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

28 February 2006

Investing in ourselves

Clark @ 8:53 am

Jay Cross has written a screed that resonates strongly with me. In it, he makes the case for investing in improving learner’s learning and/or thinking abilities, not just their task-related skill-sets.

We’ve argued this before, as part of our meta-learning interest, but it remains cogent (and all too ignored). The point being, and particularly for knowledge workers, that skills about self-learning, about reflecting and problem-solving, are the key in moving forward. Tony O’Driscoll’s pointed out how as you gain more expertise the value of received wisdom diminishes and you’re in a state of continual knowledge development and negotiation of shared understanding.

Well, what if you don’t know how to reflect well? Or to capture the understandings you’ve developed, or how to communicate, or how to negotiate understanding? If you don’t have the necessary skills, your effectiveness is hampered, yet no one’s talking about investing in the effectiveness of the background skills. And if you think that you can just hire people with these skills, or trust them to develop on their own, the evidence is that you’re sadly mistaken.

I’ve been working on how we might use technology to develop these skills as a layer on top of our learning systems, but I think a necessary additional step is explicit acknowledgement of the need, and more concerted efforts on developing these skills. So what are we waiting for?

20 February 2006

The NILE conference

Clark @ 10:11 pm

I was reminded about the Narrative in Interactive Learning Environments conference from a brief email exchange, and I have to laud it. I missed the first workshop, but (caveat) was an invited speaker to the second, and have been reviewing the programme submissions as a committee member subsequently.

Set in one of my favorite cities, Edinburgh, Paul Brna (a luminary in the AI & Education community, which really is the best cognitive learning technology group despite the uninviting title) runs a delightful event with a good speaker selection, varied and inspired extra-curricular events, and consequent heady discussion. Held in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival, it’s an unbeatable combination.

This year I queried the Narrative element in the title (finding it hard to shake people out of ‘telling a story’, I have an aversion to any hint of linearity), and he wisely noted that the user experience is a narrative, even if the design is not, and there is a reason to focus on what the outcome is. Besides, it’s a great acronym…

Consider this a strong recommendation for the conference.

19 February 2006

New Curricula?

Clark @ 1:40 pm

After the recent (and excellent) ITFORUM discussion, Stewart Kelly had a message that included this:

One of my professors once worked at an exclusive private school. She told us that the students in this school were not taught how to become cogs in the machine, rather they were taught the metacognitive and leadership skills they would need to “rule” over the rest of society.

I don’t want to make this sound like a conspiracy theory, but I would submit that our students would be best served by developing these types of skill sets too.

I couldn’t agree more. I took my ‘wisdom’ interest, as part of a presentation I gave to the eMerging eLearning conference, and wondered what a curriculum for the future would be. It included meta-cogntiive & leadership skills, in addition to systems-thinking & modelling, research & design, ethics & values, etc.

To the question of who needs leadership skills, someone once replied “everyone”, which is going to be increasingly true going forward. With the accelerating rate of change, prognoticators saying we’ll be a ‘free-agent nation’, and the changing nature of work having us working more on a project basis, what will be necessary will be our skills to adapt, to learn, to work with others, and take different roles to achieve success. It’ll be about attitude and approach as much as pure knowledge.

And right now, that’s not coming from the schools, because the educational establishment hasn’t yet figured out how to test this new curricula (among other things:). How are we going to get change fast enough to save our current generation?

14 February 2006

Games discussion…

Clark @ 12:03 pm

I’m currently downunder, in Oz, so I’m not quite as involved as usual. Fortunately, in the interim there’s a lively discussion on games going on in ITFORUM, with guest host Lloyd Rieber. Lloyd’s not only a wise and nice guy, but more importantly here is that he’s done serious experimentation with what works in game design, and has shared his article on research on games/simulations/microworlds. Highly recommended.

9 February 2006

Mobile Learning 2006

Clark @ 3:56 pm

I don’t get to attend (they’ve yet to invite me to keynote, silly folks :), but I’m on the programme committee and get to see some of the submissions. And I heard a subsequent glowing report on last year’s conference. So, I’m happy to announce that there’s an extended call for papers for the Mobile Learning 2006 conference.

Hey, it’s in Ireland, which is a great place to visit!

8 February 2006

Learning Wisdom

Clark @ 11:15 am

The old canard about data->information->knowledge->intelligence->wisdom resonates with me. Don Norman wrote a book called ‘Things That Make Us Smart’, and it was great at taking a richly informed look at how we can enhance how we think with tools. But I think we’re being way too smart and not being wise, the missing element being values.

It was Lance Secretan, talking about inspiring, not just motivating, that got me on this path. I’ve had trouble articulating what it is I do, but the closest I had come was ‘making people smarter’. I like what I do, but it’s not a vision, a mission, so I took it the next step, ‘making people wiser’. This is actually the culmination of a number of converging interests.

My interest in helping people learn led me beyond cognitive to the emotional side of learning, which impacts my interest in games, including myth and ritual as effective tools to align behavior with a set of values. I’ve also started exploring attitudinal change, and how that can be accomplished. Which is why I liked a quote Jay took from Malcolm Gladwell about how values give us criteria to make decisions. When I heard Dennis Meadows talk about systems-thinking, it’s clear our vision is not far enough ahead.

