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

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!

 

30 March 2016

Socially Acceptable

Clark @ 8:07 am

I was talking with my ITA colleagues, and we were discussing the state of awareness of social learning. And we were somewhat concerned that at least from some evidence, there’re some misconceptions around about social learning. So I thought I’d take another shot at it.

First, let me make the case why it’s important. There are number of  reasons to be interested in social learning:

  • it’s more natural: our learning mechanisms were social before they were formal
  • it’s deeper learning: the processing that goes on through knowledge negotiation leads to more flexible and longer learning
  • it’s about innovation too: with problem-solving, trouble-shooting, research, design, etc, you don’t know the answer before you begin, so it’s learning, and the outcomes are better when done socially

This is only a start, but I reckon if those don’t make the case that you should be taking a serious look at incorporating social business into your organization, you are not really concerned.

Then, let’s clarify what it’s not. Social learning is:

  • not about (just) formal: as suggested above, social extends from formal out to informal to being an essential part of how business gets done.
  • not about social media: social media is  a tool to support social learning, but it’s not the focus
  • not a discussion forum available during a course: you need people interacting around artifacts – posts, pages, videos, etc – to generate meaningful outcomes
  • not about getting people together to discuss a problem without proper preparation

So what is good social learning?  Good social learning is driving interaction around work (whether real or designed for learning). Good social learning is:

  • communicating by pointing to relevant new information
  • curating resources, not just for yourself but also for others
  • being transparent about what you’re doing (and why), showing your work
  • discussing different ways of getting something done
  • collaborating to develop a shared response
  • tapping into the power of people
  • developing a shared understanding of how to work and play well together, and using it

At core, it’s really about performing better.  And that should be your focus, no?  So, are you ready to get real about social learning?

23 March 2016

Activity-Based Learning

Clark @ 8:12 am

On a recent conversation with some Up to All of Us colleagues, I was reminded about my ‘reimagining learning‘ model. The conversation was about fractals and learning, and how most tools (e.g. the LMS) don’t reflect the conversational nature of learning.  And I was thinking again about how we need to shift our thinking, and how we can reframe it.

I’d pointed one colleague to Diana Laurillard’s model of conversational learning, as it does reflect a more iterative model of learning with ongoing cycle of action and reflection. And it occurred to me that I hadn’t conveyed what the learner’s experience with the activity curriculum would look like. It’s implicit, but not explicit.

New Learning CycleOf course, it’s a series of activities (as opposed to a series of content), but it’s about the product of those activities.  The learner (alone or together) creates a response to a challenge, perhaps accessing relevant content as part of the process, and additionally annotates the thinking behind it.

This is then viewed by peers and/or a mentor, who provide feedback to the learner. As a nuance, there should be guidance for that feedback, so that it explicitly represent the concept(s) that should guide the performance. The subsequent activity could be to revise the product, or move along to something else.

The point being that the learner is engaged in a meaningful assignment (the activity should be contextualized), and actively reflecting. The subsequent activity, as the Laurillard model suggests, should reflect what the learner’s actions have demonstrated.

It’s very much the social cognition benefits I’ve talked about before, in creating and then getting feedback on that representation.  The learner’s creating and reflecting, and that provides a rich basis for understanding where they are at.

Again, my purpose here is to help make it clear that a curriculum properly should be about doing, not knowing.  And this is why I believe that there must  be people in the loop. And while much of that burden might be placed on the other learners (if you have a synchronous cohort model), or even the learner with guidance on generating their own feedback, with rubrics for evaluation, but you still benefit from oversight in case the understanding gets off track.

We can do a lot to improve asynchronous learning, but we should not neglect social when we can take advantage of it. So, are you wanting to improve your learning?

22 March 2016

Aligning with us

Clark @ 8:05 am

One of the realizations I had in writing the Revolutionize L&D book was how badly we’re out of synch with our brains. I think alignment is a big thing, both from the Coherent Organization perspective of having our flows of information aligned, and in processes that help us move forward in ways that reflect our humanity.

In short, I believe we’re out of alignment with our views on how we think, work, and learn.  The old folklore that represents the thinking that still permeates L&D today is based upon outdated models. And we really have to understand these differences if we’re to get better.

