we’re helping the organization and evaluating not just efficiency but our effectiveness and impact.

This is just the start of a rolling series of activities trying to inject a sense of urgency into L&D (change management step 1).  While this will be covered in print, in sessions starting with last week’s TK14, and continuing through Learning Solutions and ICE, here’s a chance to get a headstart.  Look for a followup somewhere around April.  Hope you’ll join us!

24 January 2014

Kate Hartman #ASTDTK14 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 11:58 am

At ASTD’s TechKnowledge Conference, Kate Hartman talked about wearable computing, showing examples of her idiosyncratic projects connecting people to the world, each other, and themselves.


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