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

23 November 2015

When (and not) to crowdsource?

Clark @ 8:14 am

Will Thalheimer commented on my ‘reconciliation‘ post, and pointed out that there are times when you would be better off going to an expert. His apt observation is that there are times when it makes sense to crowdsource and when not to, but it wasn’t clear to him or me when each was. Naturally that led to some reflection, and this is where I ended up.

As a framework, I thought of Dave Snowden’s Cynefin model.  Here, we break situations into one of four types: simple or obvious, where there are known answers; complicated, where it requires known expertise to solve; complex, where we’re dealing in new areas; and chaotic, where things are unstable.

With this model, it’s clear that we’ll know what to do in the simple cases, and we should bring in experts to deal with the complicated. For chaotic systems, the proposal is just to do something, to try to move it to one of the other three quadrants!  It’s the other where we might want to consider social approaches.

The interesting place is the complex.  Here, I suggest, is where innovation is needed. This is the domain of trouble-shooting unexpected problems, coming up with new products or services, researching new opportunities, etc.  Here is where you determine experiments to try, and formulate plans to test.  While when the stakes are low you might do it individually, when the stakes are high you bring together a group.  It may be more than one expert, but here’s where you want to use good processes such as brainstorming (done right), etc.

Here is where the elements of the learning organization come in.  Here is where you want to value diversity, be open to new ideas, make it safe to contribute, and provide time for reflection. Here is where you want to tap into collaboration and cooperation. Here is where you want to find ways to get people to work together effectively.

Will was insightful in pointing out that you don’t always want to tap into the wisdom of the crowd, not least for pragmatics, so we want to be clear about when you do.  My point is that we want to be able to when it makes sense, and facilitate this as part of the new role for L&D in the revolution. So, as this is new to me, let me tap into the power of the crowd here: does this  make sense to you?

17 November 2015

Reconciling two worlds

Clark @ 8:06 am

A recent post by my colleague in the Internet Time Alliance, Jane Hart, has created quite the stir. In it, she talks about two worlds: an old world and a new world of workplace learning.  And another colleague from the Serious eLearning Manifesto, Will Thalheimer, wrote a rather ‘spirited’ response.  I know, respect, and like both these folks, so I’m wrestling with trying to reconcile these seemingly opposite viewpoints.  I tried to point out why I think the new perspective makes sense, but I want to go deeper.

Jane was talking about how there’s a split emerging between old-school L&D and new directions.  This is essentially the premise of the Revolution, so I’m sympathetic. She characterized each, admittedly in somewhat stark contrast, representing the past with a straw man portrait of an industrial era, and a similar version of a new and modern approach much more flexible and focused on outcomes, not on the learning event.  And I’ve experienced much of the former, and recognize the value of the latter.  It’s of course not quite as cut-and-dried, but Jane was making the case for change and using a stark contrast as a motivator.

Will responded to Jane with some pretty strong language.  He  acknowledged her points in a section where he talks about points of agreement, but then after accusing her of being too broad brush, he commits the same in his section on Oversimplifications.  Here he points out extreme views that he implies are the views being painted, but are overly stated as “always” and “never”.

Look, Will fights for the right things when he talks about how formal learning could be better. And Jane does too, when she looks to a more enlightened approach.  So let’s state some more reasonable claims that I hope both can agree with. Here I’m using Will’s ‘oversimplifications’  and infusing them with the viewpoints I believe in:

  1. Learners increasingly need to take responsibility for their learning, and we should facilitate and develop it instead of leaving it to chance
  2. Learning can frequently be trimmed (and more frequently needs to change the content/practice ratio), and we should substitute performance support for learning when possible
  3. Much of training and elearning is boring and we can and should do better making it meaningful
  4. That people can be a great source of content, but they sometimes need facilitation
  5. That using some sort of enterprise social platform can be a powerful source for learning, with facilitation and the right culture, but isn’t necessarily a substitute when formal learning is required
  6. That on-the-job learning isn’t necessarily easy to leverage but should be a focus for better outcomes in many cases
  7. Crowds of people have more wisdom than single individuals, when you facilitate the process appropriately
  8. Traditional learning professionals have an opportunity to contribute to an information age approach, with an awareness of the bigger picture

I do like that Will, at the end, argues that we need to be less divisive and I agree. I think Jane was trying to point in new directions, and I think the evidence is clear that L&D needs to change. I think healthy debate helps, we need to have opinions, even strong ones, hopefully without rancor or aspersions.  I don’t know quite why Jane’s post triggered such a backlash, but I hope we can come together to advance the field.


