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

19 May 2015

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Clark @ 9:44 am

Is there an appetite for change in L&D? That was the conversation I’ve had with colleagues lately. And I have to say that that the answer is mixed, at best.

The consensus is that most of L&D is comfortably numb. That L&D folks are barely coping with getting courses out on a rapid schedule and running training events because that’s what’s expected and known. There really isn’t any burning desire for change, or willingness to move even if there is.

This is a problem. As one commented: “When I work with others (managers etc) they realise they don’t actually need L&D any more”. And that’s increasingly true: with tools to do narrated slides, screencasts, and videos in the hands of everyone, there’s little need to have the same old ordinary courses coming from L&D. People can create or access portals to share created and curated resources, and social networks to interact with one another. L&D will become just a part of HR, addressing the requirements – onboarding and compliance – everything else will be self-serve.

The sad part of this is the promise of what L&D could be doing. If L&D started facilitating learning, not controlling it, things could go better. If L&D realized it was about supporting the broad spectrum of learning, including self-learning, and social learning, and research and problem-solving and trouble-shooting and design and all the other situations where you don’t know the answer when you start, the possibilities are huge. L&D could be responsible for optimizing execution of the things they know people need to do, but with a broader perspective that includes putting knowledge into the world when possible. And L&D could be also optimizing the ability of the organization to continually innovate.

It is this possibility that keeps me going. There’s the brilliant world where the people who understand learning combine with the people who know technology and work together to enable organizations to flourish. That’s the world I want to live in, and as Alan Kay famously said: “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Can we, please?

12 May 2015

A new ‘turn to your neighbor’

Clark @ 7:40 am

So, I was continuing the campaign for the Revolution, and wanted to expand the audience interaction. I could’ve used the tired ‘turn to your neighbor’ technique, but I had a thought (dangerous, that).  Could it be improved upon?

As I may have mentioned, there has been a backlash against ‘brainstorming’. For example, the New York Times had an article about how it didn’t work, saying that if you bring people into a room, and then give them a problem or topic, and then get them to discuss, it won’t work. And they’re right!  Because that is a broken model of brainstorming; it’s a straw man argument.

A real model of brainstorming has the individuals thinking about the problem individually beforehand, before you bring them together. When you have them not have a chance to think independently, the first person to speak colors the thoughts of the others, but if people can come up with their own ideas first, then share and improve, it works well.  The room is smarter than the smartest person in the room, as the quote has it, but the caveat is that you have to manage the process right.

So how does this relate to the ‘turn to your neighbor’?  It occurred to me that a clear implication was that if you thought to yourself first, before sharing, you’d get a better outcome. And so that’s what I did: I had them think for themselves on the question I presented, then share, and then stop.

Now, to be fair, I didn’t have time to ask for all the output, instead I asked who had come up with ‘formal’ for a question on what supports optimal execution, and who came up with facilitating the flow of information as a solution for supporting innovation. So we have practical limits on what we can do with a large audience and a small amount of time.  However, I did ask at the end of the first one whether they thought it worthwhile. And I asked again of a subset of the audience who attended the next day workshop (“Clark Quinn’s workshop on Strategic Elearning is awesome” was a comment, <fist pump>) what they thought.

Overall the feedback was that it was an improvement. Certainly the outputs should be better.  One was “energized”. The overall take of the large audience and the smaller one was very positive.  It doesn’t take much longer, because it’s easy to do the quick thinking bit (and it’s no easier to get them to stop sharing :), but it’s a lesson and an improved technique all in one!

So, now you know that if you see anyone doing just the ‘turn to your neighbor’, they’re not up on the latest research.  Wonder if we can get this to spread?  But continue exploration is a necessary element to improvement, and innovations happen through diligent work and refinement.  Please do try it out and let me know how it goes!  And, of course, even just your thoughts.

6 May 2015

Trojan Mice?

Clark @ 1:15 pm

One of the mantras of the Learning Organization is that there should be experimentation.  This has also become, of course, a mantra of the Revolution as well.  So the question becomes, what sort of experiments should we be considering?

