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

27 July 2006

“Engaging Learning” Book review

Clark @ 7:52 am

I found a review of my book Engaging Learning, by Jon Alekson, who I don’t know. It’s a fair review; he gets what I’m trying to accomplish (making the learning experience more effective), but criticizes my writing as a bit heavy, and bemoans the lack of focus on graphics.

I’ll wear the first one, but remark that it’s remarkably light considering I was trained as an academic and rewarded for dense prose for many years. Besides, my editor praised my ‘warm tone’ :). Your mileage may vary.

As for the graphics, I’ll admit it doesn’t have as much as I’d like. On the other hand, you can actually play a couple of games mentioned in the book on the web (check out the ‘Examples’ here). I’m not a graphic designer, and had little to do in regards to the final appearance as they were done by professionals. And, on the pragmatic side, copyright permissions aren’t much fun.

I haven’t seen many reviews, so it was good to find this one.

25 July 2006

Doing trumps analysis

Clark @ 12:54 pm

I had a great conversation with my brother-in-law on Sunday. He’s in charge of the training for a division of a sector of a major organization. He took over a group that was stuck in analysis paralysis, and has started executing against their concepts.

What he’s doing is mostly face-to-face stuff, and it’s very broad and general. He doesn’t call it training, he calls it learning (hear, hear). His attitude is very much about winning back trust in the group first, and is happily doing lots of different wild, fun things, and then learning from the outcomes of those experiments. He’s fortunate in that he’s got a supportive leadership (now), a relatively hands-off management, and a budget.

He’s not doing a lot of ROI analysis at this point, but he did a lot of consultation beforehand about what the big pains were, and I have to say that I laud his approach; it’s pragmatic and it seems to be working. Find the big issues, and address them in an open and engaging way to rebuild trust. The rest can follow.

What I forgot to ask was what he intended to do once he had those wins on the board!

Slow Learning

Clark @ 12:45 pm

We’re in a rush. A rush to get content to learners (rapid learning), to get the minimum to them to get them over the hump (performance support), to not waste their time. All valuable, all I’ve lauded. But…

The UK eLearning visit that I co-chaired mentioned the Slow Food movement, and the thought’s stuck with me that there’s a flip-side we’re forgetting. It’s about having a long-term relationship with the learner, where we care about them, and are interested in developing them as people, not just as cogs.

So I’m hereby initiating the Slow Learning movement. It’s a move where we care about our learners as learners, helping them with their suite of learning and problem-solving skills as well as their job-related skills. There’s an ROI here, as Jay Cross and I have argued for (warning: PDF file). It’s a move where we care about learners as individuals, not just helping them be better, but wiser as well. It’s about using technology to use drip-irrigation over time as well as the firehose for the moment.

I think there’s a concrete value here that we’re missing, an opportunity, maybe even money we’re leaving on the table. It’s about improving our workforce from within. It could be about helping them better understand their organization’s mission, about helping them be better innovators, and even just making them feel valued and decreasing turnover.

Won’t you join the Slow Learning movement?

18 July 2006

Running a pervasive game

Clark @ 1:22 pm

There was mayhem in the streets of Palo Alto yesterday as teams of players chased the clues to solve a mystery. At the Institute For the Future we ran a pervasive game as an example of the topic of this month’s meeting. Credit goes to Jim Schuyler of Red7 for organizing and leading the team who developed the game, and implemented it in his FIT environment for just such purposes. Not a learning game, but definitely fun and it *could* be.

Nicole Lazarro of Xeo Design who I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, Mads Rydahl of Planet (a Scandinavian game design firm), and Mike Love from IFTF all helped Jim and I create the design, which was tested, refined, and then run. The game included props such as posters on notice boards, clues to be sent in by phone, and confederates hanging out.

We had an inside team manning the web browser while 3 different teams (each doing the same thing, to have the right group size, but there’s no technical reason they couldn’t have different tasks) ran around figuring out puzzles and text-messaging them to the game system which gave them the next task. At times, interaction with the inside team was required.

It was tough; not all teams solved the puzzles in the allotted time (we had to go back for the presentations by Nicole and myself, and discussion: her on the 4 emotional keys, me on learning games), but the interaction was well-received. Competitive spirits came into play as well as the thrill of discovery (Nicole’s ‘fiero’), and frustration. It wasn’t perfect, given that it was thrown together by a volunteer team in a short period of time, but it worked: 1 team managed to save the day (accomplishing the final rescue), and a good time was had by all.

It was a great learning experience, both in working with others on the design and in watching the players (I followed one team around). In addition to Nicole’s model, Mads was quite keen on having the boundaries between the game action and the real world blur. This actually happened not only by design, but also by circumstance; but a police officer was in the building as the teams left (the mystery was solving a theft), and the confederate’s bike was stolen while he was talking to the team!

There’s great potential in this for marketing (the gelato store built into the plotline did a rousing business on a blazing hot day from the team members), learning, as well as just plain fun. If we believe Pine & Gilmore that the next step beyond the experience economy will be the transformation economy, this will be one of the tools in our repertoire.

