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

5 July 2016

The Inaugural Jay Cross Memorial Award winner is…

Clark @ 8:00 am

Reposted from the Internet Time Alliance website:

The Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award is presented to a workplace learning professional who has contributed in positive ways to the field of Real Learning and is reflective of Jay’s lifetime of work. Recipients champion workplace and social learning practices inside their organisation and/or on the wider stage. They share their work in public and often challenge conventional wisdom. The Jay Cross Memorial Award is given to professionals who continuously welcome challenges at the cutting edge of their expertise and are convincing and effective advocates of a humanistic approach to workplace learning and performance.

We are announcing this inaugural award on 5 July, Jay’s birthday. Following his death in November 2015, the partners of the Internet Time Alliance (Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, Clark Quinn) resolved to continue Jay’s work. Jay Cross was a deep thinker and a man of many talents, never resting on his past accomplishments, and this award is one way to keep pushing our professional fields and industries to find new and better ways to learn and work.

The Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award for 2016 is presented to Helen Blunden. Helen has been an independent practitioner at Activate Learning since 2014. Her vision is to help people stay current in a constantly changing world of work and do this by working and sharing their work and learning in a generous, open, and authentic manner. Helen started her career within the Royal Australian Navy across two branches (Training Development and Public Relations) as well as working within Service and external to Service (with Air Force and Army and Defence civilians), then with the Reserves. Helen later worked as a Learning and Development Consultant for Omni Asia Pacific, and subsequently with National Australia Bank as a Social Learning Consultant. Helen is an active blogger and is engaged professionally on various social media platforms.

Here is Helen in her own words: “In my observations, it’s not only learning teams in organisations or institutions that need to change and recreate the traditional ways of training into learning experiences. It’s wider than that. I have smaller businesses, some of whom are vendors who offer training products and services to the public or to organisations who are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to get ‘into the 21st century’ as their clients ask for more blended programs – shorter programs – but still achieve the same outcomes. Dare I say it, the tools that Jane Hart offers as tools for professional development are not for learning people alone – they’re for everyone. This is where I’m grappling to understand the enormity of the change and how, for the first time, you’re not only helping a client design and develop the learning experience – but you need to teach them how to use the tools so it becomes part of their social behaviour to build their own business, brand and reputation.”

Helen will be formally presented with the award in her home city of Melbourne by Simon Hann, CEO of DeakinPrime, the corporate education arm of Deakin University.

It is with great pleasure that the partners of the Internet Time Alliance present the first Jay Cross Memorial Award to Helen Blunden.

helenblunden

23 June 2016

Ambiguity Denial Syndrome?

Clark @ 11:05 am

I was talking with a colleague at an event one of the past weeks, and I noted down the concept of ambiguity denial syndrome. And I’m retrospectively making up what we were talking about, but it’s an interesting idea to me.

FractalSo one of the ways I start out a talk (including later today for a government agency) is to talk about chaos. I use a fractal, and talk about the properties a fractal has.  You know, that it’s a mathematical formulation that paints an image from which patterns emerge, yet at any point you really don’t know where it’s going to go next.

I use this to explain how our old beliefs in an ability to plan, prepare, and execute were somewhat misguided.  What we did was explain away the few times it didn’t work. But as things move faster, the fact that things are not quite as certain as we’d believe means we have to become more agile, because we can less tolerate the mistakes.

The point I’m making, that the world increasingly requires an ability to deal with ambiguity and unique situations. And our learning designs, and organization designs, and our cultures, need to recognize this. And yet, in so many ways, they don’t.

At the individual level, we’re not equipping folks with the right tools. We should be providing them with models to use to interpret and adapt to situations (explain and predict). Our learning designs should have them dealing with a wide variety and degrees of certainty in situations.  And we should be testing and refining them, recognizing that learners aren’t as predictable as concrete or steel.  Instead we see one-shot development of information dumps and knowledge tests, which aren’t going to help organizations.