First, for reasons both pragmatic and principled, these are more likely to be small experiments than large.  On principled reasons, even large changes are probably better off implemented as small steps. On pragmatic reasons, small changes can be built upon or abandoned as outcomes warrant.  These small changes have colloquially been labeled ‘trojan mice‘, a cute way to capture the notion of change via small incursions.

The open question, then, is what sort of trojan mice might be helpful in advancing the revolution?  We might think of them in each of the areas of change: formal, performance support, social, culture, etc.  What are some ideas?

In formal, we might, for one, push back on taking orders.  For instance, we might start asking about measures that any initiatives will be intended to address. We could also look to implementing some of the Serious eLearning Manifesto ideas. Small steps to better learning design.

For performance support, one of the first small steps might be to even do performance support, if you aren’t already. If you are, maybe look to broadening the media you use (experiment with a video, an annotated sequence of pictures, or an ebook).  Or maybe try creating a portal that is user-focused, not business-silo structured.

In the social area, you might first have to pilot an exterior social network if there isn’t one. If there is, you might start hosting activities within it.  A ‘share your learning lunch’ might be a fun way to talk about things, and bring out meta-learning.   Certainly, you could start instituting the use within L&D.

And with culture, you might start encouraging people to share how they work; what resources they use.  Maybe film the top performers in a group giving a minute or two talk on how they do what they do.  It’d be great if you could get some of the leadership to start sharing, and maybe do a survey of what your culture actually is.

The list goes on: in tech you might try some microlearning, a mobile experiment, or considering a content model (ok, not actually build one, that’s a big step ;).  In strategy, you might start gathering data about what the overall organization goals are, or what initiatives in infrastructure have been taken elsewhere in the org or are being contemplated.

The point is to start taking some small steps.  So, I’m curious, what small steps have you tried, or what ones might you think of and suggest?

30 April 2015

Activities for Integrating Learning

Clark @ 8:11 am

I’ve been working on a learning design that integrates developing social media skills with developing specific competencies, aligned with real work.  It’s an interesting integration, and I drafted a pedagogy that I believe accomplishes the task.  It draws heavily on the notion of activity-based learning.  For your consideration.

Activity ModelThe learning process is broken up into a series of activities. Each activity starts with giving the learning teams a deliverable they have to create, with a deadline an appropriate distance out.  There are criteria they have to meet, and the challenge is chosen such that it’s within their reach, but out of their grasp.  That is, they’ll have to learn some things to accomplish it.

As they work on the deliverable, they’re supported. They may have resources available to review, ideally curated (and, across the curricula, their responsibility for curating their own resources is developed as part of handing off the responsibility for learning to learn).  There may be people available for questions, and they’re also being actively watched and coached (less as they go on).

Now, ideally the goal would be a real deliverable that would achieve an impact on the organization.  That, however, takes a fair bit of support to make it a worthwhile investment. Depending on the ability of the learners, you may start with challenges that are like but not necessarily real challenges, such as evaluating a case study or working on a simulation.  The costs of mentoring go up as the consequences of the action, but so do the benefits, so it’s likely that the curriculum will similarly get closer to live tasks as it progresses.

At the deadline, the deliverables are shared for peer review, presumably with other teams. In this instance, there is a deliberate intention to have more than one team, as part of the development of the social capabilities. Reviewing others’ work, initially with evaluation heuristics, is part of internalizing the monitoring criteria, on the path to becoming a self-monitoring and self-improving learner. Similarly, the freedom to share work for evaluation is a valuable move on the path to a learning culture.  Expert review will follow, to finalize the learning outcomes.

The intent is also that the conversations and collaborations be happening in a social media platform. This is part of helping the teams (and the organization) acquire social media competencies.  Sharing, working together, accessing resources, etc. are being used in the platform just as they are used for work. At the end, at least, they are being used for work!

This has emerged as a design that develops both specific work competencies and social competencies in an integrated way.  Of course, the proof is when there’s a chance to run it, but in the spirit of working out loud…your thoughts welcome.