All these elements, but it’s hard to nail down how they pull together, what exactly wisdom is, except for manifesting itself as decisions that are, well, wise. It seems like pornography, “you know it when you see it”. Which of course isn’t good enough for me. So I looked further…

Robert Sternberg has a model of wisdom that talks about evaluating the consequences for the individual, for the community, and the broader society (for which I read: world). It also includes both short- and long-term effects, and in the context of a set of values. Which isn’t bad, if a wee bit obvious. He actually has an article recommending teaching wisdom in schools, and it’s not the worst proposal I’ve heard.

At core, I think a greater focus on value-driven decisions, wise decisions, is a missing element for business success, but since my personal mission is to use technology, I’m convincing myself that we might actually be able to help people make wiser decisions through technology. For instance, LifeBalance is one piece of software that helps you maintain your long-term priorities day-to-day, and I’ve a model for technology mentoring over time that could be developed.

The larger picture is relevant, however. In a talk I gave in Abu Dhabi, I talked about the need for new curricula (e.g. systems-thinking, design problem-solving, meta-learning, communication, values), new pedagogies (e.g. service learning, simulations), and new technology applications. I think that the need for wisdom grows, and currently our grasp exceeds our reach. The problems are organizational and social, not theory or technical. Any ideas how to step up to the challenge?

3 February 2006

Down Under

Clark @ 3:46 pm

I was extremely fortunate to live in Australia from 1991-1998 (I’m now an official Aussie, as well as a Yank, as they call folks from the US). I came as a freshly minted post-doc, full of myself as a learning technology expert and knowing little more about Oz than that it had good surf (one of the attractions).

What I learned was that for a nation of such a small population, they were world-class not only in sports but in many technical areas, medicine and solar cells to name a couple, and distance learning, including technology-mediated distance learning.

It’s not really surprising, considering the vast distances of sparse population outside the city (just look at the School of the Air), but as a consequence necessity mothered many inventions beyond radio: they were early into the communication potential of audiographics, and early adopters of games for learning (e.g. Investigating Lake Iluka), the internet and mobile phones.
They’re a welcoming lot, and I was fortunate enough to spend time with many great minds including Shirley Alexander, Sandra Wills, and Ron Oliver. Along the way I learned much of great value.

I’m going back from the 13th to the 25th of February, and while it’s mostly a family vacation, I’ve already arranged a 3 hour workshop (on the 21st) at the University of Wollongong on learning game design (based upon the book). I’ll also be talking (on the 16th) at the University of Sydney’s CoCo Lab (Computing and Cognition) on new models for learning and technology.

I’d certainly welcome the opportunity to talk to others; feel free to give me a shout!

Learning Objects?

Clark @ 11:06 am

Judy Breck (of GoldenSwamp, a great blog) contacted me after Stephen Downes kindly (and graciously) mentioned the launch of Learnlets. In it, she related my concept of learnlets (small interactive applications that teach you anything you want to know; see the ‘about’ page) to learning objects. This prompted a bit of thinking which played out like this:

I like the notion of little interactive applications to learn, and it is related to learning objects. However, in the past I’ve pragmatically defined learning objects as the smallest thing you’d give one learner versus another. In a face-to-face tutorial, it might just be a chart or a quote, and I’d like to reserve the right to dream of an intelligent tutor that might do the same. So a learning objects doesn’t have to, as some would have it, provide a complete learning experience, but is an object that could be used as part of a learning experience. At which point my definition devolves to an information object…

So, perhaps, I might reserve the term learning object for something that’s a discrete part of the learning experience, say an introduction, or an example or a practice element, but I’m just not interested in whole courses as a learning object, not resuable/flexible enough.

Hurrah for Active Learning

Clark @ 10:00 am

Yesterday I attended the board meeting of the Center for Civic Education. I’m pleased to support this activity for a number of reasons, not least because they’re focused on developing an understanding of the principles of government and an associated set of values around the importance of civic engagement, goals I think are important. I’m pleased to see that they’re succeeding both nationally but also internationally.

However, what is great is how they do it. Two major initiatives are Project Citizen, and The Citizen & The Constitution. Both have rich approaches and stellar outcomes.

In The Citizen & The Constitution, the students create a team and learn about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as preparation for simulated congressional hearings. Our first board meeting of the year is held in Sacramento, where the California State regional competitions are held (preliminaries at the hotel, finals at the Capitol building; the national finals are held in DC and have been held in actual congressional hearing rooms). And these kids are awesome: knowledgeable, poised, and articulate. Research shows they have much improved attitudes and civic participation (92% of graduates voted in the last election). Yes, it’s US centric, but the model is easily adoptable (some 30-40% of the Center’s activities are now international, and it’s not knee-jerk American flag-waving, but meaningful discussion on the principles of government and ways to accommodate it within current contexts).

In Project Citizen, a class investigates problems in their neighborhood, figures out where a legislative solution will help, and then works to get that legislative solution enacted. It’s a real service learning approach and nicely integrates awareness of how government operates with an understanding of how citizen activity is a crucial component. And they’ve created significant changes! Again, research supports great outcomes.

While I think this is a great organization and encourage your investigation, the point here is the great pedagogy, aligned with my thoughts on making learning meaningful (read: engaging). Using an authentic activity, in particular the latter case where it also contributes to society, as a way to connect learning to the broader context, integrates the elements that really cement learning. Sometimes we’ll have to simulate it (and exaggerate the story to hook in the emotions we lose with the lack of authenticity, making it a game), but it’s the right way to practice.

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