At the interpersonal level, we should be facilitating people to engage productively, facilitating the development of viable processes for working and learning together. We know that the room is smarter than the smartest person in the room (if we manage the process right), and that we’ll get the best results when we empower people and support their success. We need them working out loud, communicating and collaborating, to get the best. Instead, we still see top-down hierarchies and solo work.

In short, we see people denying the increasing complexity that the world is showing us.  Implicitly or explicitly, it’s clear that many folks believe that they can, and must, control things, instead of looking to adapt on the fly.  We have new organizational models for this, and yet we’re not even seeing the exploration yet.  I acknowledge that change is hard, and navigating it successfully is a challenge. But we have lots of guidance here too.

Too many processes I see reflect industrial age thinking, and we’re in an information age. We have greater capacity amongst our people, and greater challenges to address, with less tolerance for mistakes.  We need to address, even embrace ambiguity, if we are to thrive. Because we can, and we should.  It’s the only sensible way to move forward in this increasingly complex world. So, are you ready?

14 June 2016

What’s Your Learning Tool Stack?

Clark @ 8:11 am

I woke up this morning thinking about the tools we use at various levels.  Yeah, my life is exciting ;).  Seriously, this is important, as the tools we use and provide through the organization impact the effectiveness with which people can work. And lately, I’ve been hearing the question about “what’s your <x> stack” [x|x=’design’, ‘development’, …].  What this represents is people talking about the tools they use to do their jobs, and I reckon it’s important for us to talk about tools for learning.  You can see the results of Jane Hart’s annual survey, but I’m carving it up into a finer granularity, because I think it changes depending on the ‘level’ at which you’re working, ala the Coherent Organization.  So, of course, I created a diagram.

Learning stack: personal, team, community, organizationWhat we’re talking about here, starting at the bottom, are the tools you personally use for learning. Or, of course, the ones others use in your org. So this is how you represent your own understandings, and manipulate information, for your own purposes.  For many people in organizations, this is likely to include the MS Office Suite, e.g. Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Maybe OneNote?  For me, it’s Word for writing, OmniGraffle for diagramming (as this one was created in), WordPress for this blog (my thinking out loud; it is for me, at least in the first instance), and a suite of note taking software (depending on type of notes) and personal productivity.

From there, we talk about team tools. These are to manage communication and information sharing between teams.  This can be email, but increasingly we’re seeing dedicated shared tools being supported, like Slack, that support creating groups, and archive discussions and files.  Collaborative documents are a really valuable tool here so you’re not sending around email (though I’m doing that with one team right now, but it’s only back forth, not coordinating between multiple people, at least on my end!). Instead, I coordinate with one group with Slack, a couple others with Skype and email, and am using Google Docs and email with another.

From there we move up to the community level. Here the need is to develop, refine, and share best principles. So the need is for tools that support shared representations.  Communities are large, so we need to start having subgroups, and profiles become important. The organization’s ESN may support this, though (and probably unfortunately) many business units have their own tools. And we should be connecting with colleagues in other organizations, so we might be using society-provided platforms or leverage LinkedIn groups.  There’s also probably a need to save community-specific resources like documents and job aids, so there may be a portal function as well. Certainly ongoing discussions are supported.  Personally, without my own org, I tap into external communities using tools like LinkedIn groups (there’s one for the L&D Revolution, BTW!), and Facebook (mostly friends, but some from our own field).

Finally, we get to the org level. Here we (should) see organization wide Enterprise Social Networks like Jive and Yammer, etc. Also enterprise wide portal tools like Sharepoint.  Personally, I work with colleagues using Socialcast in one instance, and Skype with another (tho’ Skype really isn’t a full solution).

So, this is a preliminary cut to show my thinking at inception.  What have I forgotten?  What’s your learning stack?

7 June 2016

The 3 Social Media Things You Ought to Avoid

Clark @ 8:04 am

At least, that is, with me. Frankly, I wonder if you even bothered to read this after a title like that! Or at least are highly suspicious at this point. It (should) be just the type of thing you would not expect from me. And there’s a reason for that. There are 3 egregious social media things you shouldn’t do, and the title is related to one of them.