7 April 2015

Labeling 70:20:10

Clark @ 8:42 am

In the Debunker Club, a couple of folks went off on the 70:20:10 model, and it prompted some thoughts.  I thought I’d share them.

If you’re not familiar with 70:20:10, it’s a framework for thinking about workplace learning that suggests we need to recognize that the opportunity is about much more than courses. If you ask people how they learned the things they know to do in the workplace, the responses suggest that somewhere around 10% came from formal learning, 20% from informal coaching and such, and about 70% from trial and error.  Note the emphasis on the fact that these numbers aren’t exact, it’s just an indication (though considerable evidence suggests that the contribution of formal learning is somewhere between 5 and 20%, with evidence from a variety of sources).

Now, some people complain that the numbers can’t be right, no one gets perfect 10 measurements. To be fair, they’ve been fighting against the perversion of Dale’s Cone, where someone added numbers on that were bogus but have permeated learning for decades and can’t seem to be exterminated. It’s like zombies!  So I suspect they’re overly sensitive to whole numbers.

And I like the model!  I’ve used it to frame some of my work, using it as a framework to think about what else we can do to support performance. Coaching and mentoring, facilitating social interaction, providing challenge goals, supporting reflection, etc.  And again to justify accelerated organizational outcomes.

The retort I hear is that “it’s not about the numbers”, and I agree.  It’s just tool to help shake people out of the thought that a course is the only solution to all needs.  And, outside the learning community, people get it.  I have heard that, over presentations to hundreds of audiences of executives and managers, they all recognize that the contributions to their success came largely from sources other than courses.

However, if it’s not about the numbers, maybe calling it the 70:20:10 model may be a problem.  I really like Jane Hart’s diagram about Modern Workplace Learning as another way to look at it, though I really want to go beyond learning too.  Performance support may achieve outcomes in ways that don’t require or deliver any learning, and that’s okay. There’re times when it’s better to have knowledge in the head than in the world.

So, I like the 70:20:10 framework, but recognize that the label may be a barrier. I’m just looking for any tools I can use to help people start thinking ‘outside the course’.  I welcome suggestions!

2 March 2015

Thinking ‘out loud’

Clark @ 8:09 am

I’m a big fan of the mantras of (variously) ‘show your work‘ or ‘working out loud‘. I think that the notion of showing what you’re doing helps other work with you to make it better, or learn from you if you do well.  This contributes to the success of the ‘coherent organization‘, where information flows in ways that are aligned with the goals of the organization.  But I want to extend it a bit.

Let me use an analogy: remember when your teacher asked you to ‘show your work’?  It wasn’t just the product, but the intermediate steps, and I’m sure that’s what Jane Bozarth is implying.  But it’s too easy for people to think it’s about making your work product available instead of one that’s marked up with the underlying thinking. In user interface work it was known as ‘design rationale’, where you kept a track of the assumptions and decisions along the way.

I’ve termed this ‘cognitive annotation’ at various points (what, me create new phrases?).  And it’s really important for a number of reasons:

  • people can learn from what you thought and did
  • people can provide feedback if they notice any prior thoughts
  • and new people can avoid having a team revisit decisions

I have a couple of guilty pleasures that make this point quite clearly.  Lee Child is a writer who has a character called Jack Reacher (hence the movie, pretty entertaining despite the wrong physical type to play the lead role).  This character is  ex-military police and quite capable in challenging situations. What makes this series more than usually interesting is that the character regularly outlines the situation, the thinking behind it, and the resulting actions taken.  In doing so, it’s often a format  like “most people think X, but because of Y, Z is a better choice”.

Another place this shows up is the recently finished television series Burn Notice. In this case, a ‘burned’ spy is forced to freelance, and regularly gets in situations where again, the conventional wisdom is debunked.  With a regular approach of a ‘sting’, along with a dry humor and some larger-than-life characters, it’s fun, and interesting because of the underlying thinking that explains the choices made.

