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

28 September 2006

Bashing Gagne’

Clark @ 8:49 am

Donald Clark, ex-CEO of the Epic Group in the UK, has got a great blog, where he cheerfully skewers misconceptions about learning. In a rant I was pointed to, he takes aim at Gagne’s Nine Dull Commandments. As the subsequent comments point out, the problem isn’t necessarily with Gagne’s elements as it is with their interpretation and a belief in their rigid order.

It’s not a case of “if you follow it (without insight), they will learn”. The typical interpretation of many of the elements is so rote that they counter what they’re supposed to do. I’ve tried to suggest an improved approach in my white paper about the Seven Step Program to eLearning Improvement (NB: PDF), and it’s nice to see others picking up that a mechanistic implementation of Gagne’ (or anyone else) won’t hit the mark.

12 September 2006

UK eLearning Mission Report out

Clark @ 11:20 am

As I previously mentioned, I got the privilege of co-hosting a day of meetings for the UK’s visiting mission on eLearning. Sponsored by the Department of Trade & Industry, these missions send a small panel of experts from industry and academia to review and report on relevant international activity. They each have specific areas of responsibility, and are to bring back the outcomes that they determine. I have to say that the group seemed very experienced and aware, and I was eagerly awaiting the report.

The report (PDF) is now available to all. This report includes chapters on mLearning, games, performance support, and more. I haven’t yet read the whole thing, but what I have read looks suitably insightful. I recommend having a look at this critical evaluation of eLearning in the US.

3 September 2006

Models, manuals, and more…

Clark @ 10:55 am

Jay Cross’ Informal Learning Blog, InformL pointed me to this blog post about the need for manuals and the problems with them. The diagram says it all, really.

My PhD work included mental models, and the research is robust: that with models, learners can forget some steps and regenerate the missing bits; that models provide the ability to predict what will happen or explain what happened; and troubleshoot. But what we get in instructions are rote procedures to do something, not oriented around our goals.

When I tried to learn Macromedia’s FreeHand, their tutorial had you build a picture. It was useless. It was only by experimentation that I discovered that what I thought were the atomic elements, shapes, were actually paths that could be manipulated, e.g. cut (see the Quinnovation logo). They didn’t provide a conceptual model that talked about paths and how everything, text, shapes, etc, could be translated to them (and had to be for real manipulation). I may still have it wrong, as it’s also known that individuals will infer models, possibly incorrectly, and without guidance can retain those models with great persistence.

I’ve been trying to get most elearning to focus on the underlying models instead of rote procedures (it’s one of my seven steps to better elearning points; warning, PDF).

I also note that the claim about systems being designed to not need manuals doesn’t make sense for anything more complicated than a toaster. Unless, of course, you’re going to give me unlimited bandwidth and resources, but most people want to keep the size of their devices under control and provide the full set of features people want.

I argue that it’s not about training, it’s about supporting performance, and that includes responsibility for a broader picture. Currently too much of this is siloed off in different parts of organizations, so software engineers write help systems, a different group writes manuals, the training group prepaes training, etc., all from the same information (hence the push for ‘single-sourcing’ and content models). We can do a better job if we start from the models, and populate all these forms of information in an integrated, cross-referencing, and encompassing strategy.

If, as the experts have it, customer experience is the new differentiator, having a usable system coupled with coherent support ought to be part of the picture.

1 September 2006

Virtual Worlds?

Clark @ 5:22 pm

A number of years ago I was involved in James Burke’s great Knowledge Web project. In organizing it, we were using Active Worlds, a 3D virtual environment. We’d stand around in this gorgeous room, each with our avatars, and text message each other. It quickly became apparent that the virtual world added nothing.

The new virtual world buzz is around Linden Labs Second Life. I had a look, but wasn’t overwhelmed. Now several colleagues are involved in it in significant ways. Both have experience in (and passion for) learning through technology, and I may have to rethink my take on virtual worlds.

It helps to know that, based upon Marcia Conner’s book Learn More Now, I’m a solitary or, at most, small-group learner. So, as I’ve maintained in the design of games, when your learning objective is interpersonal is when it makes sense to use a social game and a social world.

Through my teaching, particularly the learning theory course I’ve taught this summer, I recognize the constructivist value of having learners negotiate a shared understanding. That hasn’t benefited from a virtual world (except for a novelty factor, a Hawthorne effect, which I suggest will wear off and a new gimmick will be needed). Up ’til now, a discussion board or chat room had all the necessary affordances.

However. A colleague just passed me a link to this video (you’ll most likely have to scroll down) about the New Media Consortium’s space in Second Life. And in it, I saw something I hadn’t really thought about. Most of it was the standard “places to meet”, events, and some nooks and crannies to explore, but…
…that’s not what interested me. What’s interesting is that it is easy (apparently, I didn’t master it in my exploration) to create new things. So you can make models or representations and share them. THIS is a major benefit. Now we can share 3D representations and discuss them.

I’ve suggested in the past that the operating system metaphor I really want is ‘magic’, where I can make things happen with spells (scripts) or buy tools if I have money rather than time. Not to go into that here, but at least in a virtual world we can now make that true. Which also makes true that we can reach a new level of collaboration. And that is interesting!

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