As context, because of this blog, I get occasional emails offering to write guest posts for me. Now, these aren’t really learning folks, these are marketing folks who would want to put  in links to their site.  This used to happen a lot, so much so I even wrote a post about it.  And I point people to it when they get it (for a number of certain types of requests I’ve made up canned responses I just cut and paste).

So I just got one, and it was nice, because it actually listed the company, pointed to examples of their work, and listed some sample titles.  However, the titles just didn’t sound like me:

The Four Social Media Perversions You Should Capitalize On

7 Tips to Clickbait That Will Guarantee Results

Posts That Generate Revenue: Using the Words You Can’t Say On Television

(Ok, I’m exaggerating a wee bit :).  However, this leads to the first thing to avoid:

1. Don’t offer guest posts that don’t match the tenor of the blog

Now the second case is implied by a bit of the above. Recently I’ve gotten requests about placing links that are much more, er, mysterious. To paraphrase: I work for a client that works in a related area and I’ve written lots of posts and I’d like to do some for you, and there might even be a small bit of money available.  Read: I’m too ashamed to admit who I work for, I won’t show you an example of my work, and I’ll try to entice you with a mention of money.  Somehow these folks haven’t heard about what builds trust on the net (hint: it’s spelled ‘transparency’).  So:

2. Don’t give  vague offers with unsubstantiated particulars

I’m more susceptible to people who actually do inquire what it would take to place an ad, but so far I haven’t gone there (I once asked and folks seemed to prefer it without).

Along with this, there are always people who want to show me their product (because it’s in my space) and give them my feedback.  That is, they want me to give them my years of expertise for free. On top of that, they need enough of my time to present their product first.  My response is always “I talk ideas for free, I help someone personally for drinks/dinner*, but if someone’s making a quid, I get a cut”. The point being, I’m not giving my free time and expert opinion (hey, that’s how I feed the family). I’ll offer them my services, and a time or two that’s actually happened. But mostly they plead poverty and move on.

This is a well-known problem. There are other examples as well: “can I pick your brain”, offers of ‘exposure’ in return for speaking, and it’s not on. In fact, it’s ripe for parody.  Thus:

3. Don’t try to get free work

There’re more, I’m sure, but these seem to be the most frequent. It’s really bad social media behavior. If you want something, tell me what it is, and make the value proposition clear.

And let’s be clear: there are offers I do take up, but these are clear about what is required as well as the benefit is to me as well as to them, and I can make a conscious evaluation.

So please, feel free to hire me, but don’t expect me to work for free. Fair enough?

(*Sometimes I just request they pay it forward, if they’re a young person, since I benefited so much from intellectual generosity when I was a neophyte.)

25 May 2016

A richer suite of support

Clark @ 8:08 am

While it’s easy to talk about how we need to support the transition from novice to expert, it might help to be a little more detailed.  While it’s easy to say that the role of formal learning wanes, and the role of informal learning ramps up, what are the types of support we might look to?

I expanded a core diagram I’ve been using for quite a while, based upon earlier diagrams from others.  It’s also been used by others, and the core of the diagram is clear, but I wanted to elaborate it. The underlying point is that as individuals gather expertise the value of formal learning drops, and the value of informal learning increases.  Ok, but what does that mean?

InFormalSpaces It means that courses make sense for novices, who don’t know what they need nor why it’s important. As they start performing however, their needs change. They start knowing what they need, and why it’s important, and they start just needing those resources.  They can be designed or curated, but they are either performance support in the moment or learning resources that develop understanding or abilities.  For the former, we’re talking about how-to videos, checklists, lookup tables, etc.  For the latter, we might be talking documents, documentaries, diagrams, or more interactive elements such as simulations.

At this stage we also need coaching and/or mentoring, and chances to communicate with our colleagues.  It’s the social work that will play a role in the development of the learner through interactions. Obviously, you can be doing communication in courses as well, and reflecting and collaborating at the practitioner stage as well, these are continua, not boxes as portrayed here.  The point, however, is that the nature of the necessary support and the activities change.