Granted, neither of these are situations I have any interest in being in, but it’s a nice twist and makes the stories more interesting.

In the real world, it can be hard to share underlying thinking if it’s a Miranda organization, but the benefits suggest that the effort to achieve a culture where such openness is ‘safe’ is a worthwhile endeavor. At least, that’s my thinking.

#itashare

27 January 2015

70:20:10 and the Learning Curve

Clark @ 8:09 am

My colleague Charles Jennings recently posted on the value of autonomous learning (worth reading!), sparked by a diagram provided by another ITA colleague, Jane Hart (that I also thought was insightful). In Charles’ post he also included an IBM diagram that triggered some associations.

So, in IBM’s diagram, they talked about: the access phase where learning is separate, the integration where learning is ‘enabled’ by work, and the on-demand phase where learning is ’embedded’. They talked about ‘point solutions’ (read: courses) for access, then blended models for integration, and dynamic models for on demand. The point was that the closer to the work that learning is, the more value.

However, I was reminded of Fits & Posner’s model of skill acquisition, which has 3 phases of cognitive, associative, and autonomous learning. The first, cognitive, is when you benefit from formal instruction: giving you models and practice opportunities to map actions to an explicit framework. (Note that this assumes a good formal learning design, not rote information and knowledge test!)  Then there’s an associative stage where that explicit framework is supported in being contextualized and compiled away.  Finally, the learner continues to improve through continual practice.

I was initially reminded of Norman & Rumelhart’s accretion, restructuring, and tuning learning mechanisms, but it’s not quite right. Still, you could think of accreting the cognitive and explicitly semantic knowledge, then restructuring that into coarse skills that don’t require as much conscious effort, until it becomes a matter of tuning a finely automated skill.

721LearningCurveThis, to me, maps more closely to 70:20:10, because you can see the formal (10) playing a role to kick off the semantic part of the learning, then coaching and mentoring (the 20) support the integration or association of the skills, and then the 70 (practice, reflection, and personal knowledge mastery including informal social learning) takes over, and I mapped it against a hypothetical improvement curve.

Of course, it’s not quite this clean. While the formal often does kick off the learning, the role of coaching/mentoring and the personal learning are typically intermingled (though the role shifts from mentee to mentor ;). And, of course, the ratios in 70:20:10 are only a framework for rethinking investment, not a prescription about how you apply the numbers.  And I may well have the curve wrong (this is too flat for the normal power law of learning), but I wanted to emphasize that the 10 only has a small role to play in moving performance from zero to some minimal level, that mentoring and coaching really help improve performance, and that ongoing development requires a supportive environment.

I think it’s important to understand how we learn, so we can align our uses of technology to support them in productive ways. As this suggests, if you care about organizational performance, you are going to want to support more than the course, as well as doing the course right.  (Hence the revolution. :)

#itashare

17 December 2014

Why L&D?

Clark @ 8:33 am

One of the concerns I hear is whether L&D still has a role.  The litany is that they’re so far out of touch with their organization, and science, that it’s probably  better to let them die an unnatural death than to try to save them. The prevailing attitude of this extreme view is that the Enterprise Social Network is the natural successor to the LMS, and it’s going to come from operations or IT rather than L&D.  And, given that I’m on record suggesting that we revolutionize L&D rather than ignoring it, it makes sense to justify why.  And while I’ve had other arguments, a really good argument comes from my thesis advisor, Don Norman.

Don’s on a new mission, something he calls DesignX, which is scaling up design processes to deal with “complex socio-technological systems”.   And he recently wrote an article about why DesignX that put out a good case why L&D as well.  Before I get there, however, I want to point out two other facets of his argument.