13 November 2015

Learning and frameworks

Clark @ 8:13 am

There’s recently been a spate of attacks on 70:20:10 and moving beyond courses, and I have to admit I just don’t get it.  So I thought it’s time to set out why I think these approaches make sense.

Let’s start with what we know about how we learn. Learning is action and reflection.  Instruction (education, training) is designed action and guided reflection.  That’s why, by the way, that information dump and knowledge test isn’t a learning solution.   People need to actively apply the information.

And it can’t follow an ‘event’ model, as learning is spaced out over time. Our brains can only accommodate so much (read: very little) learning at any one time.  There needs to be ongoing facilitation after a formal learning experience – coaching over time and stretch assignments – to help cement and accelerate the learning experience.

Now, this can be something L&D does formally, but at some point formal has to let go (not least for pragmatics) and it becomes the responsibility of the individual and the community. It shifts from formal coaching to informal mentoring, personal exploration, and feedback from colleagues and fellow practitioners.  It’s impractical for L&D to take on this full responsibility, and instead becomes a role in facilitation of mentoring, communication, and collaboration.

That’s where the 70:20:10 framework comes in.  Leaving that mentoring and collaboration to chance is a mistake, because it’s demonstrably the case that people don’t necessarily have good self-learning skills.  And if we foster self-learning skills, we can accelerate the learning outcomes for the organization. Addressing the skills and culture for learning, personally and collectively, is a valuable contribution that L&D should seize. And it’s not about controlling it all, but making an environment that’s conducive, and facilitating the component skills.

Further, some people  seem to get their knickers in a twist about the numbers, and I’m not sure why that is.  People seem comfortable with the Pareto Principle, for instance (aka the 80/20 rule), and it’s the same. In both cases it’s not the exact numbers that matter, but the concept. For the Pareto Rule it’s recognizing that some large fraction of outcomes comes from a small fraction of inputs.  For the 70:20:10 framework, it’s recognizing that much of what you apply as your expertise comes from things other than courses.  And tired old cliches about “wouldn’t want a doctor who didn’t have training” don’t reflect that you’d also not want a doctor who didn’t continue learning through internships and practice.  It’s not denying the 10, it’s augmenting it.

And this is really what Modern Workplace Learning is about: looking beyond the course.  The course is one important, but ultimately small, piece of being a practitioner, and organizations can no longer afford to ignore the rest of the learning picture.  Of course, there’s also the whole innovation side and performance support when learning doesn’t have to happen as well, which is something L&D also should facilitate (cue the L&D Revolution), but getting the learning right by looking at the bigger picture of how we really learn is critical.

I welcome debate on this, but pragmatically if you think about how you learned what you do, you should recognize that much of it came from other than courses. Beyond Education, the other two E’s have been characterized as Exposure and Experience. Doing the task in the company of others, socially learning, and by the outcomes of actually applying the knowledge in context, and making mistakes.  That’s real learning, and the recognition that it should not be left to chance is how these frameworks help raise awareness and provide an opportunity for L&D to become more relevant to the organization.  And that, I strongly believe, is a valuable outcome. So, what do you think?

7 November 2015

Vale Jay Cross

Clark @ 1:10 am

It’s too soon, so it’s hard to write this. My friend and colleague, Jay Cross, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He’s had a big impact on the field of elearning, and his insight and enthusiasm were a great contribution.

Version 2I had the pleasure to meet him at a lunch arranged by a colleague to introduce learning tech colleagues in the SF East Bay area.  Several of us discovered we shared an interest in meta-learning, or learning to learn, and we decided to campaign together on it, forming the Meta-Learning Lab. While not a successful endeavor in impact, Jay and I discovered a shared enjoyment in good food and drink, travel, and learning. We hobnobbed in the usual places, and he got me invited to some exotic locales including Abu Dhabi, Berlin, and India.

Jay was great to travel with; he’d read up on wherever it was and would then be a veritable tour guide. It amazed me how he could remember all that information and point out things as we walked.  He had a phenomenal memory; he read more than anyone I know, and synthesized the information to create an impressive intellect.

