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

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.

 

31 October 2014

Belinda Parmar #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 11:38 am

Belinda Parmar addressed the critical question of women in tech in a poignant way, pointing out that the small stuff is important: language, imagery, context. She concluded with small actions including new job description language and better female involvement in product development.

IMG_0156.JPG

30 October 2014

Beau Lotto #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:54 am

Beau Lotto gave a very interesting keynote that built from perceptual phenomena to a lovely message on learning.

IMG_0154.JPG

24 October 2014

#DevLearn Schedule

Clark @ 8:30 am

As usual, I will be at DevLearn (in Las Vegas) this next week, and welcome meeting up with you there.  There is a lot going on.  Here’re the things I’m involved in:

  • On Tuesday, I’m running an all day workshop on eLearning Strategy. (Hint: it’s really a Revolutionize L&D workshop ;).  I’m pleasantly surprised at how many folks will be there!
  • On Wednesday at 1:15 (right after lunch), I’ll be speaking on the design approach I’m leading at the Wadhwani Foundation, where we’re trying to integrate learning science with pragmatic execution.  It’s at least partly a Serious eLearning Manifesto session.
  • On Wednesday at 2:45, I’ll be part of a panel on mlearning with my fellow mLearnCon advisory board members Robert Gadd, Sarah Gilbert, and Chad Udell, chaired by conference program director David Kelly.

Of course, there’s much more. A few things I’m looking forward to:

  • The keynotes:
    •  Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a fave for his witty support of science
    • Beau Lotto talking about perception
    • Belinda Parmar talking about women in tech (a burning issue right now)
  • DemoFest, all the great examples people are bringing
  • and, of course, the networking opportunities

DevLearn is probably my favorite conference of the year: learning focused, technologically advanced, well organized, and with the right people.  If you can’t make it this year, you might want to put it on your calendar for another!

16 October 2014

Sharing pointedly or broadly

Clark @ 8:06 am

In a (rare) fit of tidying, I was moving from one note-taking app to another, and found a diagram I’d jotted, and it rekindled my thinking. The point was characterizing social media in terms of their particular mechanisms of distribution. I can’t fully recall what prompted the attempt at characterization, but one result of revisiting was thinking about the media in terms of whether they’re part of a natural mechanism of ‘show your work’ (ala Bozarth)/’work out loud’ (ala Jarche).

whether person to person or one to manyThe question revolves around whether the media are point or broadcast, that is whether you specify particular recipients (even in a mailing or group list), or whether it’s ‘out there’ for anyone to access.  Now, there are distinctions, so you can have restricted access on the ‘broadcast’ mode, but in principle there’re two different mechanisms at work.

It should be noted that in the ‘broadcast’ model, not everyone may be aware that there’s a new message, if they’re not ‘following’ the poster of the message, but it should be findable by search if not directly.  Also, the broadcast may only be an organizational network, or it can be the entire internet.  Regardless, there are differences between the two mechanisms.

So, for example, a chat tool typically lets you ping a particular person, or a set list. On the other hand, a microblog lets anyone decide to ‘follow’ your quick posts.   Not everyone will necessarily be paying attention to the ‘broadcast’, but they could.  Typically, microblogs (and chat) are for short messages, such as requests for help or pointers to something interesting.  The limitations mean that more lengthy discussions typically are conveyed via…

Formats supporting unlimited text, including thoughtful reflections, updates on thinking, and more tend to be conveyed via email or blog posts. Again, email is addressed to a specific list of people, directly or via a mail list, openly or perhaps some folks receiving copies ‘blind’ (that is, not all know who all is receiving the message.  A blog post (like this), on the other hand, is open for anyone on the ‘system’.

The same holds true for other media files besides text.   Video and audio can be hidden in a particular place (e.g. a course) or sent directly to one person. On the other hand, such a message can be hosted on a portal (YouTube, iTunes) where anyone can see.  The dialog around a file provides a rich augmentation, just as such can be happening on a blog, or edited RTs of a microblog comment.