And, of course, once an individual advances far enough, there’s little anyone can be providing for them, instead they need the ‘creative friction’ of interactions with other experts and ideas to generate the new understandings that will advance the individual and the organization.  Reflecting together, solving problems to gather, and more, are all part of the activities that individuals undertake.

These activities don’t always happen well, and can be facilitated in many ways.  There are cultural factors as well.  There is a clear need for someone to be undertaking ensuring that these activities are happening in optimal ways in a conducive environment. It doesn’t have to be L&D, and it won’t be if all they do is focus on training and courses, but it should be someone who understands a bit about how we think, work, and learn.  And I don’t know another group that is better placed.  Can you?

18 May 2016

The Human-Centered Organization

Clark @ 8:04 am

As I talk about aligning work with how we brains think, work, and learn, I realize I’m talking about something bigger.  While I want L&D to lead the way (as those are the folks I know), it’s really about leading the way to an organization that’s aligned with us, with people.  And I think that’s something bigger, and definitely better.

The point being, as we reorganize work to tap into the best of us, we’re creating organizations that are humane in a very specific, and hopefully deep, sense.  Humane for all employees, and further.

The industrial era organization, quite simply, wasn’t. The mechanization of human work, the drive for more efficiency at whatever cost, the top-down imposition of rules, and more, are all contrary to what brings out the best in people. It’s demeaning and unhealthy, but even from a business perspective it’s rigid and inflexible.

Instead, when we talk about having work with purpose, and socially aware organizations, with tighter coupling to the market, and greater empowerment of employees, we’re talking about our finer human elements.  And, the evidence seems to be that such organizations are more successful.

Interestingly, I searched the term “Human Centered Organization”, and came across this proposal. (And, in fact, it’s now an ISO standard, 27500:2016, not that I’ve made it past the paywall to view the whole thing.) I found the principles from the summary to be a a good starting point:

  • capitalize on individual differences as an organizational strength
  • make usability and accessibility strategic business objectives
  • adopt a total system approach
  • ensure health, safety, and well-being are business priorities
  • value employees and create a meaningful work environment
  • be open and trustworthy
  • act in socially responsible ways

All of these reflect different areas I’ve either touted or am aware of specific work (and workers) in the area. I’d add that this should not be just internally-facing; this should reflect work with partners and customers as well.

Frankly, many companies I interact with seem driven to confuse me to the point that I make decisions that favor them. I don’t like that, and try to avoid them. A few organizations, instead, offer simple services with clear benefits.  Interestingly, when I engage with the people in the straightforward organizations, they seem to like their employment circumstances.  When I can engage one of the others to speak to me honestly, or I know them through other channels than a business relationship, they admit they don’t like what they have to do.

OK, so I can be an idealist (and am a native Californian :), but it seems to me that organizations that move to a more humane approach are going to be the ones that will last.  There are known concrete steps to get there, but the path will vary by organization. I suggest that you start thinking about your strategy. Are you ready to get human?

11 May 2016

Moving forward

Clark @ 8:14 am

I’ve argued before that there’s a pretty clear path forward for organizations.  The necessity to become agile means that the old ‘command and control’ approach won’t cut it any longer. What’s required is tapping into the ability of people to work together.  The new structure is focused on teams (stayed tuned for my review of Amy Edmondson’s Teaming) that are given the tasks to solve problems, trouble shoot, design new products and services, and generally continue to adapt.  In short, to learn. And I want to talk about the L&D role here, at least the potential one.

Certain elements are required.  The teams need a number of things to be effective.  They have to be given meaningful tasks, to have the freedom to pursue them, to have the ability to experiment (and fail) as necessary, and to be accountable.  To collaborate successfully to accomplish their goals, they need certain features internally: they need to have diverse representation, be open to new ideas, have time for reflection, and it has to be safe to contribute.

This takes a new approach from the organization. It takes leadership to make such a culture, and the culture itself has to make it possible for these to occur and to get people to be motivated to contribute. Two elements really contribute: contribution, and transparency.  People need to know what each other is doing, and be willing to chip in and assist.  This happens both within teams and beyond.