After Princeton he’d gone on for an MBA at Harvard, and amongst his subsequent endeavors included creating the first (online?) MBA for the University of Phoenix.  He was great to listen to doing business, and served as a role model; I often tapped into my ‘inner Jay’ when dealing with clients.  He always found ways to add more value to whatever was being discussed.

He was influential. While others may have quibbled about whether he created the term ‘elearning’, he definitely had strong opinions about what should be happening, and was typically right.  His book Informal Learning had a major impact on the field.

He was also a raconteur, with great stories and a love of humor. He had little tolerance for stupidity, and could eviscerate silly arguments with a clear insight and incisive wit. As such, he could be a bit of a rogue.  He ruffled some feathers here and there, and some could be put off by his energy and enthusiasm, but his intentions were always in the right place.

Overall, he was a really good person. He happily shared with others his enthusiasm and energy.  He mentored many, including me, and was always working to make things better for individuals, organizations, the field, and society as a whole. He had a great heart to match his great intellect, and was happiest in the midst of exuberant exploration.

He will be missed. Rest in peace.

Some other recollections of Jay:

Harold Jarche

Jane Hart

Charles Jennings

Kevin Wheeler

Inge de Waard

Alan Levine

Curt Bonk

David Kelly

Brent Schlenker

Dave Ferguson

George Siemens

Mark Oehlert

Gina Minks

John Sener

Sahana Chattopadhyay

Christy Tucker

Adam Salkeld

Learning Solutions from the eLearning Guild

CLO Magazine

A twitter collection (courtesy of Jane Hart)

Bio from his graduating class.


4 November 2015

Charles Jennings #LearnTech2015 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 12:50 am

Charles, in an engaging story, set the changes in work and the world as a basis for the 70:20:10 framework as a way to think about supporting learning going forward.  He elaborated the elements and the value to be uncovered via examples.

3 November 2015

Abhijit Bhaduri #LearnTech2015 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 12:45 am

Abhijit used an unusual presentation deck of 2 sketch notes to present his very interesting thoughts and examples of living in perpetual beta, concluding that if L&D changes, it could be a catalyst for change.  A message very synergistic with the Revolution ;).

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.

20 October 2015

The new shape of organizations?

Clark @ 8:17 am

As I read more about how to create organizations that are resilient and adaptable, there’s an interesting emergent characteristic. What I’m seeing is a particular pattern of structure that has arisen out of totally disparate areas, yet keeps repeating.  While I haven’t had a chance to think about it at scale, like how it would manifest in a large organization, it certainly bears some strengths.

ConnectedCompanyDave Grey, in his recent book The Connected Company that I reviewed, has argued for a ‘podular’ structure, where small groups of people are connected in larger aggregations, but work largely independently.  He argues that each pod is a small business within the larger business, which gives flexibility and adaptiveness. Innovation, which tends to get stifled in a hierarchical structure, can flourish in this more flexible structure.

OrganizeForComplexityMore recently, on Harold Jarche‘s recommendation, I read Niels Pflaeging’s Organize for Complexity, a book also on how to create organizations that are high performance. While I think the argument was a bit sketchy (to be fair, it’s deliberately graphic and lean), I was sold on the outcomes, and one of them is ‘cells’ composed of a small group of diverse individuals accomplishing a business outcome.  He makes clear that this is not departments in a hierarchy, but flat communication between cross-functional teams.

And, finally, Stan McChrystal has a book out called Team of Teamsthat builds upon the concepts he presented as a keynote I mindmapped previously. This emerged from how the military had to learn to cope with rapid changes in tactics.  Here again, the same concept of small groups working with a clear mission and freedom to pursue emerges.

This also aligns well with the results implied by Dan Pink’s Drive, where he suggests that the three critical elements for performance are to provide people with important goals, the freedom to pursue them, and support to succeed. Small teams fit well within what’s known about the best in getting the best ideas and solutions out of people, such as brainstorming.

These are nuances on top of Jon Husband’s Wirearchy, where we have some proposed structure around the connections. It’s clear that to become adaptive, we need to strengthen connections and decrease structure (interestingly, this also reflects the organizational equivalents of nature’s extremophiles).  It’s about trust and purpose and collaboration and more.  And, of course, to create a culture where learning is truly welcomed.

Interesting that out of responding to societal changes, organizational work, and military needs, we see a repeated pattern.  As such, I think it’s worth taking notice.   And there are clear L&D implications, I reckon. What say you?


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.

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