Finally, a slightly different twist is shown with documents.  Edited documents (e.g. papers, presentations, spreadsheets) can be created and sent, but there’s little opportunity for cooperative development.  Creating these in a richer way that allows for others to contribute requires a collaborative document (once known as a wiki).  One of my dreams is that we may have collaboratively developed interactives as well, though that still seems some way off.

The point for showing out loud is that point is only a way to get specific feedback, whereas a broadcast mechanism is really about the opportunity to get a more broad awareness and, potentially, feedback.  This leads to a broader shared understanding and continual improvement, two goals critical to organizational improvement.

Let me be the first to say that this isn’t necessarily an important, or even new, distinction, it’s just me practicing what I preach.  Also, I  recognize that the collaborative documents are fundamentally different, and I need to have a more differentiated way to look at these (pointers or ideas, anyone), but here’s my interim thinking.  What say you?

#itashare

9 September 2014

Emotional connection

Clark @ 8:38 am

I was just at my high school reunion, and despite initial doubts, I had a great time. And it made me wonder why.  These are people I haven’t seen in a long time (in some cases, for decades!).  How is it we could reconnect so easily and generate powerful emotions?

I don’t have any obvious answers.  Now, you have to understand that this was a subset of the whole class. My graduating class was around 900 folks, give or take, and only around 200 or so were at this event, so it’s a non-representative sample.  So we had friends who brought in friends, and it consequently followed a small bit of ‘degrees of separation‘, so there was likely to be greater affinity.

Second, despite being a ‘suburb’ of a major metropolitan center, my hometown has a real ‘small-town’ feel, as we’re geographically isolated and had a more focused employment situation (we were a harbor town).  And we were relatively ethnically diverse, lower on the socio-economic status (this was not Beverly Hills), and consequently shared some ‘scrappy underdog’ spirit.

So what was it like?  Not just in my opinion, but in most accounts it was a great event!  People were hugging, laughing, dancing, and more.  There was sharing, and celebration or commiseration, of life’s travails.  People reconnected with friends that they’d lost contact with, and strengthened ties with those who had been less tight. We also shared thoughts for those who couldn’t join for pragmatic reasons, and memorialized those who were no longer with us.

Interestingly, this was largely organized through Facebook, which despite it’s not intended use as an organizing tool, sufficed to allow us to reconnect before the event through posts to the group.  People who couldn’t come shared thoughts, others talked about their experiences.  There was a lot of preparation. And perhaps because it was this select group, the sharing was very positive.  And the effort to organize was volunteer; and the individuals doing it in that spirit set a tone for the rest of the event.

I wonder, though, if one of the main reasons this worked so well as the strength of the emotional connections.  The teen age years are some of the first emotional connections you make with friends, and some of these friendships had been established earlier (e.g. the two friends I’d reconnected with had become 3 musketeers in Jr High, and I’d known once since kindergarten).  The additional emotional aspects of puberty on emotions likely only heightened it.

We’d also shared the ups and downs of high school together, and as in other cases the relationships take advantage of the strengths of shared experiences.  We’d survived the high school experience together, and had ties through sports, clubs, or events that tightened the connections.

It’s not clear to me that this is really replicable, though I have long advocated that there are reasons to address the emotional components of events such as learning.  Helping find shared ground, and working together to achieve goals, are both elements of team building, and we should look to them when we can.  And positive spirits shown and reflected help.

High school is a tough time: bodily changes, finding one’s self, tough decisions, and more.  I suspect most of us, at least those of us with sufficient empathy to care, struggle to navigate the desire to be oneself and to be accepted.  It’s not an easy journey. The ability to successfully navigate it, and to have found others who help and share the journey, creates lifelong bonds.

A true friend, to me, is one who you can not see for years or even decades, and when you’re together again it’s like no time has passed in your ability communicate with authenticity and, yes, passion.  I hope that you have or can find, if not at a reunion then somewhere, that true connection.

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