The first is that often design has to go beyond science. That is, while you use science when you can, when you can’t you use theory inferences, intuition, and more to fill in the gaps, which you hope you’ll find out later (based upon later science, or your own data) was the right choice.  I’ve often had to do this in my designs, where, for instance, I think research hasn’t gone quite far enough in understanding engagement.  I’m not in a research position as of now, so I can’t do the research myself, but I continue to look at what can be useful.  And this is true of moving L&D forward. While we have some good directions and examples, we’re still ahead of documented research.  He points out that system science and service thinking are science based, but suggests design needs to come in beyond those approaches.   To the extent L&D can, it should draw from science, but also theory and keep moving forward regardless.

His other important point is, to me, that he is talking about systems.  He points out that design as a craft works well on simple areas, but where he wants to scale design is to the level of systemic solutions.  A noble goal, and here too I think this is an approach L&D needs to consider as well.  We have to go beyond point solutions – training, job aids, etc – to performance ecosystems, and this won’t come without a different mindset.

Perhaps the most interesting one, the one that triggered this post, however, was a point on why designers are needed.  His point is that others have focuses on efficiency and effectiveness, but he argued that designers have empathy for the users as well.  And I think this is really important.  As I used to say the budding software engineers I was teaching interface design to: “don’t trust your intuition, you don’t think like normal people”.  And similarly, the reason I want L&D in the equation is that they (should) be the ones who really understand how we think, work, and learn, and consequently they should be the ones facilitating performance and development. It takes an empathy with users to facilitate them through change, to help them deal with fears and anxieties dealing with new systems, to understand what a good learning culture is and help foster it.

Who else would you want to be guiding an organization in achieving effectiveness in a humane way?   So Don’s provided, to me, a good point on why we might still want L&D (well, P&D really ;) in the organization. Well, as long as they also addressing the bigger picture and not just pushing info dump and knowledge test.  Does this make sense to you?

#itashare #revolutionizelnd

18 November 2014

L&D and working out loud #wolweek

Clark @ 6:15 am

This week is Working Out Loud week, and I can’t but come out in support of a principle that I think is going to be key to organizational success. And, I think, L&D has a key role to play.

The benefits from working out loud are many. Personally, documenting what you’re doing serves as a reminder to yourself and awareness for others. The real power comes, however, from taking that next level: documenting not just what you’re doing, but why. This helps you in reflecting on your own work, and being clear in your thinking. Moreover, sharing your thinking gives you a second benefit in getting others’ input which can really improve the outcome.

In addition, it gives others a couple of benefits. They get to know what you’re up to, so it’s easier to align, but if your thinking is any good, it gives them the chance to learn from how you think.

So what is the role of L&D here? I’ll suggest there are two major roles: facilitating the skills and enabling the culture.

First, don’t assume folks know what working out loud means. And even if they do, they may not be good at it in terms of knowing how to indicate the underlying thinking. And they likely will want feedback and encouragement. First, L&D needs to model it, practicing what they preach. They need to make sure the tools are easily available and awareness is shared. Execs need to be shown the benefit and encouraged to model the behavior too. And L&D will have to trumpet the benefits, accomplishments, and encourage the behavior.

None of this is really likely to succeed if you don’t have a supportive culture. In a Miranda organization, no one is going to share. Instead, you need the elements of a learning organization: the environment has to value diversity, be open to new ideas, provide time for reflection, and most of all be safe. And L&D has to understand the benefits and continue to promote them, identify problems, and work to resolve them.

Note that this is not something you manage or control. The attitude here has to be one of nourishing aka (seed, feed, and weed). You may track it, and you want to be looking for things to support or behaviors to improve, but the goal is to develop a vibrant community of sharing, not squelching anything that violates the hierarchy.

Working out loud benefits the individual and the organization in a healthy environment. Getting the environment right, and facilitating the practice, are valuable contributions, and ones that L&D can, and should, contribute to.

#itashare

5 November 2014

#DevLearn 14 Reflections

Clark @ 9:57 am

This past week I was at the always great DevLearn conference, the biggest and arguably best yet.  There were some hiccups in my attendance, as several blocks of time were taken up with various commitments both work and personal, so for instance I didn’t really get a chance to peruse the expo at all.  Yet I attended keynotes and sessions, as well as presenting, and hobnobbed with folks both familiar and new.