So what is L&D’s role?  First, to model the desired behavior. L&D should be practicing what it preaches in experimenting and continually improving. There should be teams assigned to tasks, and the practitioners should be acting as members of their communities.   They should be evangelizing, piloting, and sharing their successes with this approach, while continually learning more.

Then, L&D should be working with others as teams to meet their client needs.  They should be working to innovate around the solutions.  They should be promoting and executing on pilots that get fleshed out.  And they should be gradually raising awareness about the processes and the culture.

Done well, this movement reduces turnover, increases engagement, and produces better outcomes.  It’s not trivial; there are nuances and challenges that will have to be addresses.  On the other hand, evidence is converging that this is the future of business. So are you preparing for it, or waiting to be blind-sided?  If you’re looking for guidance in getting going, I’m easy to find.

 

10 May 2016

Two separate systems?

Clark @ 8:05 am

I frequently say that L&D needs to move from just ensuring optimal execution to also supporting continual innovation.  Can these co-exist, or are they fundamentally different?  I really don’t know, but it’s worth pondering.

Kotter (the change management guru), has begun to advocate for a dual-operating system approach, where companies jointly support an operational hierarchy and an innovation network that are coupled.  I haven’t read his book on the topic, but it seems to be a bit extrinsic, a way of bolting on innovation instead of making it intrinsic to the operation.

On the other hand, there is quite a bit of expression for more flexible systems, a more podular approach. Teaming or small nodes are increasingly appearing as not just for innovation, but ongoing operation. However, it’s not clear how the various different areas are coordinated, so how marketing across pods maintains coherent.

CoherentOrgExpandedThis is what led to our Coherent Organization model.  The notion is that the teams are coming in from, and reporting back up through, their communities. And their communities are communicating both within, and outside of, the organization.

It’s not clear to me whether the team approach can scale to a global organization, or whether you need the hybrid model.  I can see that the hybrid model would appeal to existing business folks who would be concerned about optimization in execution.  I can see that the new model would at least require fundamental changes in mechanisms, and perhaps a willingness to tradeoff absolute perfection in execution to maintain continuing innovation and customer-responsiveness.

While intuitively the more biologically inspired approach sounds like the longer-term solution, it’s non-trivial in terms of creating cultures that are appropriately conducive.  I think that organizational operations may be at an inflection point, and there does seem to be data that supports more radical flexibility.   I think a performance ecosystem coupled with a learning organization environment is likely going to be the way to move.  How you get there is part of the revolution that’s needed. Start small, scale out, etc. And I hope L&D can help lead the way.

27 April 2016

Moving forward

Clark @ 8:14 am

A few weeks ago, I posted about laying out activities in a space dividing the execution side from the innovation side, and in the head from in the world.  None of you took the bait about talking what it meant (I’m so disappointed), but it continued to ponder it myself. And at least one idea came to mind.

LearningSpaceImplicationsSo what I’m thinking is that the point is to not be using our heads to be doing simple execution. Machines (read: robots or computation agents) are very good at doing what they’re told. Reliably, and repeatably.  They may need oversight, but in many ways we’re seeing this play out.

What we should be doing is trying to automate execution. We aren’t good at doing rote things, and having us do them is silly.  Ideally you automate them, or outsource them in some way.  Let’s save our minds for doing important work.

Of course, many times the situations we’re increasingly seeing are not matters of simply executing. As things get more ambiguous, more novel, more chaotic, we’re really discovering we need to have people handle those situations in innovative ways. So they’re really being moved over regardless.

And, of course, we want that innovation to be fueled by data, information in the world being made available to support making these decisions. Big analytics, or even little analytics are good basis, as are models and support tools to facilitate the processes.  And, of course, this doesn’t have to be all in one head, but drawing upon teams, communities, and networks to get solution.