10 July 2006

Mobile Affordances

Clark @ 10:36 pm

Yesterday at the International Conference on ICT in Teaching and Learning here in Hong Kong, Song Yanjie presented a paper looking at the affordances of mobile learning. I was intrigued by the concept; I’ve been a fan of the concept of affordances since I was introduced to it by Bill Gaver as part of his PhD work, and promulgated by Don Norman in his book The Design of Everyday Things, and using it as a framework to think about the performance benefits of mobile devices seemed inspired.

And inspired I was. Song’s a PhD student with Professor Bob Fox from the University of Hong Kong, and presented a wide variety of applications. It took a while, but I finally got my mind around what I thought were some fundamental principles. Feedback welcome.

It occured to me that one of the main capabilities of mobile devices is a tradeoff of convenience for bandwidth. That is, we put up with lower voice quality, small screens, and other limitations, in exchange for the ability to connect more often. There may be two types of bandwidth tradeoffs: bandwidth from device to network, and bandwidth between device and our senses.

This isn’t, however, the ‘killer app’ possibility of mobile. That comes, I think, from something else. I’ve previously characterized mobile devices as mobile processors with input and output. That’s not fundamentally different than the characterization above. Adding networking still doesn’t change that, with one exception. That exception is context-awareness. A mobile device that is contextually aware, *either* location or time, and can use that information to provide interactive capabilities, is, to me, the real opportunity.

So, if a device knows where we are, or knows what time it is and what we’re scheduled to be doing, it can use that information to support us. We can also capture local information (audio/video) and deliver that information in an interactive loop to contextualize our communication. THAT, is where our devices switch from being reference or communication to being proactive partners.

Let me elaborate that with one more point: there might be a dedicated contextual relationship, such as Fed Ex’s barcode readers, but I think the benefit really lies in devices that can be customized with different software to meet one’s needs. That is, using a Palm OS or Linux or even Windows to link your various capabilities (voice, camera, web browsing) into a personally enabled workspace that can capitalize on context awareness as you like.

Which has led me to posit linking calendars with learning systems to wrap content and/or people around events in your life to create a new learning relationship. But that’s a different story…

Oh, yeah, one other affordance, already noted by folks like Elliot Soloway and Jeremy Roschelle: the form factor of mobile devices like PDA’s is far more appropriate for kids than the affordances of full laptops.

Jonassen on Problem-solving

Clark @ 2:35 pm

Right after my opening keynote at the International Conference on ICT in Teaching and Learning in Hong Kong, David Jonassen presented via a canned video and a live video chat Q&A afterward. David’s presentation on his long term work on problem-solving dove-tailed nicely with mine, as I talked about how to design learning experiences around meaningful decisions, and he talked about different categories of those meaningful decisions. (On a personal note, I was thrilled to hear he was going to use my book in a class of his!)

He started with the claim that we need meaningful education, and that problem-solving was a core skill going forward, a theme I too support. He argued that we also needed to recognize that the types of problems we teach learners to solve in school bear little resemblance to the types of problems our learners face outside of schoo, and that we needed to change the types of problems we introduce learners to. An astute observation!

He made off-hand comments that I suspect not all the audience picked up: the importance of addressing new concepts and problems qualitatively before addressing them quantitatively (contrary to much done in schools), quoting (I *think* it was Gardner) that theories have no meaning until they’re applied, and that our learners were coming to us too spoon-fed with overly simplistic problems and consequently that it was hard to develop richer abilities to flexibly apply schemas (nor, I might add, with mindsets about persistence and willingness to fail).

He also talked about how while he supported problem-based learning,
I’ve taken to given challenging problems as group assignments in my classes when I teach, having them wrestle with some ambuigity as part of developing a decontextualized approach to applying the concepts to the outside world. The problems are simplified to unrealistically focus on particular aspects, but are otherwise framed as Requests For Proposals or grant opportunities that they might really face. They sometimes complain, but I do think at the end of the experience they’re better equipped to solve the problems we want graduates to be able to solve. It’s nice to be able to blame David!

7 July 2006

The power of passion

Clark @ 10:19 am

Who’d have thought it’d be fun to spend two mornings studying the constitution? I’m in San Diego at one of the We The People: The Citizen & The Constitution teacher institutes (from the Center for Civic Education), looking for ways technology might support this activity, to either make it more efficient, more effective, or broaden the reach.
Susan Leeson, a former Oregon Supreme Court Justice and expert in political theory and public law has been riveting in bringing to life the context in which the US Constitution struggled to be born. Far from a miracle, it almost didn’t happen. Documenting the personal and political intrigues, she also communicates the philosophical tensions that led to the document that has governed this nation for more than 200 years.

It’s quite clear that you couldn’t replace her, and any experience would have to find different ways to develop the understanding. Personal passion, personal presence, and effective pedagogy trump anything else you can do. Note that it’s interactive, not a monologue, but her ability to bring it alive, make it a story, and connect it to the context and causes, is a powerful lesson for moving from our tendency to teach this as a set of facts (3 branches of government, checks and balances, etc). Much as I can imagine a compelling game that let you role play this would be a strong second, hearing her would be my first choice.

So I guess my real task is to figure out what to do if and when we can’t have her! Which is, of course, is probably as it should be.

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