AligningThe mistaken belief about thinking is that it’s all done in our head. That is, we keep the knowledge up there, and then when a context comes in we internalize it and make a logical decision and then we act.  And what cognitive science says is that this isn’t really the way it works.  First, our thinking isn’t all in our heads. We distribute it across representational tools like spreadsheets,  documents, and (yes) diagrams.  And we don’t make logical decisions without a lot of support or expertise. Instead, we make quick decisions.  This means that we should be looking at tools to support thinking, not just trying to put it all in the head. We should be putting as much in the world as we can, and look to scaffold our processes as well.

It’s also this notion that we go away and come up with the answer, and that the individual productivity is what matters.  It turns out that most innovation, problem-solving, etc, gets better results if we do it together.  As I often say “the room is smarter than the smartest person in the room if you manage the process right“.  Yet, we don’t.  And people work better when they understand why what they’re doing is important and they care about it. We should be looking at ways to get people to work together more and better, but instead we still see hierarchical decision making, restrictive cultures, and more.

And, of course, there still persists this model that information dump and knowledge test will lead to new capabilities.  That’s a low probability approach. Whereas if you’re serious about learning, you know it’s mostly about spacing contextualized application of that knowledge to solve problems. Instead, we see rapid elearning tools and templates that tart-up quiz questions.

The point being, we aren’t recognizing that which makes us special, and augmenting in ways that bring out the best.  We’re really running organizations that aren’t designed for humans.  Most of the robotic work should and will get automated, so then when we need to find ways to use people to do the things they’re best at. It should be the learning folks, and if they’re not ready, well, they better figure it out or be left out!  So let’s get a jump on it, shall we?

24 February 2016

When to gamify?

Clark @ 8:10 am

I’ve had lurking in my ‘to do’ list a comment about doing a post on when to gamify. In general, of course, I avoid it, but I have to acknowledge there are times when it makes sense.  And someone challenged me to think about what those circumstances are. So here I’m taking a principled shot at it, but I also welcome your thoughts.

To be clear, let me first define what gamification is to me.  So, I’m a big fan of serious games, that is when you wrap meaningful decisions into contexts that are intrinsically meaningful.  And I can be convinced that there are times when tarting up memory practice with quiz-show window-dressing makes sense, e.g. when it has to be ‘in the head’.  What I typically refer to as gamification, however, is where you use external resources, such as scores, leaderboards, badges, and rewards to support behavior you want to happen.

I happened to hear a gamification expert talk, and he pointed out some rules about what he termed ‘goal science’.  He had five pillars:

  1. that clear goals makes people feel connected and aligns the organization
  2. that working on goals together (in a competitive sense ;) makes them feel supported
  3. that feedback helps people progress in systematic ways
  4. that the tight loop of feedback is more personalized
  5. that choosing challenging goals engages people

Implicit in this is that you do good goal setting and rewards. You have to have some good alignment to get these points across.  He made the point that doing it badly could be worse than not doing it at all!

With these ground rules, we can think about when it might make sense.  I’ll argue that one obvious, and probably sad case, would be when you don’t have a coherent organization, and people aren’t aware of their role in the organization.  Making up for effective communication isn’t necessarily a good thing, in my mind.

I think it also might make sense for a fun diversion to achieve a short-term goal. This might be particularly useful for an organizational change, when extra motivation could be of assistance in supporting new behaviors. (Say, for moving to a coherent organization. ;) Or some periodic event, supporting say a philanthropic commitment related to the organization.

And it can be a reward for a desired behavior, such as my frequent flier points.  I collect them, hoping to spend them. I resent it, a bit, because it’s never as good as is promised, which is a worry.  Which means it’s not being done well.

On the other hand, I can’t see using it on an ongoing basis, as it seems it would undermine the intrinsic motivation of doing meaningful work.  Making up for a lack of meaningful work would be a bad thing, too.

So, I recall talking to a guy many moons ago who was an expert in motivation for the workplace. And I had the opportunity to see the staggering amount of stuff available to orgs to reward behavior (largely sales) at an exhibit happening next to our event. It’s clear I’m not an expert, but while I’ll stick to my guns about preferring intrinsic motivation, I’m quite willing to believe that there are times it works, including on me.

Ok, those are my thoughts, what’ve I missed?

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