The real point is to let machines do what they can do well, and leave to us what we do well. And, what we want to be responsible for.  As I see it, the role of technology is to augment us, not replace us.  It’s up to us to make the choices, but we have the opportunity to work in ways that align with how our brains really think, work, and learn.  I reckon that choice is a no-brainer ;).

6 April 2016

A complex look at task assignments

Clark @ 8:09 am

I was thinking (one morning at 4AM, when I was wishing I was asleep) about designing assignment structures that matched my activity-based learning model.  And a model emerged that I managed to recall when I finally did get up.  I’ve been workshopping it a bit since, tuning some details. No claim that it’s there yet, by the way.

ModelAssignmentAnd I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it’s complex, as the diagram represents, but let me tease it apart for you and see if it makes sense. I’m trying to integrate meaningful tasks, meta-learning, and collaboration.  And there are remaining issues, but let’s get to the model first.

So, it starts by assigning the learners a task to create an artefact. (Spelling intended to convey that it’s not a typical artifact, but instead a created object for learning purposes.) It could be a presentation, a video, a document, or what have you.  The learner is also supposed to annotate their rationale for the resulting design as well.  And, at least initially, there’s a guide to principles for creating an artefact of this type.  There could even be a model presentation.

The instructor then reviews these outputs, and assigns the student several others to review.  Here it’s represented as 2 others, but it could be 4. The point is that the group size is the constraining factor.

And, again at least initially, there’s a rubric for evaluating the artefacts to support the learner. There could even be a video of a model evaluation. The learner writes reviews of the two artefacts, and annotates the underlying thinking that accompanies and emerges.  And the instructor reviews the reviews, and provides feedback.

Then, the learner joins with other learners to create a joint output, intended to be better than each individual submission.  Initially, at least, the learners will likely be grouped with others that are similar.  This step might seem counter intuitive, but while ultimately the assignments will be to widely different artefacts, initially the assignment is lighter to allow time to come to grips with the actual process of collaborating (again with a guide, at least initially). Finally, the final artefacts are evaluated, perhaps even shared with all.

Several points to make about this.  As indicated, the support is gradually faded. While another task might use another artefact, so the guides and rubrics will change, the working together guide can gradually first get to higher and higher levels (e.g. starting with “everyone contributes to the plan”, and ultimately getting to “look to ensure that all are being heard”) and gradually being removed. And the assignment to different groups goes from alike to as widely disparate as possible. And the tasks should eventually get back to the same type of artefact, developing those 21 C skills about different representations and ways of working.  The model is designed more for a long-term learning experience than a one-off event model (which we should be avoiding anyways).

The artefacts and the notes are evidence for the instructor to look at the learner’s understanding and find a basis to understand not only their domain knowledge (and gaps), but also their understanding of the 21st Century Skills (e.g. the artefact-creation process, and working and researching and…), and their learning-to-learn skills. Moreover, if collaborative tools are used for the co-generation of the final artefact, there are traces of the contribution of each learner to serve as further evidence.

Of course, this could continue. If it’s a complex artefact (such as a product design, not just a presentation), there could be several revisions.  This is just a core structure.  And note that this is  not for every assignment. This is a major project around or in conjunction with other, smaller, things like formative assessment of component skills and presentation of models may occur.

What emerges is that the learners are learning about the meta-cognitive aspects of artefact design, through the guides. They are also meta-learning in their reflections (which may also be scaffolded). And, of course, the overall approach is designed to get the valuable cognitive processing necessary to learning.

There are some unresolved issues here.  For one, it could appear to be heavy load on the instructor. It’s essentially impossible to auto-mark the artefacts, though the peer review could remove some of the load, requiring only oversight. For another, it’s hard to fit into a particular time-frame. So, for instance, this could take more than a week if you give a few days for each section.  Finally, there’s the issue of assessing individual understanding.

I think this represents an integration of a wide spread of desirable features in a learning experience. It’s a model to shoot for, though it’s likely that not all elements will initially be integrated. And, as yet, there’s no LMS that’s going to track the artefact creation across courses and support all aspects of this.  It’s a first draft, and I welcome feedback!

 

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