The keynotes were arguably even better than before, and a high bar had already been set.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was eloquent and passionate about the need for science and the lack of match between school and life.    I had a quibble about his statement that doing math teaches problem-solving, as it takes the right type of problems (and Common Core is a step in the right direction) and it takes explicit scaffolding.  Still, his message was powerful and well-communicated. He also made an unexpected connection between Women’s Liberation and the decline of school quality that I hadn’t considered.

Beau Lotto also spoke, linking how our past experience alters our perception to necessary changes in learning.  While I was familiar with the beginning point of perception (a fundamental part of cognitive science, my doctoral field), he took it in very interesting and useful direction in an engaging and inspiring way.  His take-home message: teach not how to see but how to look, was succinct and apt.

Finally, Belinda Parmar took on the challenge of women in technology, and documented how small changes can make a big difference. Given the madness of #gamergate, the discussion was a useful reminder of inequity in many fields and for many.  She left lots of time to have a meaningful discussion about the issues, a nice touch.

Owing to the commitments both personal and speaking, I didn’t get to see many sessions. I had the usual situation of  good ones, and a not-so-good one (though I admit my criteria is kind of high).  I like that the Guild balances known speakers and topics with taking some chances on both.  I also note that most of the known speakers are those folks I respect that continue to think ahead and bring new perspectives, even if in a track representing their work.  As a consequence, the overall quality is always very high.

And the associated events continue to improve.  The DemoFest was almost too big this year, so many examples that it’s hard to start looking at them as you want to be fair and see all but it’s just too monumental. Of course, the Guild had a guide that grouped them, so you could drill down into the ones you wanted to see.  The expo reception was a success as well, and the various snack breaks suited the opportunity to mingle.  I kept missing the ice cream, but perhaps that’s for the best.

I was pleased to have the biggest turnout yet for a workshop, and take the interest in elearning strategy as an indicator that the revolution is taking hold.  The attendees were faced with the breadth of things to consider across advanced ID, performance support, eCommunity, backend integration, decoupled delivery, and then were led through the process of identifying elements and steps in the strategy.  The informal feedback was that, while daunted by the scope, they were excited by the potential and recognizing the need to begin.  The fact that the Guild is holding the Learning Ecosystem conference and their release of a new and quite good white paper by Marc Rosenberg and Steve Foreman are further evidence that awareness is growing.   Marc and Steve carve up the world a little differently than I do, but we say similar things about what’s important.

I am also pleased that Mobile interest continues to grow, as evidenced by the large audience at our mobile panel, where I was joined by other mLearnCon advisory board members Robert Gadd, Sarah Gilbert, and Chad Udell.  They provide nicely differing viewpoints, with Sarah representing the irreverent designer, Robert the pragmatic systems perspective, and Chad the advanced technology view, to complement my more conceptual approach.  We largely agree, but represent different ways of communicating and thinking about the topic. (Sarah and I will be joined by Nick Floro for ATD’s mLearnNow event in New Orleans next week).

I also talked about trying to change the pedagogy of elearning in the Wadhwani Foundation, the approach we’re taking and the challenges we face.  The goal I’m involved in is job skilling, and consequently there’s a real need and a real opportunity.  What I’m fighting for is to make meaningful practice as a way to achieve real outcomes.  We have some positive steps and some missteps, but I think we have the chance to have a real impact. It’s a work in progress, and fingers crossed.

So what did I learn?  The good news is that the audience is getting smarter, wanting more depth in their approaches and breadth in what they address. The bad news appears to be that the view of ‘information dump & knowledge test = learning’ is still all too prevalent. We’re making progress, but too slowly (ok, so perhaps patience isn’t my strong suit ;).  If you haven’t, please do check out the Serious eLearning Manifesto to get some guidance about what I’m talking about (with my colleagues Michael Allen, Julie Dirksen, and Will Thalheimer).  And now there’s an app for that!

If you want to get your mind around the forefront of learning technology, at least in the organizational space, DevLearn is the place to be.

 

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